July 10, 2008

Why the Eucharist is Not Simply a "Frackin' Cracker"

THE CALAMITIES ARE NEVER-ENDING. Today, we learn (via Dean's World) that a student at the University of Central Florida, after receiving the Eucharist at Mass last week, did not consume it but instead took it back to the pew where he was sitting, supposedly for the purpose of using the Host as a prop to explain Catholicism to a friend. But the student's rash act appalled the laity at the service, who demanded he return it. When he did not, the student claims the laity attempted to pry the Host from his person. He is now holding the Eucharist hostage in a plastic bag and refuses to return it, much to the Diocese of Orlando's distress.

It may come as little surprise to learn the student in question is a member of the college's student government, and upset student activity funds are used to support religious activities. But the situation has taken on a life of its own, as it has attracted the attention of the Catholic League, a pressure group. The League has not only vowed to go after the student in question, but also PZ Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris who has stood up for the student, albeit in an exceedingly vulgar fashion.

But I do think offended Catholics should realize the student's act was done out of unwitting ignorance. For one thing, he's a college student, and thus wrong about most everything. Although the student's religion is not mentioned, if he is not a Roman Catholic, he will not fully understand the importance which Catholics treat the Eucharist, and if not Roman Catholic, nor could he be expected to understand. In an era when most young people are under the sway of materialism and where most are brought up as Protestants, one could not expect him to do so.

The Eucharist, as all Christians know, is the Body and Blood of Christ, stemming from the Last Supper, when Christ took bread, blessed it and told His disciples, "Take, eat; this is My body," and took a cup of wine and blessed it, telling His disciples, "Drink ye, all of it; for this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

Now in the Protestant tradition, the practice of communion is a symbolic one. The congregation is, perhaps once a month, served some stale white bread and grape juice and the story of the Last Supper is recalled. Communion is given, the worshippers take it, and then leave, some annoyed at having had 15 minutes added to their Sunday worship.

But in the Catholic tradition, Holy Communion is a far more serious and central affair. The giving of Communion is the central act of the Mass. Far from being symbolic in nature, the Eucharist is transformed, through the mysterium fidei, into the Body and Blood, and through taking it one's sins are forgiven and one is reconciled with God. The Church does not pretend to understand how this works -- it is the Mystery of Faith -- but as other writers have pointed out, Catholics believe Christ harrowed Hell and in dying defeated death, rising three days later from His tomb. If Christ did that, they argue, then this is a small matter in comparison.

The mysterium fidei also explains why the church laity reacted the way it did to the student's transgression. For them, it was not simply a case of manhandling a cracker; it was a rejection of God Himself and defiling Him as the Romans defiled Him on the Cross. There are many things in life which can draw out furious anger in people; surely there are some you could think of off the top of your head. If someone stole a prized baseball card, or a treasured family picture, or some other thing that had great sentimental value to you, you would be rightfully upset about that. When combined with religious fervor, it should not be unexpected that some of the laity would react in an emotional manner.

But I trust the student will eventually understand he acted in very poor form, and will consequently realize his behavior was not a credit to his person, nor his student association, nor his school. When he does, he should be forgiven for it. (I trust he will also, at this point, return the Host with which he absconded; the Church has well-established procedures for dealing with "excess" Hosts).

I am of mixed feelings about the Catholic League's decision to go after the professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris. The League is furious over the professor's expressed desire to defile the Eucharist, and has essentially called upon the man's superiors to do something about this.

On one hand, the professor's ranting is so downright nasty, embittered and self-righteous that he effectively cedes the argument to his opponents. For the Catholic League, giving this wide exposure is the public relations equivalent of a penalty kick in soccer; unless you completely screw it up, it's an easy score. I mean, it's that bad. But don't just take my word for it.

On the other hand, though, wide-ranging publicity may also incite the professor to actually go through with defiling the Eucharist in public, an act Roman Catholics would consider blasphemous. One wishes that would not happen, but not because it would hurt the Roman Church, or its believers, or society in general: our professor is of too small account for that. Rather, it is simply because, many decades down the road, our professor might well face a variant of Graham Greene's age-old question: could what these people believe actually be true?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 10, 2008 09:26 PM | TrackBack


I grew up Catholic but it was only in adulthood that I discovered the doctrine of transubstantiation. At fist I couldn't believe it--surely no sane person can accept that although the eucharistic wafer gives every appearance of being the same throughout the mass, official doctrine has it that the wafer undergoes a physical change. In other words, you could do appropriate chemical experiments and discover that the wafer was no longer unleavened bread, but the muscle tissue (viscera, etc.) and blood (white blood cells, etc.) of a human being, indeed, of Jesus himself. But still, I thought, this must be symbolic, not literal. It OBVIOUSLY doesn't transmute into anything.

