Wafer madness

adorationHostThere is no question what the Roman Catholic Church calls the holy bread that is consecrated during the Mass. It is called the “host.” Anyone who knows anything about Catholic liturgy knows this.

Now, how do you describe or define the host? Those seeking to be reverent tend to call it “consecrated bread.”

The problem, of course, is that the special bread used in Western Rite services is not simply unleavened bread. As the old saying goes, there are two acts of faith involved in meditating on the host during a Mass. The first is to believe that it is the Body of Christ. The second is to believe that it is, in fact, bread.

Thus, many people refer to the host in a variety of ways. Some people insist on calling the host a “wafer,” a term that angers many Catholics. However, there are Catholics who use this term. Still, most simply call it by its traditional name — a host.

It is true that, if you look up definitions online, there is an ecclesiastical definition for “wafer” that applies. Thus, you end up with these two clashing definitions:

1. A small thin crisp cake, biscuit, or candy.

2. Ecclesiastical A small thin disk of unleavened bread used in the Eucharist.

So, is this unique bread the consecrated “host” or some kind of supposedly holy cookie? That seems to be the question.

I raise this because of the interesting and very detailed story that ran in the Boston Globe the other day about rites of “perpetual adoration,” a tradition that is explained well right at the top by religion-beat specialist Michael Paulson. However, many will stumble, or even scream, right at the lede:

The adorers sit in silence before the wafer.

Some settle cross-legged on the floor by the altar. Others kneel in a favorite pew. They read, or say the rosary; they pray, or think, or just allow the mind to wander. Hour after hour, day after day, they take part in an unusual Catholic ritual that appears to be making a modest comeback — a quest for silence in a noisy life, a desire to be part of a team, a hunger to feel closer to God.

The ritual, called perpetual adoration, is, at one level, strikingly simple: around-the-clock, people take turns sitting in a chapel in the presence of a consecrated wafer. But at another level, the ritual reflects an embrace of the teaching of Catholicism that many find hardest to understand: the belief that, during Mass, bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.

The lede seems to settle the issue. It’s a wafer. The Catholic church may say that it is the Body of Christ, or even consecrated bread, but it’s a wafer. For many readers, this rite is an act of faith. Others will consider it a mild form of madness.

I think it’s likely that they Globe stylebook even settles this language question (I’d love to know the actual answer, in fact). The story uses the term “wafer” eight times — including in a direct quote — and the term “host” only once. I found it interesting that the term “host” is left undefined. If the term is so common that it does not need to be defined, then why not use “host,” oh, eight times and the term “wafer” once? Just asking.

I also wondered if this statement is true:

Later this week, in a Back Bay shrine, the Archdiocese of Boston will celebrate the return of perpetual adoration to Boston for the first time in decades. Volunteers at St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine are signing up 336 people — two for every hour of the week except during Mass — who will agree that, starting Saturday and continuing indefinitely, they will spend an hour a week in the presence of the consecrated wafer, a practice they understand as spending an hour a week with God.

That’s interesting. I had no idea that perpetual adoration was this rare, since I have heard about the practice in a number of contexts through the years. Are there no monasteries in Boston? Did this particular archdiocese ban or discourage the practice for some reason? I’m curious.

Please understand that I am not attacking the Globe report (and certainly not Paulson) on the “wafer” vs. “host” issue.

Still, I have no doubt that many Catholics were not offended by the drumbeat references to their adoration of a “wafer.” However, I am sure that some were offended and there is a good chance that some traditional Catholics still read the Globe.

My question is more basic: What was gained by using the blunt “wafer” reference in the lede? Is the word “host” so strange in a heavily Catholic region? Why not open by saying that they are kneeling before the “consecrated bread” that they believe is the Body of Christ? A reference to the belief of the worshippers would be accurate, even for skeptics. Correct?

Behind this question is another: Should journalists cover the beliefs of others with some sense of respect for the language that they would use? What is accomplished by using language that is sure to offend many of the “stakeholders” — that’s a journalistic term used by Poynter.org and in some other academic settings — who will care the most about the accuracy and sensitivity of this fine story?

