‘Take, eat; this is My body’

Eucharist 03It seems that if reporters don’t know much else about Roman Catholics, they should know something of what they believe about the Eucharist. Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist has various supporting dogmas, including Transubstantiation and the Permanence of Presence and the Adorableness of the Eucharist.

But apparently the Catholic belief that the wafer and wine of Holy Communion become the body and blood of Christ and should be treated as such is unknown to reporters. Take this story from FoxNews.com. I’m actually going to begin with its closing paragraph:

The UCF student leader said he stole the communion bread, known by Catholics as the Eucharist and believed to symbolize the body of Christ, to show to his non-Catholic friend.

“Symbolize” the body of Christ? No. And what a rookie error. Anyway, the rest of the story is horrific as well:

College Student Gets Death Threats for Smuggling ‘Body of Christ’

A student at the University of Central Florida claims his life — and afterlife — were threatened by enraged Catholics after he pocketed “the body of Christ” during a church ceremony, according to a report on myfoxorlando.com.

Webster Cook says he received death threats and eternal damnation after he removed a wafer of bread from his mouth during communion and smuggled it from the church in a Ziploc bag.

Though Cook returned the wafer one week after the theft, outraged Catholics were unforgiving, according to WFTV.com.

“We don’t know 100 percent what Mr. Cook’s motivation was,” Susan Fani, a spokeswoman with the local Catholic diocese, told myfoxorlando.com. “However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it.”

If the headline alleges that death threats were made, the story better cite those death threats — not unsubstantiated claims of death threats. More than that, though, what a hysterical way to treat this serious subject. The actual story is that a student government leader — angry over funding to religious groups on campus — pocketed the host and broadcast that fact to the campus. That fact is missing from this story.

A few other things — rather than using square quotes around “body of Christ,” the reporter should just calmly explain Catholics believe the body of Christ is received in the Eucharist. Did Webster Cook really say he received eternal damnation or did the reporter mean to say that anonymous, unnamed people said his eternal life was in jeopardy? The whole story is so amateur that it’s not really worth parsing. How did other media outlets handle the doctrinal issues in this story? Let’s take a look:

Here’s Cheryl Getuiza from WOFL:

Webster Cook says he smuggled a Eucharist, a small bread wafer that to Catholics symbolic of the Body of Christ after a priest blesses it, out of mass, didn’t eat it as he was supposed to do, but instead walked with it.

WFTV:

A University of Central Florida student, upset religious groups hold church services on public campuses, is holding hostage the Eucharist, an object so sacred to Catholics they call it the Body of Christ.

Ugh. The rest of the WFTV story, however, is much better. Hopefully reporters can learn these basic beliefs about the Eucharist before their next breathless reports.

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  • Brian Walden

    Wow, Mollie, you’ve got influence. That Fox News link is already changed to say: “…known by Catholics as the Eucharist and believed to be the body of Christ…”

  • Brian Walden

    The WFTV article says:

    Cook claims he planned to consume it, but first wanted to show it to a fellow student senator he brought to Mass who was curious about the Catholic faith. … A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that’s why he brought it home with him.

    And Fox News says:

    Webster Cook says he received death threats and eternal damnation after he removed a wafer of bread from his mouth during communion and smuggled it from the church in a Ziploc bag.

    So this kid claims he had no intention to steal the Eucharist ahead of time but he just happened to be walking around with a Ziploc bag? I wish one of the journalists taking his statements would have asked him to explain why he had a Ziploc bag with him if this wasn’t a premeditated act.

    The articles mention the possibility of prosecution through the student government or even as a hate crime, but they fail to mention Canon Law.

    Canon 1367 A person who throws away the consecrated species or who takes them or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if a cleric, he can be punished with another penalty including dismissal from the clerical state. (source EWTN page on Liturgical Abuses)

    That means he incurred excommunication by the act itself and it cannot be undone by his local Ordinary – he must go to Rome to get the excommunication repealed. So where is his Bishop? Has he explained to Cook the extremely grave situation he is in? This young man’s soul is in danger, I hope his Bishop is looking out for him.

    Also a couple of funny things from the articles:

    The Diocese is dispatching a nun to UCF’s campus to oversee the next mass, protect the Eucharist and in hopes Cook will return it.

