Catholic doctrine and the Consecrated Host: The Facts

A number of threads active here are concerned with the Roman Catholic Sacrament of the Eucharist. So far as I can tell, the discussion began with a story about an attendee at a Mass who, after receiving a consecrated host, did not eat it, but instead left the church, over the objections of other attendees.

The purpose of this thread is to address and put to rest several arguments that appeared in this discussions that were, quite frankly, strawman argument. They were Frankenstein Strawman arguments, in fact.

The following information is factual. I don’t post this is GQ for two reasons: it’s poor form to post the answer to a question as the OP in GQ; and because, notwithstanding the factual nature of this post, experience suggests it may draw some debate. A third reason may be that this constitutes witnessing, although I will emphatically deny that. This is not a claim of what The Truth is with respect to the sacrament. It’s simply The Truth with respect to what Catholic doctrine says the sacrament is. I trust the distinction is apparent: I can declare definitively that Thomas the Tank Engine resides on the Island of Sodor without being accused of mixing fantasy and reality. The statement is clearly meant to apply to the theoretical world of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Catholic doctrine holds that when a piece of bread is consecrated during Mass, the bread changes to the actual, real body and blood of Christ. This statement often causes a negative reaction, and occasionally offers to subject the bread to the most minute laboratory analysis, in order to show that it remains simply a piece of bread.

But no one claims otherwise! Suggesting that a lab test somehow disproves the claim is a classic strawman argument: attacking a premise that your opponent does not hold.

Catholics believe that the substance of the bread changes, but the accidents of the bread remain the same. The substance of the bread refers to its actual nature, it’s “breadiness,” if you will, a quality utterly separate from it’s physical characteristics, or accidents.

Here’s an analogy: let’s say I move into a new house, and I tell my son: this is your new bedroom.

Now, before he, or any of us, have set foot in his room, he tells a friend: “This is my new room!”

“No, it isn’t,” replies the friend. “It’s just the same room it was yesterday. I could bring a whole CSI lab team in and test it, and get the exact same result as yesterday, when it wasn’t your room. So how can you say it’s your room?”

The answer is, of course, because what makes it “his room” is not a change to the physical characteristics of the room at all.

Catholics believe that an analogous change happens when a priest says Mass. The bread’s physical characteristics don’t change one iota; the underlying substance of the bread, it’s essential character, is what changes.

Now, how can we test such a claim, to see if it’s true?

We cannot. The claim is not falsifiable. It’s an error to call this claim false, in the realm of pure logical debate; it’s equally an error in that realm to call it true. It’s simply not testable. Now, because the onus is on anyone making a claim to provide evidence of it, certainly anyone interested in pure logic is entitled to disregard an untestable claim.

So – no, you can’t test the bread and see a difference. No, you’ve not proved anything by the failure of the bread test to reveal a difference, since no one is claiming any test should reveal anything different. Based on a lack of evidence, anyone is perfectly entitled to disregard the claims about the bread’s change in substance.

I do accept the claim that the bread has changed, because I have additional evidence that suggests it’s so. Unfortunately, I cannot convincingly share that evidence with you, because it’s a result of personal experiences that cannot be proven to someone who didn’t have them. So while I’m not remotely surprised if you regard these claims as unproven, I, by virtue of experiences that you don’t have, can’t share that evaluation.

Now, could my own perception be wrong? Of course. I don’t think it is, but I admit the possibility that I’m deluded. But just as you must use your own experiences to form conclusions about the world, so, too, must I.

I hope this is of some help, at least with respect to getting rid of the “lab test” business as having any relation to this discussion.

Accepting as given what Catholic doctrine says about the communion wafer, what are the ramifications of someone’s removing the wafer from the church and, say, flushing it down the toilet? Sure, this is the actual body of Christ, but Christ is also resurrected and at the right hand of the Father; He’s beyond the reach of anyone who would harm Him, and besides, He’s God and all that.

It strikes me that the efforts to defend and protect this little bit of Christ could have only been the intersection of superstition and lack of faith in Christ. But I’m open to arguments to the contrary.

