Science Defeats a Rogue Communion Wafer

Remember back in July when a consecrated communion wafer fell on a church’s floor, was placed in water, and turned red?

A number of Catholics were acting like the Pope had knocked on their front door: they were way too excited about something that was bound to be anti-climactic.

[St. Augustine Church Rev. John Echert] 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.

Well, we have an update on the Miracle Wafer: Turns out — you might want to sit down for this — it had nothing to do with Jesus!

Twin Cities archdiocese officials said Wednesday that the discoloration was instead caused by a fungus.

“Exhaustive biological analysis by an independent scientific laboratory has determined that the reddish coloration on the Holy Communion host fragment that was kept in a water solution after it was discovered on the floor of St. Augustine Church … was caused by a fungus. The host in question has been disposed of in a manner prescribed by church law.

“While the Catholic Church fully recognizes the possibility of miracles and remains open to their possibility, it does so with extreme scrutiny, investigation and care. This incident was the result of natural biological causes and should not be considered in any other way.”

So the Church used Science to disprove something its own people were taking on faith… I suppose we have to give them credit for doing the right thing. It would’ve been incredibly easy to just call it a “miracle” and let the masses savor the “mystery.”

(Note to Science: Don’t leave the building! They’ve let the fox in the henhouse! Let’s see what else you can disprove!)

(Thanks to Pat for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Ndonnan

    sceince being sceince,this should be repeatable. try dropping a wafer on your floor and see what happens.does it turn red ,what about on other church floors,or is it just this church floor,might still be unanswered,then what would we do,mmmm

    • Anonymous

      Ndonnan: I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at, here. Obviously there is not this sort of fungus on everyone’s floor. Are you suggesting that because this occurrence was rare and not likely to be repeated in most situations, that it can still classify as a miracle? Or are you suggesting we start a new fad by seeing how many colors we can turn our water? :)   Elaborate!

    • Anonymous

      Ndonnan: I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at, here. Obviously there is not this sort of fungus on everyone’s floor. Are you suggesting that because this occurrence was rare and not likely to be repeated in most situations, that it can still classify as a miracle? Or are you suggesting we start a new fad by seeing how many colors we can turn our water? :)   Elaborate!

    • Anonymous

      Umm.  I think your a little confused.  The actual process would be to take another sample of said red material and confirm it’s make up.   I have no doubt that the results would be repeatable.   
      If your suggesting a scientific test to determine how easily said bit of grub can pick up fungus, that is an entirely different scenario and has nothing to do with the claim that *this* particular wafer was the subject of a miracle .

  • http://twitter.com/thelittlepecan Alana (aka Pecan)

    To be fair, the Catholic Church has a pretty strong showing when it comes to science.

    • http://twitter.com/Doubting_Tom Tom

      Right, just ask Galileo and Giordano Bruno!

      Or more recently, ask the Pope how exactly condoms aggravate the problem of HIV transmission. Or what he means when he says ” the theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory.”

      The Catholic church selectively embraces science, and has a pretty strong showing when it comes to science that is largely uncontroversial and in-line with their existing dogma. The more recent shift back toward conservatism seems to be edging the church closer to the anti-science attitudes of various Protestant sects, and they’re still off the reservation when it comes to any science that disconfirms anything they hold sacred.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=797402801 Stacy Nickels Fletcher

        Catholic schools in the US teach evolution in science class. Creation is only taught in religion classes.

        The only Catholics, that I know, that have a problem with science are the less educated ones that embrace their faith with a fervor that the Pope cannot hope to match. Unfortunately, every group has it’s extremist.

        • http://twitter.com/Doubting_Tom Tom

          Sure. What do they teach in Health class?

          • Anonymous

            Before it was politicized, an old gay friend of mine was talking about how the local priests at his church-run summer camp taught kids about safe sex and condoms. But this was the 70′s/80′s.

            • Mary Ellen

              I learned about birth control in Catholic school health class from a teacher who was not a nun. She began the class, “We’re going to talk about birth control and sex. The sisters want you to know premarital sex is a mortal sin. However …” and then we learned about condoms, the pill, the unreliability of “rhythm,” and so on. This was in the early 70s. I wonder if it’s still happening?

              • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=797402801 Stacy Nickels Fletcher

                 It was like that in the early 90s. When I was looking in to sending my eldest to Catholic school, just a few years ago, I was told that it was still like that.

                As an atheist, I would still prefer to send my kids to Catholic school. At least there, they aren’t taught creation in science class. It’s unfortunate that I can’t afford it.

              • Nankay

                Huh. My sex ed consisted of “Don’t have pre marital sex. You will catch a disease, die and go to Hell for having pre marital sex”.   This was late 70′s early 80′s.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=797402801 Stacy Nickels Fletcher

            We were taught about all forms of birth control. Even condoms. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=797402801 Stacy Nickels Fletcher

            We were taught about all forms of birth control. Even condoms. 