    Was the Diocese out of Albino Assassin Monks?

    As a journalism student at UCF, you are taught to write objectively using reliable information.

    That was a part of the transcript from Cook’s YouTube video. It seems to imply that he’s a journalism student. If he represents the future, I guess we shouldn’t expect the press to get religion anytime soon. Actually he fits the current mold perfectly – he sees this whole situation as a political fight without realizing the religious tenets involved.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    He doesn’t seem to have an understanding of religious OR political tenets. If the university was “funding” the activity, it would have been through a student organization, which would have requested and received funding through the Student Government Assocation. There would be numerous other religious groups (including, most likely, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and other belief-based groups), but most of the money would be going to nonreligious groups, like service clubs. Was this student making the rounds of all of the religious student orgs at UCF, or did he single out the Catholic group for a particular reason?

  • Bret

    A couple of questions spring to mind after reading the WOFL and WFTV stories:

    1) Is Cook Catholic? I assume that he is, but it is never explicitly stated. If so, his actions and opposition to student fees supporting religious organizations on campus seem somewhat odd.

    2) The title for the myfoxorlando.com story is, “Student Who Took Religious Icon Getting Death Threats.” Is the wafer correctly (or even commonly) referred to as an icon?

  • Martha

    I also would like some clarification on this – is Mr. Cook a Catholic?

    And is his complaint with any and all religious organisations funded by student organisations, or specifically the Catholic chaplaincy? (Let me guess: mean ol’ Rome won’t allow women priests, divorce and remarriage, contraception, abortion, says sex is for marriage only, is nasty to gays, and is generally a drag on Mr. Cook’s social life etc. etc. etc.)

    He’s a brat and needs a good clip across the ear.

    Oh, dear: was that a death threat?

  • Brian Walden

    Although my friend attended the mass, non-Catholics are prohibited from receiving communion, explaining the need to delay consumption.

    Bret, the above quote from his YouTube video implies that Cook is Catholic (he knew non-Catholics shouldn’t receive communion but he received, therefore he’s Catholic) – I’d guess from this incident that he’s not practicing but I could be wrong. You’re right in pointing out that it’s kind of is a big thing to leave out of the reporting.

    You’re also right that the Eucharist isn’t an icon – it’s truly Christ, not a representation of him. I also noticed that the Fox News article says “…he removed a wafer of bread from his mouth…” and “Though Cook returned the wafer one week after the theft…” In my experience Catholics don’t usually use the term wafer (but maybe it’s just my area of the country). Plus Cook didn’t remove a wafer of bread from his mouth – it was no longer bread. Terms Catholics commonly use to describe it are Eucharist, Host, or Blessed Sacrament. It seemed like in all the places Cook was directly quoted he called it “the Eucharist”. If journalists prefer to use the word wafer they should probably precede it with an adjective such as consecrated, blessed, sacred, holy, etc.

  • Dan Crawford

    The unsubstantiated death threats remind me of the humble country bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire who for the past five years has gotten great publicity from [unsubstantiated] death threats he claims to have received. He wore a bullet-proof vest to his consecration – were his consecrators similarly attired – and he wears them, he tells the media, whenever he makes a public appearance. And everyone buys the story without ever checking it out. The media doesn’t get religion because reporters tend to be too lazy to ask the most simple questions. Gosh, though, it does make great breathless tv “news” stories.

  • Bret

    Brian, I had never heard that either from the Catholics I know, but wondered if maybe it was a regional issue. There is an image of Christ on it, after all…

    I’m not sure about the need to add an adjective to “wafer.” It might help clarify, but here the subject seems clear from the context, and my understanding is that “wafer” is a common term in many churches and denominations (including my own). They may have chosen that word because it seems less “religious” and more, well, improper noun-ish than other options.

    Speaking personally, if a paper made a reference to the object using any of the capitalized terms you listed, (or even “consecrated wafer,” for that matter), my gut reaction would be to read into that a tacit agreement with the doctrine of transsubstantiation. I could see why a newspaper might not want to go there.

  • Julia

    In my experience Catholics don’t usually use the term wafer

    That term isn’t used in my part of the country either. If it’s unconsecrated it’s a plain old host. After it’s consecrated, it’s a Host, Holy Communion, Blessed Sacrament, etc.