There is no question that the Catholic church calls this a “host.” And there is no question that the Boston Globe calls this bread a “wafer.” I am asking this question: Why does the “wafer” language need to win in this debate? Is there a way to be both neutral and to show respect?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Steve in Toronto

    No discussion of the host would be complete without a reference to Jack chick’s classic treaties on the Eucharist “Death Cookie” http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0074/0074_01.asp

    God Bless and my apologies to anyone that is offended by the link it is meant only in jest (on my part anyway I am afraid that Mr. Chick is very serious).

    Steve in Toronto

  • Adam Bradley

    I think you should be able to briefly define the term “host,” then use it instead of “wafer” without appearing to argue that Catholic theology is true:

    The “host,” as Catholics call the consecrated wafer, is believed to become the body of Christ during…

    The lede here is tricky—Paulson was obviously trying to provoke a “what!?” reaction with that first sentence, though I’ve no doubt he succeeded in the wrong way with some readers.

    I was surprised I couldn’t find any guidelines about this in the AP Stylebook.

  • Julia

    I’m a stakeholder who is offended. The guy is in Boston, for heaven’s sake. Any story about Catholic rituals should be run by one of the many Catholics on staff at the paper for obnoxious errors.

    When I hear the word wafer, I think of vanilla wafers or ginger snaps or those colored candies in a roll.
    My parish has had perpetual adoration for years and people do not sit cross-legged in front of a cookie, I can guarantee that. And our priests, bishops and Pope have not been carrying a cookie in the monstrance (shown in the photo) in processions or at Benedictions for the past millenia.

    Consider the word “host” in the biological sense – an entity that has an organism within itself. Also in the sense of a hostel or person who welcomes another into his home. Consider the part of the Mass before receiving Communion when the congregation says “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you (serve as a host)under my roof [i.e. into my house/my body], say but the word and my soul shall be healed.”

    Catholic rituals are loaded with metaphors – “host” is a very important metaphorical term. The consecrated, unleavened bread is most certainly not a “wafer”. He was being snarky. Shame.

  • Maureen

    Actually, the very nice thing about the Latin word “hostis” is that it means both host and guest.

    Re: theology

    I don’t know that “consecrated” is a particularly inoffensive word in this context, either. It’s just that “wafer” is so much more offensive, in the context of something going on _after_ transubstantiation.

    (Before transubstantiation, then sure, the host is just a wafer of unleavened wheat, and the history of sacred and secular wafer cooking and molds is very fascinating and long and fun.)

    Re: Perpetual Adoration

    Definitely not that rare in many places in the US, and of course many religious orders practice it also. Very rare in certain archdioceses, either due to theology problems or security/insurance worries.

  • Brian Walden

    Julia, I don’t think “host” comes from those English meanings of the word. Doesn’t it come from the Latin hostia – victim? The word host is easy on our ears and we think tend to think of the images you describe, but that’s not really what it means. I don’t understand why Protestants are often uncomfortable with calling the Catholic sacrament the Eucharist – thanksgiving – even though it’s meaning tends to more easily describe what they do at their own communion services than host does.

    Wafer just has a terrible clang to it. It doesn’t fit; it’s what Protestants and under-catechized Catholics call the Eucharist. If nothing else, if Eucharist and host are for whatever reasons unacceptable, use consecrated bread. It’s a mouthful but I think everyone can agree that the bread has been consecrated (we just disagree on what affect the consecration has).

  • Danby

    Actually the term “consecrated bread” is also inaccurate, and reflects a Protestant point of view. After all, as Thomas reminds us, after the consecration, there is nothing of the essence of bread left, only the accidents.

    From a Catholic viewpoint, the acceptable terms are “host” which implies both the host/guest relationship and the presence of the sacrificial victim, and “Body of Christ” which is an explicit statement of the Faith and would not be expected to be seen in a secular newspaper.

    Of course, if he wanted to be really offensive he could have called the Host a “Jesus Cracker” or “Death Cookie” like the more strident anti-Catholics do. Still, the whole article has an air of reporting on the oddities collected for the zoo.

  • imprimartin


    As the old saying goes, there are two acts of faith involved in meditating on the host during a Mass. The first is to believe that it is the Body of Christ. The second is to believe that it is, in fact, bread.

    I’m not sure what old saying this is, but Roman Catholic teaching is clear that once the consecration is complete it is no longer bread (CCC 1333-1336). It is only a sign at that point. Otherwise, adoration would be an act of worshiping Jesus AND worshiping bread. That is idolatry.

    This “Jesus and bread” thing is, I think, something that Lutherans (and maybe orthodox episcoplians) believe and it is called “con-substantiation” as opposed to the catholic “trans-substantiation”.

    The body and blood are under the “appearances” of bread and wine. Catholics do not worship bread/wafers/cookies/biscuits/crackers or biscotti. :-)


  • San

    To be accurate, though, the word “host,” when used in reference to the consecrated bread is not etymologically related to “host” in the hospitable sense. In the later sense, the word is derived from the same root (hospes/hostis – stranger) as “hospitality,” “hospital,” “hospice” and even “hostile.”

    As used in the Eucharistic sense, the word is derived from the Latin hostia, which means “victim” or “sacrifice.”

    It can make for a nice play on words in English, however.

  • imprimartin

    You know what, I may have not been clear in my previous post. When I said

    It is only a sign at that point

    I meant that the appearance of bread is now just a sign of the fact that is now the body of Christ. It is no longer bread, it is now God.

    Sorry for the confusion,

  • Brian Walden

    So I was thinking that journalists just use wafer out of ignorance, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if there are other intentions. No matter what, when covering a story about the Eucharist at a Catholic Church a journalist has to define the Catholic belief early on in the piece. If you have to define your terms anyway, why not just use the natural-sounding terms Eucharist and host and explain that they’re what Catholics call the sacrament? I don’t see how using the particular terms imposes any specific viewpoint on the reader. After all, many Catholics have no problem disbelieving in real presence without resorting to calling the Eucharist a wafer.

    Does anyone, Catholic or not, think the article is benefited from a sentence like this with its wafers in wafer-holders?

    At St. Clement’s, the wafer is displayed in a simple monstrance – a golden wafer-holder placed in a red velvet niche surrounded by wood carvings of sunrays and angels carrying incense.

    In the whole article the word adoration is only used in conjunction with the object of that adoration, the Eucharist, twice. Both are on the second page of the article – once in a direct quote of Cardinal O’Malley and the other while paraphrasing him. On the other hand, the article leads in by describing Catholics adoring a wafer. One might get the impression that the writer wants us to think that Catholics worship bread.

    And why is Paulson so comfortable using one theological term, adoration, but so shy about using Eucharist or host? Why not keep the theme of common, everyday language consistent and use “to pray before” instead of adore? Both Sister Walsh and Bishop O’Malley used Eucharist or Eucharistic twice in their quoted statements (and they were only quoted two sentences each). So what’s the deal? It’s not like Paulson wasn’t exposed to the lingo.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Martin, I think the saying Terry was quoting is a tongue-in-cheek way of saying the host isn’t very tasty. Which doesn’t bother me at all. Jesus saves us from our sins; we can’t expect Him to taste good as well. :)

    I agree with Julia – I hear “wafer” and think of Nillas. “Wafer” does describe the appearance of the host, however, and his lede is trying to paint a picture rather than explain a point.

    He might have done better to describe the adorers as sitting in front of the monstrance (using some less arcane term, of course) and then gone on to explain what was in it. But my guess is that he just didn’t realize what a fine line you have to walk with describing the Real Presence. Most non-Catholics don’t think we actually believe in a literal change; they figure it’s just a metaphor for some deep theological truth they don’t understand.

    I’m kind of interested in the assertion attributed to Fr. Foley, that very few people took communion in the 13th century. I’ve never heard that before, and if he hadn’t sourced it I’d have thought it was hooey. A cursory glance at the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for “Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament” doesn’t shed any light. Does anyone else know anything about that?

  • Mary

    “Host” is derived from the Latin hostia, meaning sacrifice or victim, so I suppose using the term host necessarily implies that it is in fact the Body of the sacrificed Christ. Perhaps that is why the media prefers the term wafer. Personally, as a Catholic, I have no problem calling the Eucharistic bread a wafer prior to its consecration, although I wouldn’t call it that afterwards. Also, although the wafer-like thin round bread is most common in the US, the bread does not have to take this form, so it doesn’t necessarily make sense to call it a wafer.

  • Dan LaHood

    “wafer” makes it sound like a Vanilla Wafer or a Necco Wafer, just a tad too many secular connotations, Host, works for me.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Here in the Boston area most Catholics would presume the Boston Globe’s bad faith. Doesn’t an article on the front page like this one was go through a number of hands including a number of editors??? And since the word “wafer” in this situation strikes most Catholics like fingernails screeching down a blackboard–one can presume from this incident that apparently the Globe has a policy of not hiring Catholics for top positions.
    And Boston people think of wafers as NECCO wafers more than most Americans because the world headquarters for the manufacture of NECCO wafers is right outside Boston in Revere,Ma. In fact, NECCO is short for New England Confectionary Company.
    And, although Christian Orthodox believers do not usually pray before Christ present in the reserved Eucharist, maybe some media should point out that their belief in the Real Presence or the True Presence (based on Christ’s words in the Bible) is virtually identical to the Catholic belief. I have even read a book in which a Russian Orthodox theologian used the Latin scholastic term “transubstantiation” to define the Orthodox understanding. (After all, we were one church for almost a thousand years).
    On the other hand, the article I read DID MENTION perpetual adoration being carried out in some other locations in the archdiocese–parishes, not monasteries though.

  • Julia

    My disquisition on “host” was done quickly with no references, and appeals to me since it is an English word.
    My method was actually a bit of backwards etymology, as is rife in the old Testament – you know, explaining the reason for the names of locations and people by guessing from word associations connected to the sound of the word. The Golden Legend explains a lot of names that way, too.

    Jacobus de Voragine typically begins with an (often fanciful) etymology for the saint’s name. An example (in Caxton’s translation) shows his method:

    Silvester is said of sile or sol which is light, and of terra the earth, as who saith the light of the earth, that is of the church. Or Silvester is said of silvas and of trahens, that is to say he was drawing wild men and hard unto the faith. Or as it is said in glossario, Silvester is to say green, that is to wit, green in contemplation of heavenly things, and a toiler in labouring himself; he was umbrous or shadowous. That is to say he was cold and refrigate from all concupiscence of the flesh, full of boughs among the trees of heaven.
    As a Latin author, Jacobus de Voragine must have known that Silvester, a relatively common Latin name, simply meant “from the forest”. The correct derivation is alluded to in the text, but set out in parallel to fanciful ones that lexicographers would consider quite wide of the mark. Even the “correct” explanations (silvas, “forest”, and the mention of green boughs) are used as the basis for an allegorical interpretation. Jacobus de Voragine’s etymologies had different goals from modern etymologies, and cannot be judged by the same standards. Jacobus de Voragine’s etymologies have parallels in Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae, in which linguistically accurate derivations are set out beside allegorical and figurative explanations.

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Legend

    So I might be wrong and talking out of my hat, but I’m in good company.

    Personally I like Thomas Aquinas’ Panis Angelicus, the bread of angels.

  • BC

    Why should the Globe use the term “host,” which is theologically loaded?–it is an Anglicized version of “hostia,” which means a sacrifical victim, and its use assumes acceptance of Catholic theology.

    Look at any Catholic religious goods store: they use the term “wafer” (e.g.: http://www.inhisname.com/product.php?product=37156 ).

  • Julia

    Why should the Globe use the term “host,” which is theologically loaded?—

    Because it’s a story about a religious practice with theological implications.

    The word Orthodox is loaded and so is Protestant Reformation but they are terms in common usage.

    Does the word host insult some Faith or people who are not Catholic?

    “Wafer” is in that ad for items before they are used at Mass. You don’t have to agree that something happens to it in order to use the word that the people being written about use.

    Otherwise, I should be able to object to “Protestant Reformation” on the grounds that I don’t think the Catholic Church needed reforming.

  • Brian Walden

    Why should the Globe use the term “host,” which is theologically loaded?—it is an Anglicized version of “hostia,” which means a sacrifical victim, and its use assumes acceptance of Catholic theology.

    Why should the Globe use the term “wafer,” which is theologically loaded? It is an anti-Catholic term for a thin confectionary good, which implies that Catholics are idolaters and not real Christians?

    Look at any Catholic religious goods store: they use the term “wafer” (e.g.: http://www.inhisname.com/product.php?product=37156 ).