        • satan augustine

          Do US Catholic schools teach true scientific evolution? I.e., no God guiding the process in the direction of homo sapiens? No god inserting a soul in some hominid 150,000 years ago?

      • Kevin S.

        I’d really hope you wouldn’t judge any institution by how it acted three or four centuries ago.  I do agree, however, that the RCC’s repressive attitude towards any form of sexuality it doesn’t explicitly agree with overrides many of their other progressive positions (such as their otherwise pro-science and anti-death penalty stances)

        • Rabid

          To be fair, you’re probably on safer ground with their historically anti-science leanings as opposed to their oh-so-progressive stance on child rape.

          But, hey! Your choice.

        • satan augustine

          They are absolutely, definitely, positively pro-science….in comparison to Southern Baptists and the Muslim Brotherhood.  

          I will say kudos to them in this particular case, but they are really not that pro-science. They don’t accept scientific evolution – they think God had his fingers in the works all along, his ultimate end goal being: BEHOLD:….people.  They will use the scientific method in some cases so long as it doesn’t interfere with important church doctrine.  Ultimately for them, science bows down at the feet of the Holy Spirit (if it can be said that spirits have feet).

      • Anonymous

        The Catholic Church actually had official astronomers and an observatory for many centuries. And still do. It was of interest to them because they could determine the exact date of holidays .

        As you said, they are somewhat selective in what they accept. If it fits with their ideology and political goals, they certainly do. If not it’s ignored and suppressed

    • Charles Black

      Seems like you were sleeping in history class when they were talking about Galileo Gallilei vs the Catholic Church.
      I know it’s nice to think they’ve changed their anti-science ways but rest assured they never will.

      • NorDog

        You mean the part where Galileo was teaching not simply heliocentrism as a mathmatical model, but that heliocentrism had been scientifically demonstrated as fact (a demonstration not yet to come for a few hundred years)?

        The Galileo/Church affair is a far more complicated situation than allowed by many who choose to throw Galileo in the face of others in order to show the Church as anti-science.

        Besides, Galileo was a believing Christian and chose to stay in the church when he could have escaped, and his daughter, a nun, assisted him in those later days.

        Bruno, while declared a heritic, was himself a friar, and while he was exectued, it was by civil authorities.  His heresy consisted of the woo of pantheism.

        (Speaking of scientists on the right side of history and facts who were also men of faith, Gregor Mendel also comes to mind.  His contribution to evolutionary theory and genetics is not insubstantial.)

        Regarding the fungus on the host article.  This was in the news some time back.  Surprised to see it pop up again now.

        • Anonymous

          Heliocentrism only took centuries to confirm if you think of Nicolaus Copernicus who published the idea in 1543 – or of other people who came to the same conclusion much earlier. Of course there was considerable inertia because ancient Greek philosophy and concepts were still widely accepted, just as Galen’s flawed medical ideas were the standard for over one and a half thousand years. They clung to it because had been accepted for so long, not because there was any proof for it. But the work of Johannes Kepler and Isaac Netwon pretty much established heliocentrism as the best theoretical model in the late 17th century and by then better telescopes enabled better physical observations.

          One often forgotten event in the Galileo affair is that he published a book that critiqued the whole debate (in the form of a dialog) and one of the characters was perceived to be stand-in for the Pope. This character was portrayed somewhat as a fool, or at least he was thought to be. The Pope (by then the old one had died and Urban VIII came to power) was then persuaded that this was really an intentional attack on him. That wasn’t the case – at most it could have been written better. But previously he  defended Galileo and they used to be friends, but turned him against Galileo who also lost other important supporters over it. If he still had them on his side during the 1632 trial things would have ended differently.

          Still, the main point remains the Church’s stubborn refusal to publish and tolerate anything that contradicted scripture. That’s how it started and it’s what he was condemned for

          • NorDog

            Steve, the character in the book was named “Simplicio”, the book, “Two New Sciences”.  The book was part dialogue, part demonstrable argument.  I remember working through the propositions with my class in college.  I would describe it as brilliance to the point of beauty.

            Of the two motions of the Earth (orbit and rotation) it is my understanding that the former was proved by Bessel around 1830, and the latter by Foucaut around 1850.

            Bessel’s proof was the stellar paralax measurement of a star’s distance from the Earth, whence we get the term parsec (short for parallax second), as in, “She’ll do the Kessel run in about 12 parsecs.)

            Though I did hear once that Bessel’s proof was predated a few years by someone else, though I can’t remember who that was to have been.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=797402801 Stacy Nickels Fletcher

    This isn’t shocking. The Catholic church embraces science. If you want to bash science haters, you need to look at other branches of Christianity like Baptist.

    • Anonymous

      I’d have to add a caveat to this. The Catholic church is extremely diverse and you have different factions with different levels of support for things like church tradition vs biblical inerrancy, and science vs miracle claims with priests and congregants on both sides of many of these debates.

      You can run into a Jesuits who are just as atheistic as Tillich or the local priest which ultimately defended his faith by founding it on a single miracle: the shroud of tourin (seriously).

      Just remember, the flat earth society meeting was majority Catholic (which is very tiny tiny amount of Catholics).

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=797402801 Stacy Nickels Fletcher

        Defending his faith by using the shroud of tourin is no different than using a bible. None of it’s true, unless you believe.

        • Anonymous

          They’re both just as groundless, but I don’t think specific miracles like the shroud carry the same kind of baggage as biblical literalism. One of the nice things about Catholics and “church tradition” is that it gives them an “out” when it comes to Biblical commands, and makes Biblical literalism unnecessary (though they still believe in an inspired word). I prefer one set of baggage over the other, though as I said, they’re both groundless.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=797402801 Stacy Nickels Fletcher

            It’s all groundless, but in the eye of the believer it’s all that’s needed as proof. You can’t make people see something they choose not to see.

    • Anonymous

      I’d have to add a caveat to this. The Catholic church is extremely diverse and you have different factions with different levels of support for things like church tradition vs biblical inerrancy, and science vs miracle claims with priests and congregants on both sides of many of these debates.

      You can run into a Jesuits who are just as atheistic as Tillich or the local priest which ultimately defended his faith by founding it on a single miracle: the shroud of tourin (seriously).

      Just remember, the flat earth society meeting was majority Catholic (which is very tiny tiny amount of Catholics).

    • Reginald Selkirk

      The Catholic church embraces science.

      Uh, sure. Just ask the Vatican’s chief exorcist.

      • Sailors

        Thanks for saying it, saves me the bother!

  • Annie

    I think this is great news… seeing as the Catholic Church once determined the capybara was a fish, so it could be eaten on Fridays.  And yes, they do embrace science… in a way.  I remember my 6th grade science lab at a Catholic school.  There were two time lines that wrapped around the walls of the classroom.  One showed the scientific understanding of history at that time, the other (which was underneath) was of the six days that god created the earth.  I just remember that the first day (of the Catholic, biblical timeline) spanned millions of years of the geologic time line.  This was in the 70s.  So, basically, I’m not surprised by this post, but I am glad they had the moldy host tested… and reported the results accurately.

  • Annie

    I think this is great news… seeing as the Catholic Church once determined the capybara was a fish, so it could be eaten on Fridays.  And yes, they do embrace science… in a way.  I remember my 6th grade science lab at a Catholic school.  There were two time lines that wrapped around the walls of the classroom.  One showed the scientific understanding of history at that time, the other (which was underneath) was of the six days that god created the earth.  I just remember that the first day (of the Catholic, biblical timeline) spanned millions of years of the geologic time line.  This was in the 70s.  So, basically, I’m not surprised by this post, but I am glad they had the moldy host tested… and reported the results accurately.

  • Charles Black

    This must be too good to be true. Are you sure this isn’t from a spoof website Hemant because I really would like this story to be true.

    • Kevin S.

      If you’re going to insist that the Catholic Church is completely anti-science and will never change, then of course this is a shock to you.  But if you actually paid attention to what the church has done, this wouldn’t be surprising at all.  They’re not completely pro-science, especially when it has anything to do with sexuality, but they’ve come a long way from the political ostracizing of Galileo three hundred and fifty years ago.

      • Charles Black

        Yes I feel really warm  inside knowing that they didn’t pardon Galileo until 1992, not to mention the aiding & abetting of pedophiles in their ranks which extends to His Holiness the pope himself.So its no surprise that I don’t give the Catholic Church much credit when it comes to their stance on science.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    Well, this one miracle may have just been a fungus.  But all those eucharistic miracles that happened before we had the ability to check?  Totally miraculous.

  • Anonymous

    The host in question has been disposed of in a manner prescribed by church law.

    I’m genuinely interested in how church law prescribes disposing of a soggy, moldy, possibly toxic piece of the real, true, genuine, bonafide, actual, and literal flesh of God that has been in a lab for six months. Does somebody still have to eat it? Eeewwww. Do you burn it? That would seem ironic, somehow. 

    Ohhhh
    What do you do with a piece of God,
    What do you do with a piece of God,
    What do you do with a piece of God,
    When he’s on the floor?

    Put him in water oh my goodness,
    Put him in water oh my goodness,
    Put him in water oh my goodness,
    He’s turned into gore!

    Pour some agar in a petri,
    Pour some agar in a petri,
    Pour some agar in a petri,
    Incubate the Host!

    Soon our science will determine,
    Soon our science will determine,
    Soon our science will determine,
    Mold or Holy Ghost?