That’s one way to look at it, I guess, but another one might be that a duty of care is implied in the act of consecration - and that it’s not a failure to protect God, but a failure to uphold a duty or covenant.

Thanks, Bricker. Next if you could explain the difference between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth…


Heck, Shodan, even I know that one, and I’m a complete heathen.

The Immaculate Conception was the joining of sperm and egg that created the zygote which grew into Mary, the mother of Jesus. Because she was tapped to be the Mother of God, she had to be free of Original Sin, so a special exemption was made for her Conception, that it not carry the taint of Original Sin.

The Virgin Birth took place after Mary conceived and carried to term Jesus, the Son of God. As she had, according to Scripture and tradition, never had sex, when she gave birth, she was still a virgin.

The Immaculate Conception means that the Pope is infallible when speakin “ex cathedra”, which is Latin for “sitting down”.



Mary was concieved immaculately, meaning without original sin. The Virgin Birth is more obvious, refering to Jesus being born even though Mary never had sexual relations with anyone.

Whence came the atonement? (Given that the rest of the world needed blood to be shed for them)

I’m not sure that defending transubstantiation by referring to a goofy Platonic metaphysics is going to win many converts. :stuck_out_tongue:

In all seriousness, transubstantiation is about the silliest religious belief this side of alien DC-8’s or the lost tribes of Israel residing in the Americas. As I’m not an asshole, you won’t find me absconding with a consecrated host (though all bets are off with a consecrated hostess) but asking me to take the belief seriously is an exercise in futility.

The Catholic Church would have a lot better retention rate if they used Twinkies.

This was one of the issues debated by medeval theologians. Duns Scotus said that the atonement was Christ’s future death on the cross, though.

And from the Papal Bull establishing the Immaculate Conception:

My question instead, would be regarding the Virgin Birth. It’s an article of faith for Catholics that Mary’s hymen remained intact until her death, but wouldn’t it be torn by the process of giving birth?

Seems to working OK in the real world. If you mean “many converts” around here, then I’m with you. :wink:

Your use of “substance” and “character” are misleading. In you bedroom analogy, only the room’s status or purpose as designated by humans has changed, nothing of the substance or character of the room itself has.

You state that the claim is not falsifiable, but I say that the claim is inadequately defined in the first place. What exactly is being claimed about the bread?

And if it’s predictable that conventional scientific tests cannot be used to detect any change in the character of the bread, then what sort of test are? If we were to mix together a number of consecrated and non-consecrated, would even the most spiritually-attuned priests be able to tell them apart?

So if the host’s “breadiness” is not in its material, in what does it reside? Is substance in some higher level of reality than matter? From your analogy of the room it would seem that the bread is becoming the property of Christ, rather than Christ himself.

The “substance” of a thing is what it is, fundamentally…it’s the “spirit” of a thing, for lack of a better word. A thing’s “accidents” are the traits of the thing that are detectable and quantifiable.

Dammit, you pre-empted my own sacred Twinkie joke. Sick minds think alike.

Seeing as I’m Lutheran, I’ve got to agree with you. Sacramental Union is where it’s all at.

You confused me here. Might you have accidently flipped the terms in the second sentence? The *accidents *of the bread remain unchanged, right? While its substance changes. As in:

Catholics believe that the substance of the bread changes, but the accidents of the bread remain the same. The accidents of the bread refers to its actual nature, it’s “breadiness,” if you will, a quality utterly separate from it’s* extra-physical characteristics, or newly imbued holiness.*

Or am I completely not understanding you?

There’s isn’t any requirement of testability at all. That’s what it means when Bricker says it isn’t falsifiable.

You mean, replace the host with Hostess?

While many Catholics have apparently thought her hymen was intact for life, and various attempts have been made to explain how Baby Jesus miracled His way out, I don’t think it’s ever been official Catholic doctrine.

The best explanation I heard was from a Catholic who didn’t believe this but did when she was younger- that Mary squeezed Him out like toothpaste & then shaped Him back into Baby-form! :smiley: