Could there have been a Eucharistic miracle in South St. Paul?
Catholics are speculating, and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is investigating.
The mystery centers on a consecrated host that the Rev. John Echert of St. Augustine Church said fell to the floor last month during Holy Communion and turned "blood red" after being placed in a cup filled with water. It has yet to fully dissolve, he said.
"It was notable enough that, clearly, it was some phenomenon and not the ordinary way in which a host would dissolve...that we're familiar with," Echert said.
The archdiocese, which now has the host, is taking a "very cautious stance on the matter," spokesman Dennis McGrath said.
"I make no claims, and the archdiocese makes no claims, as to the likelihood of this being supernatural," Echert said. "But it is enough of a phenomenon, or unusual, that we will continue to examine this host."
He added: "I've never in my 24 years as a priest seen or been aware of a phenomenon where a consecrated host placed in water turns to this bright-colored red and continues in what I would call the blood-red color."
Word of the wondrous wafer eventually landed on several Catholic websites and blogs, sparking discussion and conjecture by some that it resembles the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Others suggest a bacterium may be the cause.
Echert and McGrath both said they have heard firsthand from curious Catholics. Some have called St. Augustine Church,
which served about 275 households until its July 1 merger with nearby Holy Trinity. Both churches remain open.
"I have received many phone calls from priests and others throughout the state," Echert said. "I've not been going around advertising it, but if someone asks me, I don't deny that there's something that's under consideration, that it's a phenomenon that I've never seen and that my brother priests have never seen themselves."
A 'STRIKING' HOST
Echert said the host fell to the floor as a member of the laity who is appointed to assist priests was distributing Communion at the 7 a.m. Mass on June 19, the Feast of the Holy Trinity. It was put in a ciborium, a container for the Eucharist - which is typical practice - with the expectation that it would be poured in a sacraium, a kind of special sink where items are washed into the ground not into a sewer system.
When the Rev. Robert Grabner, the church's parochial vicar, next looked at the cup the following Sunday, Echert said, "he noted a red color in the ciborium." Normally, he added, the host would dissolve in water within a day or two.
Grabner asked Echert to examine it.
"The host was a very bright red," Echert said. "On one side, it was completely red, and on the other side, it was red around the perimeter and it looked almost like the white of the host tended to have an appearance of a cross."
Echert said he transferred it to a glass bowl the next day. A day later, he saw the blood-red color.
"It appeared to be like the blood red of tissue," he said. "If I had not known what it was, I would have thought that there was maybe a small bloody piece of tissue. It was striking enough that there was no way I could have disposed of the remains of the host at that time with good conscience."
Echert said he removed as much of the water as he could, yet the host remained red. When the archdiocese took the host from St. Augustine on Tuesday, it was about the size of a large pencil-head
BACTERIA TO BLAME?
One blogger has raised the red bacterium, Serratia marcescens, as a possible explanation for the communion wafer turning red.
According to Microbe Zoo, a website developed by the Center for Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University, the bacterium grows on bread and communion wafers that have been stored in a damp place.
The site goes so far as to cite Serratia marcescens as the probable cause of the bloodlike substance that a priest discovered on communion bread in 1263, referred to as "The Miracle of Bolsena."
More-recent incidents have pointed to bacterium contamination, including a highly publicized instance in 2006 when people flocked to a Dallas-area church after a host turned red in a
According to a report on Texas Catholic Online, the Dallas Diocese had the host analyzed by two University of Dallas biology professors who concluded it was anything but a miracle.
In a letter to the parish priest, Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann wrote "... the object is a combination of fungal mycelia and bacterial colonies that have been incubated within the aquatic environment of the glass during the four-week period in which it was stored in the open air."
Echert has heard about the claim of the red bacterium in other incidents. But he added he could only go off his own experience.
"I think your ordinary priest would have experienced such a phenomenon, if there is such a thing," he said. "But I don't discount it as a possibility. I just don't have any familiarity of a host dramatically changing colors."
When it comes to researching miracles, it is difficult to obtain scientific proof, said Terence Nichols, a theology professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
"For one thing, the judgment of science is reserved - 'Well, we just can't explain this, ' " he said. "But usually, they're fairly difficult to establish. And the Church has historically has been very, very careful about declaring an event to be a miracle."
McGrath, the archdiocese spokesman, said that Vicar General Rev. Peter Laird is looking into the matter and that it is too early in the process to issue a judgment. McGrath was unsure Thursday whether the process would include scientific analysis.
"The Church does not presume supernatural causes for things that can have a natural explanation," he said in a prepared statement. "While recognizing that God can work in extraordinary ways, the Church presumes that God ordinarily works through the ministry of the Church and through natural laws."
Nick Ferraro can be reached at 651-228-2173.