    Microscopes oh pray tell us,
    Microscopes oh pray tell us,
    Microscopes oh pray tell us,
    Tell us He’s among us!

    Sorry folks, no miracle,
    Sorry folks, no miracle,
    Sorry folks, no miracle,
    God is just a fungus!

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Continuing the Catholic Church’s embrace of science, the Vatican has announced an ambitious survey to finally determine scientifically how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    Dubbed The Papal Pinhead Project, a team of Bishops will work with a team of some of the most respected experts in microscopic observation. A collection of hundreds of pins from around the world will be blessed and scrutinized under dozens of similarly blessed optical microscopes, transmission electron microscopes, and scanning electron microscopes. Side by side, both scientists and clergy will observe the Holy pinheads through the Holy microscopes while Holy dance music is played 24 hours a day, seven days a week for at least one year to see what they can Holy See.

    A team of expert psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists will also be close by at all times to attend to the mental health needs of the observers.

    • satan augustine

      This is awesome!

    • TSgt Eric

      The answer is “none.” Dancing is a sin according to some xians, so “perfect” angels wouldn’t be allowed to dance on pinheads.

      OR

      There’s no such thing as angels, so they still can’t dance on pinheads.

      So having proven the answer is 0 using xian “logic” and real logic, the catholic church can give a mere half of the money they would have spent on this experiment to me. That’s win-win if you ask me.

  • Newavocation

    So technically Christians were right Jesus was not a man, unfortunately it looks like he was fungus.

    • Nankay

      Jesus was a fun guy?   (see what I did there?)

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregm766 Gregory Marshall

    “Well, we have an update on the Miracle Wafer: Turns out — you might want to sit down for this — it had nothing to do with Jesus!”

    Unless, of course, Jesus was a fungus!

    • Sailors

      Well there was that book “The magic mushroom and the cross” by one of the translators of the dead sea scrolls that hypothesized Jesus was the code name for a magic mushroom and not a person at all.

  • Purpleavacado

    “The host in question has been disposed of in a manner prescribed by church law.”I’m trying to picture this. An alter boy being given the thing in a petri dish and tossing it out the back door of the sachristy? A priest blessing a sink, then pouring it dour the drain? What is the prescribed church law?! Inquiring minds want to know!

    • Anonymous

      Consecrated bread/cracker must be disposed of by eating it, burying it, or dissolving in water then disposing of the water. This water, or consecrated wine, can be consumed or poured into the ground. Catholic churches will have a special sink that drains not into sewers or such but directly into the ground. This is what the wine glasses and such are washed in so that not a tiny drop gets into a sewer system. (Grew up Catholic, and was an alter boy for a few years)

      • Dmitri Sylvain

        Well, that’s a relief to know. I say this because I have some friends who attend an Anglo-Catholic style Episcopal Church. In their tradition, the ONLY way to deal with concecrated bread and wine is to eat it. So, when I read that the wafer was disposed of “properly,” I was trying to imagine some unfortunate priest or deacon having to eat a science project of fungus. Ew.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Piscina
      “A piscina is a shallow basin placed near the altar of a church, used for washing the communion vessels. The sacrarium is the drain itself…
      If the consecrated Hosts become unusable, the priest
      disposes of the hosts by placing them in the sacrarium. This is
      accomplished by breaking the hosts up into small pieces and washing them
      into the basin — which returns the consecrated hosts to the ground”

  • Stella

    Ugh. I’ve consumed a number of those things in my lifetime. I’d always assumed they were sanitary. Oh well, fortunately they only give you small portions… maybe consuming trace amounts of slightly moldy wafers has boosted my immune system over the years.

    Has anyone done a survey on what percentage of the wafers contain fungus?

    • Sailors

      Yes Ugh indeed, nasty wafer covered in fungus being fed to true believers. I think people should think carefully before consuming food of such doubtful benefit. I did not notice that anyone did a test of the fungus for toxicity, that would seem more important than the red color.

  • http://www.chucksteel.com/ csteelatgburg

    I believe that the Catholic Church regularly holds up any “miracles” to the test of modern science. This includes checking on reports of people being cured after praying to a person for healing. Before that person can be considered for sainthood it must be proved that the healing was not the result of medical treatment, and that it can’t be explained by our understanding of medicine. This process employs medical doctors reviewing the case files and literature in order to insure that the decision is made with the best knowledge available. 

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Indian
    rationalists call Mother Teresa’s miracle
    hocus-pocus
    To summarise: Several miracles are required to support a candidate for the Catholic sainthood. One of the miracles cited for the beattification of Mother Teresa  was the cancer cure of an Indian woman who prayed to Mother Teresa. The woman also underwent medical treatment for the cancer, but feels certain that Mother Teresa’s intervention was responsible for the cure.


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