The news was original. The act chronicled was even more unusual, fresh: a young man has reviewed a host. It was called the “Ostiya review,” with the wafer taken from a March 17 Mass. Which means the host was consecrated.
The review was all over the paper and online. The host was assessed in terms of design (“it should have been “centered,” a comment not quite articulated). Its crispness was also evaluated: “not soggy” and had a “satisfying crunch.” Then there was its taste—it was like a cornflake.
I must confess the first time I skimmed through the news, I found it amusing. It was irreverent alright, but being irreverent with an artifact related to the Catholic Church has, by this time, been already equated with a political act. This Church has its share of scandals, a condition that has opened the floodgate of criticisms against it.
It had become “alright” to critique the Catholic Church. The same situation has placed the said institution strangely enough on a higher ground. While other religious groups can retaliate against anyone who issues tirades against them, the Catholic Church has proven itself to be fair game and greatly fair and tolerant to its critics.
To a great degree, I am always proud that this Catholic Church—my church—can bear all attacks against its very being. It is very liberal and oddly enough capable of being meek. Or humble.
When this Ostiya controversy blew up, the Senior High School to which the young student belonged issued a statement that was not only strong but nearly confrontational: A period of Atonement was to be observed. With the said act, the proclamation also announced that no Masses will be offered in the said high school.
Then and there I realized I did profess to believe in a religion and this institution takes its dogma and doctrine seriously. That this church can go to the extreme—to suspend what the cardinal of the church and the great Swiss theologian, Charles Journet, has described as the “unbloody presence of the one unique bloody sacrifice of the Cross.”
What the boy thought to be a “cute” project has revealed much about the church. This is the church that has survived centuries of wars and conquest defending that “host” and beliefs in “transubstantiation” and the story of the Son of God becoming flesh. That this Church has this Mass, which returns us perpetually to the beginning of the Word makes the host even more powerful.
The act of the boy was declared a sacrilege and atonement was necessary to restore the order of the troubled spiritual space. Think of yourself as this boy and conjure a scenario where your community has been deprived of the Mass.
The gravity of the case has brought back the lessons about being Catholic. Related to these lessons is the question of how the boy was able to smuggle out the host.
It was easy to smuggle out the host. With Vatican II, it had become easy to smuggle hosts. Where before you had to kneel in front of the altar, and the priest was the only one who could touch the host, the radical changes in the church had enabled the communicant to handle the host itself. The rule is for the person to hold the host and bring it to his mouth. The whole process does not stop any Catholic from taking the host, walking with the head down back to one’s seat, kneeling, and slowly eating it.
Despite and maybe because of Vatican II and the reforms associated with it, the reaction of the Church to the Ostiya review showed a tough organization. The Church had once more flexed its muscle. The desecration of the host carried with it the threat of excommunication. The last major excommunication in the country was that of Aglipay in 1899, with the permission from Pope Leo XIII. In the modern era, the closest to a controversial excommunication was the rumored case of Jackie Kennedy when she married Onassis in the Greek Orthodox church.
Will the boy who took the Ostiya be excommunicated?
When the news of what was acclaimed as a desecration of the sacred wafer became more widespread, the primacy of the same became highlighted by the many previous incidents in the past. Once more Catholics were re-introduced to a whole repertoire of rituals effected when a consecrated host is desecrated or used in the most inappropriate way. It need not be directly defiled. The host falling down to the ground is considered, in many books, as defiled. Recovered, the host must be placed in what is known as a sacrarium, a special sink or vessel used for the disposal of sacred objects or substances. In some accounts, the host is expected to wither away in the vessel until it is not anymore recognized as host.
The action of the immediate community of the boy was not readily accepted by many as positive. There were responses from some sectors to forgive the Ostiya reviewer. That the time shall not be used for punitive purposes. But looking at the declaration of the church, playing with a consecrated host requires no less than a punishment.
The community is divided once more. More issues are raised about some other practices, like the hugging and kissing one witnesses when the priest merely asks us to give each other a sign of peace. Does this mean we are not anymore able to appreciate the improvisatory interpretation of our own belief? Or have we gone astray for so long from our church that we have begun to miss its punishment and our guilt?
Image credits: Jimbo Albano