    Perhaps most people are familiar with the term “wafer” from Monty Python. It’s the word they used – to describe the wafer-thin mint that is placed on Mr Creosote’s tongue before he blows up.

    Wikipedia also thinks that”wafer” is more an English term.

    The word also refers to the special small round flat breads made for Anglican Holy Communion services; the word host is used in the Roman Catholic liturgy

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    I think it is more likely familar from “The Vatican Rag” — “Drink that wine and chew (?) that wafer/Two,four,six,eight/Time to transubstantiate.”

    And I remember other references to “wine and wafers” from times long before the BBC, alarmed at the rising tide of religious unorthodoxy, gave Monty Python of London leave to proceed without let or hindrance in a reign of terror, violence and torture that makes a smashing television sketch.

  • Brian Walden

    Bret, you make a good point that wafer is a term that many people understand. I guess the question is, is it better to use the terms that Catholics use (with a quick definition of what they mean) or is it better to use approximations that are more commonly used by the general public? The news media uses other “Catholic” terms such as Mass instead of service, priest instead of minister, Father instead of Reverend. I don’t know what the general stylebook rule is, but I personally think when covering religion its usually better to use the term the group uses with a definition of what it means.

    If the media prefers not to use Catholic terms for the Eucharist, I personally don’t think they should merely be called bread or a wafer. Objectively speaking, the host is consecrated and blessed by the priest. While one can debate what effect the blessing has, it’s pretty hard to argue that it’s not consecrated. I’m pretty sure the bread is consecrated and/or blessed in most Protestant communion services too. I think those words can be used fairly neutrally without hinting as to whether one believes in the Real Presence or not. The Fox News article used communion bread once – I think even that will do to indicate that it’s not just bread to Catholics. To me, if someone knows what Catholics believe and still just call it bread or a wafer it has the possibility of coming off as disrespectful.

    I think in the end it comes down to politeness. If people who don’t believe in Catholic doctrine can rightly refuse to use Eucharist or host or some other Catholic term, then Catholics can turn it around and refuse to call Protestant groups churches (from a Catholic perspective if you don’t have a bishop you’re, strictly speaking, only an ecclesiastical community). Or Catholics could refuse to call Mormons Christians because the don’t use a Trinitarian formula for baptism. As you can see if we all acted this way a brawl would quickly ensue. So in general conversation we speak of Protestant churches and refer to Mormons as Christians because those are the terms they prefer. I hope that non-Catholics can do the same with regards to the Eucharist – the most sacred Sacrament for Catholics.

    Lastly, just from a profit perspective the more the journalist stresses the Catholic belief the juicier the article becomes. If Cook just stole a piece of bread, the incident isn’t very newsworthy. If, on the other hand, he stole the Catholics’ God, that makes for a story.

    P.S. you referred to an image of Christ being on the Eucharist. I think the WOFL site just used stock footage for that host with a crucifix on it. I would say that it’s rare for hosts to have an image of Jesus on them – the one in the picture may have been from some special occasion. I’ve never seen a host like the one in the picture before. The one Cook stole likely had no more decoration than a simple cross made from two perpendicular lines.

  • http://therenaissancebiologist.blogspot.com Hannah

    He took it, all right. That was only half the instruction. :)

    (sorry for a bit of irreverence; I’m Lutheran)

  • http://commonsensepoliticalthought.com Dana

    That reporters, even religion reporters, are ignorant about specific religious beliefs and terms is really a dog-bites-man story. It’d be a story only if he had actually gotten it right!

  • Julia

    While one can debate what effect the blessing has, it’s pretty hard to argue that it’s not consecrated. I’m pretty sure the bread is consecrated and/or blessed in most Protestant communion services too.

    Sorry – Protestants don’t claim the same things happen when the host, bread or whatever is blessed or consecrated in their services. It’s not at all the same thing. We’re talking about beliefs of the subjects of the article here, not whether the reporter shares those beliefs. And “services” are not the same thing as a Mass. Whether you agree or not, Catholic Masses are claimed to be a ritual event with things happening, not a prayer service. Benediction and Vespers are more like Protestant services. These differences are at the heart of the Reformation. It’s ignoring history to mush these things together as “services”.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Julia,

    While Lutherans don’t share the same dogmas as Catholics do with regard to the Eucharist, we also believe we receive the very body and blood of Christ. Just fyi.

