Twin Cities archdiocese officials are looking into whether blood-red host can be explained by science.
A consecrated host that fell to the floor last month at St. Augustine Catholic Church in South St. Paul should have dissolved soon afterward. Instead, it turned blood red.
Now Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis officials are investigating whether they have a possible miracle on their hands or if something like a fungus or bacteria could be causing the change in color.
"The church and the archdiocese are very cautious on this sort of thing," said archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath on Friday. The church "does not presume supernatural causes for things that can have a natural explanation," he added in a prepared statement.
"While recognizing that God can and does work in extraordinary ways, the church presumes that God ordinarily works through the ministry of the church and through natural laws."
During mass on June 19 at St. Augustine, a host was accidentally dropped on the floor. To show reverence to the wafer -- which Catholics believe becomes the actual body of Christ during the consecration -- it was placed in a chalice-like container with water so it would dissolve. Then it was to be poured into a special sink not connected to the sewer system.
However, a week later, the host had not dissolved but had shrunk and turned a blood-red color. This week, the Rev. John Echert, pastor of the church, turned over to the archdiocese what was left of the host.
Biologists to weigh in
The archdiocese is "continuing to monitor the small remaining portion of the host," according to McGrath. He said the archdiocese will have the host examined by "qualified biologists" to determine if there's a scientific explanation for the color change.
When contacted Friday, Echert said the archdiocese has asked him not to discuss the host anymore.
Instances of so-called Eucharistic miracles, such as "bleeding hosts" that emit blood, have been reported by Catholics for centuries. Archdiocese officials point out one of the most recent incidents occurred at a Catholic church in Texas. In that case, biologists determined the red coloration of the host was caused by a combination of a fungus and bacteria that were incubated in water in a glass stored in the open air.
The Catholic Church is very careful about documenting miracles, said Bruce Reichenbach, a philosophy professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, who has written about reason and religious belief.
"Miracles are not incompatible with a natural explanation," he said.
Good for St. Augustine
St. Augustine is one of the churches required to merge as part of the reorganization of the Twin Cities archdiocese. It officially merged with nearby Holy Trinity church on July 1, but both churches remain open for now.
Parishioner Mary Hover said she thinks it would be wonderful for St. Augustine if the host were deemed to be miraculous. Hover said she saw a bleeding host in Santarém, Portugal, when she was visiting Fatima, the site of reported apparitions by the Blessed Virgin Mary.
"Eucharistic miracles are a beautiful thing for the Catholic church," Hover said. "And I have seen one. It was a moving experience for me to just have that moment with that Eucharistic host.
"But I follow nothing until it's been proven. And it's in the hands of the chancery. That's the way it has to be followed."
Rose French • 612-673-4352