    Yes, Catholics keep wafers in a cheap plastic container. They sell wafers to anyone who wants to buy them. On the other hand, Catholics keep the Eucharist in a gold tabernacle. They automatically excommunicate anyone who tries to sell the Eucharist. Slight difference there.

  • Tyson K

    This is the sort of post and comments that makes me want to remind everyone of something that is obvious about GR to me but often unnoticed. The average GetReligion reader and commenter (myself included) knows far more about, and is far more observant in, his or her religious beliefs than the average American. I would just like to note that there are many, many (regularly mass-attending) Catholics who probably wouldn’t really have a problem with the word “wafer,” even though they would automatically describe the item discussed as “the host” themselves. Obviously, they haven’t thought through the theological implications as thoroughly as most of the commenters here. I suppose I think there are probably a really large number of Catholics who really aren’t that offended by the word “wafer,” it just strikes them as odd.

    The same thing applies for the practice of perpetual adoration itself. As far as I know, it is making a comeback these days. I live in a very Catholic (and also very Lutheran) place, and my raised-Catholic mother had never heard of it before until my still-Catholic grandmother mentioned that her church (the church my mother was raised in) had begun doing it recently. But only the most devout are likely to be participating anyway, so it’s worth remembering that for many Catholics even, this is a sort of unusual practice.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Why should the Globe use the term “host,” which is theologically loaded?—it is an Anglicized version of “hostia,” which means a sacrifical victim, and its use assumes acceptance of Catholic theology.

    Because when a journalist writes about a religious belief, it’s customary to write as though the belief wasn’t necessarily false. In a Mormon story, you would say “temple” rather than “secret lair.” If you’re writing about Muslims, you refer to Muhammad by name rather than “that guy who heard voices and married a nine-year-old.”

    Hyperbole aside, when you write a story about religion, you use the terms that the adherents themselves use, unless there’s a compelling reason not to.

  • http://www.jewschool.com dlevy

    Adherents aren’t monolithic, even when their church might be. I have lived in densely Catholic neighborhoods for most of my life. I know the term wafer from my Catholic friends use of it. Reading Paulson’s blog today about reactions to his article was the first time I have encountered the notion that this terminology is offensive to some Catholic people. I doubt Paulson was being snarky in his use of the term, but I suspect he (and I and other readers) may think twice before using it in the future.

  • Cheryl

    Wow, talk about not getting religion.

    The “wafer” terminology that’s used in the lede, and continues throughout the article, goes to the very essence of the practice that’s the subject of the article. It’s only accurate to use the term wafer if you are discussing what is sold in Catholic religious goods stores prior to consecration.

    It’s hard to imagine an excellent religion reporter at major newspaper (such as Ann Rogers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, for example) taking a similar approach. As Joel says, in writing about religion it’s customary to use the terms that adherents use unless there is a good reason not to. As a Catholic, I see this as a matter of accuracy as well as respect, but as it stands the Globe article offers neither. Like Julia, I detect a whiff of snark in the lede.

    For what it’s worth, the good folks at St. Clements in Boston know good publicity when they see it and are featuring a link to the Globe article on their Web site. I was in Boston recently and saw their ads for Perpetual Adoration on the subway. Very sharp and compelling.

  • Brian Finnerty

    Well, yes, the word “wafer” can be jarring to Catholic sensitivities.

    But the thing that strikes me most about the piece — why I found it so refreshing to read — is that this is a story in a mainstream news outlet that describes ordinary believers in search of God. The story is an acknowledgment that faith in itself can be something interesting. The story is not about faith and politics, or faith and sexuality, or faith and scandal, but about faith, period.

    So kudos to Michael Paulson for trying to pull this off. I would love to see more stories like it.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Although there are apparently some people who use the word “wafer” for the consecrated host with no negative intentions, most of the time I have heard the word “wafer” used in this context it has been from the pens or mouths of bigots. Other Catholics have probably had the same experience so find it jarring to find it on the Globe’s front page, used by a writer who is usually pretty good.

  • michael


    I’m no historian, but Fr. Foley is correct I think. Reception of communion by the laity was infrequent in the Middle Ages(one reason, presumably, why why the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 reiterated the tradition that all should make a confession and receive communion at least once a year), though this infrequency held a very different meaning for the mediaevals than it would for us and seems to be bound up with a culture of intense adoration and extremely strong corporate devotion to the Feast of Corpus Christi, among other things. One result is that, for the laity, the elevation became the climax of the Mass. (I recall reading one account which claimed this is why bells were introduced, to call attention to this key moment).