  • Peggy

    Yes, Mollie, but Lutheran consubstantiation (Jesus’ Body alongside bread) =/= Roman Catholic transubstantiation (bread becomes Jesus’ Body). That’s a subtle, yet critical, distinction (as you know) going back to the Reformation, as Julia said. Otherwise, we’d be in communion. [I'm RC]

  • bob

    It’s an item like this that explains very old Church history.
    Why, for example, the earliest believers just plain excluded non-communicants from attending the Eucharist. To this day the Orthodox liturgy *says* all Catechumens should leave prior to even hearing the Creed (which is understood nearly as badly as the Eucharist itself). It gave rise to stupid conjectures about what Christians “really” did at those meetings, that had to be refuted. Oddly, the modern reporters writing is on just about the same level of ignorance as the ancient persecutors despite every possible advantage to know better. And the same “journalists” will expect me to believe everything their news service writes on the economy, sciences, war, medicine….Why exactly should I trust them on these subjects when I know their vast lack of knowledge on this one?

  • Michael

    Journalist or not, if someone tells you that they recieved death threats, how can you not be curious about what was actually said?

    “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” 1 Cor 11:28-29

    I wonder if someone just paraphrased that and he took it as a death threat. Who can pass up the chance for free self-pitying victimhood!

  • Maureen

    Or somebody might have quoted/paraphrased it, and he took it as a death threat because he’d never paid attention to the verse before. ‘Tis a scary verse, right enough, and it’s not exactly emphasized in most Catholic kids’ religious instruction, these days.

  • Dave

    Monty Python and Tom Lehrer in the same thread! It doesn’t get any better than this…

  • http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    Peggy,

    FYI, and for all journalists reading here, it is another error of fact to characterize or label the Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament as “consubstantiation.” Consubstantiation is a belief Lutheranism denies just as it denies transubstantiation.

    Point of fact: Lutherans believe Christ’s true Body and Blood are received in, with, and under the bread and wine. We don’t come up with any neat and tidy explanation of how this can be, such as consubstantiation, impanation, or transubtantiation. We simply believe what Scripture says and go no further.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    To the commenters I’ve deleted:

    Please learn this blog’s commenting policy before commenting. In a few words: be polite.

    Take your Catholic hatred elsewhere.

    We discuss media coverage of religious issues here. If you have something polite and worthwhile to add, please join in. If you have vitriol, please reconsider.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Mollie,

    Thanks for covering this. I was appalled by the reporting on this story. Amateurish doesn’t even begin to describe it.

    Now it will be interesting to see if anyone picks up on the story that Paul Zachary Myers, the University of Minnesota biology professor who made a name for himself opposing the film ‘Expelled,’ has asked for someone to send him some consecrated Hosts in order to publicly desecrate them. He’s doing this in response to the coverage surrounding what Mr. Cook did. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

  • Peggy

    Erich:

    To quote a presidential candidate: “Mair-see Bo-Coop!”

    Seriously, thanks for clarifying. Cheers

  • http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    Peggy,

    You’re welcome. :-)

    Erich

  • Bruce in Iloilo

    Catholic officials confronting those who do not consume is nothing new. When I attended mass to hear the Vienna Boys Choir, some tourists — probably Japanese and therefore likely unfamiliar with the meaning of it all — took but did not consume. The eucharistic minister chased after them, gesturing for them to consume. They did. The minister’s action was appropriate — it is part of his responsibility. One cannot assume that everyone who attends mass knows the proper way of behaving. And if one takes the Presence seriously, then it is one’s duty to, gently, correct those who seem to be ignorant. Was this anti-Catholic ignorant? You be the judge.

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  • Hal

    I wish to make several points with respect to the headlines which states that a UCF student removed the “Body of Christ” from church. I will not comment on how the term “Body of Christ” was used or the meaning of such. I simply have concern about the student. …

    The wellbeing of the student is the central issue. His act is with Christ and no one of this earth, therefore there is no stone for me to throw as I hope all others will understand.


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