Fr. Scott A. Haynes
A totally different type of eucharistic miracle was recorded by St. Zosimus of Palestine in the sixth century. This miracle concerns St. Mary of Egypt, who left her parents at the age of twelve and became a prostitute. Seventeen years later, she found herself in Palestine. On the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Mary went to the church, looking for customers. At the door of the church, she saw an image of the Virgin Mary. She was overcome with remorse for the life she had led and asked for our Lady’s guidance. A voice told her, “If you cross the Jordan River, you will find peace.”
The next day, Mary waded through the Jordan River to cross to the other side. For her, it was a spiritual pilgrimage. It symbolized the end of her life of sin and a beginning of a new life in Christ. She then took up the life of a hermitess and lived alone in the desert for forty-seven years. As the Virgin had promised, she found peace of soul. One day she saw a monk, St. Zosimus of Palestine, who had come to the desert for Lent. Although they had never met, Mary called him by his name. They spoke for a while, and at the end of the conversation, she asked Zosimus to come back the following year and bring the Eucharist for her.
Zosimus did as she requested, but Mary was on the other side of the Jordan. There was no boat for him to cross to her, and Zosimus thought that it would be impossible to give her Communion. St. Mary made the Sign of the Cross and walked across the water to meet him, and he gave her Holy Communion. She again asked him to return the following year, but when he did, he found that she had died. Next to her corpse was a note asking that he bury her. He reported that he was assisted by a lion in the digging of her grave. A beautiful Eucharistic miracle took place in Avignon, France, in November 1433. The Eucharistic Miracle of Avignon happened in the small Church of the Holy Cross, home of the Gray Penitents of the Franciscan Order, whose founding goes back to the times of Pious King Louis VIII. At the time of this miracle, Avignon was considered the center of Christendom and the city’s “Palais des Papes” was home to a series of seven Popes, exiled from Rome. Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was being observed at the Holy Cross Church, and after several days of heavy rain, the Sorgue and Rhône rivers had risen to a dangerous height. On the Feast of St. Andrew, the 30th of November, Avignon was flooded. The head of the order and another friar rowed a boat to the church, certain that their little church had been destroyed. Instead, they saw a miracle.
Although water around the church was four feet high, a pathway from the doorway to the altar was perfectly dry, and the Blessed Sacrament was totally undisturbed. The water had been held back in the same way the Red Sea had parted. The Friars, amazed at what they were seeing, asked others from their order to come to the church to verify the miracle. The news spread rapidly, and many townspeople and authorities came to the church, singing songs of praise and of thanks unto the Lord.
Still today, the Gray Penitent brothers reunite at the Chapelle des Pénitents Gris every November 30th to celebrate the memory of the miracle. Before the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the brothers perform a sacred chant taken from the Canticle of Moses, which was composed after the parting of the Red Sea: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant… At a breath of your anger the waters piled up, the flowing waters stood like a mound, the flood waters congealed in the midst of the sea… In your mercy you led the people you redeemed; in your strength you guided them to your holy dwelling.” (Exodus 15, 1-18).