    John Bossy and Eamon Duffy are two historians who are very good on this. They could flesh this out further for you if you’re really interested. Bossy’s Christianity in the West 1400-1700 is a wonderful little book (he also has some done some interesting work on Corpus Christi), and Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars is a masterpiece.

  • Martha

    Ah, I’d cut the paper some slack.

    Yes, I hate the term “wafer” but on the other hand, if it began “The adorers sit before the host” (or even “the Host”), some readers might think “Huh? Who’s this guy? Is he like a prayer leader or something? There’s a party going on?”

    I’d hate to imagine what they might think, faced with the term “monstrance” :-)

  • Julia


    I have a copy of Antiphon, a Journal for Liturgical Renewal, which has a piece on “Late-Gothic Architectural Monstrances and Their Use During the Feast and Octave of Corpus Christi” by Heather McCune Bruhn of Penn State. It’s in Volume 12 Number 2, 2008, pp. 141-166 with 12 pages of illustrations and photos, and is copiously footnoted.

    Anybody interested in a $7 back copy of the issue, which is not available on-line, can order one at this site.


    The article says the Feast of Corpus Christi was first instituted in 1246 at Liege in Belgium. Monstrances were not used until the mid-to-late 14th century.

    The earliest statutes and offices for the feast simply mention that the consecrated Host should be honored with readings and hymns. Expositions of and processions with the Host did not follow until later.

    This is the author defining monstrance:

    The term monstrance refers to a vessel that is used to hold and to display the consecrated Host for veneration by the faithful, whether it is placed upon an altar or used in procession.

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    I never minded the term wafer but appreciate the point: it is a shade pejorative. Host is good but the unchurched probably don’t understand it. Consecrated bread seems to get the point across and is not necessarily offensive because the accidents of bread remain after consecration. Probably one reason I didn’t mind wafer is it doesn’t imply, at least to me, that it’s only bread, albeit blessed.

    Eastern Orthodox belief on the Eucharist is the same as RC belief. There was no major threat of heresy in the Middle Ages denying the Real Presence in the East so no devotions to the Sacrament outside of the Liturgy were developed to fight it.

    Perpetual adoration was always meant to be the exception not the main focus of the Eucharist, something only certain religious orders did. Like the origins of extra-liturgical Eucharistic devotions the push for it today seems an understandable reaction to modern abuses in the Mass and their resulting unbelief.

  • Julia

    The young fogey:

    I wonder who was denying the Real Presence in the West when the Corpus Christi feasts started in Belgium in the 1200s and the processions and expositions in the 1300s?

    Here’s what the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia says about beginnings of Perpetual Adoration.

    Most liturgists rightly attribute the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and its special adoration to the establishment of the Feast of Corpus Christi. But it is worthy of note that the first recorded instance of Perpetual Adoration antedates Corpus Christi, and occurred at Avignon. On 11 September 1226, in compliance with the wish of Louis VII, who had just been victorious over the Albigensians, the Blessed Sacrament, veiled, was exposed in the Chapel of the Holy Cross, as an act of thanksgiving. So great was the throng of adorers that the bishop, Pierre de Corbie, judged it expedient to continue the adoration by night, as well as by day, a proposal that was subsquently ratified by the approval of the Holy See. This really Perpetual Adoration, interrupted in 1792, was resumed in 1829, through the efforts of the “Confraternity of Penitents-Gris” (Annales de Saint-Sacrement, III, 90). It is said that there has been a Perpetual Adoration in the Cathedral of Lugo, Spain, for more than a thousand years in expiation of the Priscillian heresy. (Cardinal Vaughan refers to this in an official letter to the Cardinal Primate of Spain, 1895.)

    Note that the writer refers to the Blesed Sacrament and not a Host. This is very common terminology for Catholics, but would probably be more likely to stick in the craw of a secular writer than Host.

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    Julia, about 200 years earlier Berengarius denied the full Real Presence. St Thomas Aquinas using Aristotle to defend it, starting the feast of Corpus Christi and starting extra-liturgical devotions to the Blessed Sacrament (I don’t expect secular – not the same as secularist/anti-Catholic – journalists to use that jargon) were reactions to that.