But alas, I was to discover that human credulity has reached a manic pitch with this doctrine: some people actively believe that the communion host physically changes.

This is one of the reasons I could never go back to the Catholic church. A deep seated moral and intellectual corruption is the only logical explanation for belief in this absurdity.

This message was no actually typed on a computer, but on a smooth-surfaced rock. It's a mystery then how it actually worked, but because it's a mystery asserted by a trusted authority, we can be absolutely sure it's correct and without error in any way.

D. Stone

Posted by: D. Stone at July 14, 2008 02:31 PM

Mr Stone:

You misstate the Church's position on transubstantiation, which addresses many of your points. A good summary of this may be seen here:


Not that it will change your mind any, but there it is.

I did not write my post with the idea of changing anyone's mind about Christian doctrine, but rather to explain why many Roman Catholics would get upset about people treating the Host in a light manner. It is one thing if one chooses not to believe in transubstantiation, but another entirely to belittle those that do. Doing that lacks a certain ... politeness.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at July 14, 2008 11:07 PM

I am similar to D. Stone but then ended up on the opposite end of the spectrum. I didn't discover until adulthood the true meaning of transubstantiation. However, for me it has been a revelation. After reading John 6, I realized that if I accept the Bible as the Word of God that I must also accept the Eucharist. Please D. Stone, read the early church Fathers. They were closest in time to Jesus' apostles and you will see that they believed as the Catholic Church believes now. At that time, others believed human sacrifice was being performed because they didn't understand the Eucharist. That belief has not been corrupted, but rather preserved. Catholics have a wonderful tradition of intellectually questioning everything, and if you read you'll find not corruption, but logic beautifully laid out for you.

Posted by: Tess at July 17, 2008 09:48 PM

It's still a frackin' cracker.

Would you care to address or condemn the death threats that both Mr. Cook and Dr. Myers have received, or are you only interested in justification?

PS: And yes, I am aware of the irony of having my current atheistic beliefs and also half of the Gospel writers in my name.

Posted by: John Mark at July 18, 2008 04:31 PM

John Mark --

No it isn't.

As for the death threats issued against Mr Cook and Dr Myers, I unequivocally condemn them. Anyone who made such threats should be ashamed of themselves, as such acts are ridiculous, cowardly and completely uncalled for. Also, they're un-Christian.

That said, I fail to see how you think my post would somehow justify such things.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at July 18, 2008 07:21 PM

PZ Myers has committed the perfect crime. After all, PZ Myers Has Killed Jesus Christ, and seems to have gotten away with it.

Posted by: Paul Thoreau at August 4, 2008 03:01 PM

Mr Thoreau --

My apologies, but there is no way I -- nor anyone else born after 1970 -- can take seriously a man who named his blog after "Imagine."

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at August 4, 2008 11:55 PM

Mr. Kepple:

Because I so desperately need you to take me seriously please tell me the name of one of your favorite songs. I will change the name of my blog as soon as possible.

"It is one thing if one chooses not to believe in" the lyrics of a song, "but another entirely to belittle those that do. Doing that lacks a certain ... politeness."

Posted by: Paul Thoreau at August 5, 2008 11:11 AM

Mr Thoreau --

Really? REALLY? OK, deal.

"People Are Like Suns." Crowded House. From their new album out this year. Google the lyrics. You might actually like them. For that matter, you might actually like Crowded House. They're from New Zealand. New Zealand is very advanced. Plus, the title might even fit in with your blog.

Alternatively, if you don't like that, how about "Flagpole Sitta" from Harvey Danger? But I think "People Are Like Suns" would work.

At least listen to the album, for Pete's sake -- it's a great band. :-D

(I was tempted to pick MacArthur Park, but that would have been wrong).

As for the rest of it -- nice try, but you're comparing apples and oranges.

-- All best,

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at August 5, 2008 10:37 PM

Mr. Kepple:

Have you changed your mind and decided to take me seriously?

I have seen apples, oranges, and the lyrics to Imagine. I can't say the same thing about the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Paul Thoreau at August 6, 2008 09:01 AM
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