  • Julia

    Young Fogey:

    Thanks. I checked out Berengarius and learned that there was a hundred years or so of furious papers and synods on the subject of Real Presence and “transubstantiation”.

    It was Hildebert of Lavardin, a contemporary of Berengarius if not his pupil, who first used the word transubstantiation. (Sermones xciii; P.L., CLXXI, 776.) The Council of Rome in 1079 in its condemnation of Berengarius, expresses more clearly than any document before it, the nature of this substantial change; and St. Thomas, in his definition of Transubstantiation uses almost the same terms as the council. (Sum. Theol., III, Q. lxxv, a. 4.) Though the feast of Corpus Christi was officially established only in the thirteenth century, its institution was probably occasioned by these eucharistic controversies. The same may be said of the ceremony of the elevation of the Host after the consecration in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    The 1911 Encyclopedia says the feast of Corpus Christi began at the urging of a Belgian woman named St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon in the early 1200s – in the midst of all this arguing. She died in 1258. The Pope, in 1264, asked Thomas Aquinas to write the Office that went with it. Panis Angelicus, Tantum Ergo, etc.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    For many of us, “wafer” is likely to recall Tom Lehrer’s “Vatican Rag”, and I will not incur the wrath by quoting it here.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Thanks, Will. Now I’ve got that stuck in my head. (Actually, I learned that song when I was a Protestant teenager. It’s much funnier now that I’m Catholic and know what it’s referring to.)

    It seems to me that “wafer” is technically correct because a wafer isn’t necessarily a unit of bread. Down the road from me there’s a factory that turns out silicon wafers, for instance. A wafer could just as easily be a thin slice of Jesus.

    But the issue is how well it conveys a meaning, not a technicality. I have to agree with Martha; “wafer” may be graveling to those who know better, but it’s still as close as the writer could get without making things more muddy in the lede. Plenty of time to clarify in the story body.

  • Peter Atkins

    From a reader’s perspective, journalists should use the correct term (with definition if necessary) since it makes for a more interesting read. After all, isn’t part (or all) of the journalist’s task to educate the reader?

  • Paul

    the ritual reflects an embrace of the teaching of Catholicism that many find hardest to understand: the belief that, during Mass, bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.

    “I mean, they like, literally, believe this bread and stuff like turns into Jesus!”

    With a little art, the writer could surely have chosen an adverb that was both theologically acceptable and colloquially comprehensible, such as ‘essentially’ — or just omitted the adverb, which is redundant except for the mocking tone it imparts.

    Yes, the article is derisive, whether slyly or unconsciously so.

  • http://bioethike.com Robert C. Baker

    Catholics believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ during the Mass. While the substances of the bread and wine are changed, only the accidents (taste, color, texture, etc.) of the bread and wine remain. This is transubstantiation.

    Lutherans believe that while the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ during the Mass, the substance of the bread and wine remain. In Lutheran terms, this is called the sacramental or Real Presence. Lutherans never refer to their belief as “consubstantiation.”

    As a Lutheran, I’m never happy with the term “wafer” being used at all for sacramental bread. “Host” is fine, both before and after consecration,” but “Body of Christ” is preferred after the consecration.

    Ironically, while Catholics and Lutherans disagree on what happens to the bread and wine during the Mass, they do not disagree that Christ is sacramentally present in His body and blood (Real Presence) in the Eucharist.

    Robert at bioethike.com

  • Phil Smith

    Hi Guys.

    Great discussion. The thing about pejorative articles is that they tend to backfire on the publisher. We should protest of course, but God can always make good come out of bad. Somewhere, in Boston or elsewhere, there will be thoughtful people wondering “why do Catholics worship a “wafer?”, that’s the seed that the author has unwittingly planted. We all know that God loves to water seeds!

    Perpetual adoration is fantastic. What’s even better is that Catholics can receive this Bread of Angels each day of our lives at daily Mass, when we celebrate with the Angels and the Universal Church the means of our salvation.

    Love and prayers from the Isle of Man.

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  • Anne Bingham

    Of course you know the old saw that it takes more faith to believe the host is bread than it does to believe it’s the Body of Christ…