03 December 2009

Desecrating the Eucharist: how Catholics should respond (UPDATED)

Question:  How should Catholics react/respond to Youtube vids of atheists and other anti-religious types desecrating the Blessed Sacrament?  

Two reactions seem to me to be perfectly reasonable. . .

First, a private reaction:  horror and then prayer for the individual who does such a thing.

Second, a public reaction:  ignore it.  Even better, a declaration from the bishops' conference stating that the Sacrament is no longer the Sacrament the instant someone intents to desecrate the species. [see note below]*

To understand the force of the second reaction you have to understand the adolescent attention-seeking mindset of the person who would abuse the sacred species to make anti-Catholic propaganda.

Traditionally, the point of desecration is to offer offense to the god(s) of the enemy.  It's a terror tactic used to demoralize a conquered people.  Essentially, destroying a temple or pulling down an idol is a way for the victor to say, "See!  Your god(s) have abandoned you.  We won because your god(s) is weak!"  Conquerors may not have worshiped the enemy's god(s), but they probably believed that this god(s) really existed.  Defeating the nation dedicated to the  offended god(s) proved the deity too weak to defend his/her people.  Such a god(s) deserves no worship.  

But the crybabies who desecrate the Eucharist do not believe in the Christian god.  They do not believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ.  In their own minds, they are not offering offense to Christ b/c they do not believe that Christ is who he says he is.  The point of desecrating the Eucharist is offend Catholics.  More importantly, the act of desecration is specifically designed to provoke Catholics into angry, indignant reactions that prove we are religious fanatics willing to defend bizarre Dark Age superstitions.

I would argue that the instant anyone steals the sacred species for the purpose of desecration the sacrament is no longer the Body and Blood of Christ.  If some idiot wants to nail a piece of bread to the wall or flush it down the toilet and post a video of the event on the internet, then more power to him.  I'm not offended b/c I don't believe that the host is the Body of Christ.

If the Holy Spirit can effect the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ through the agency of human intention and prayer, then there is no reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is powerless to revoke the effects of the transformation and leave the species perfectly ordinary in the face of human disbelief and the intention to desecrate.

Christ freely and willingly died for us on the cross 2,000 years ago.  He endured torture, humiliation, abandonment, and death so that we might be reconciled with the Father through his sufferings.  He has already suffered far worse than being peed on by some undergrad atheist looking for his 15-minutes of internet fame.  By telling the attention-seeking crybaby that we are not offended by his desecration, we deflate his self-importance; undercut the anti-Catholic propaganda power of his silly gesture; attract attention to the faith; and come out of the whole thing looking like adults patiently indulging a child in the midst of a public temper-tantrum.

Email campaigns, signing petitions, calling for new laws, filing lawsuits--all of these give the offender exactly what he wants and only encourages others to imitate him. 

So, the next time one of these bozos make the news with a desecration stunt, simply respond, "Um, dude, that host stopped being the Body of Christ the second you stole it with the intent to desecrate.  Why should anyone be offended that you are playing with a piece of bread on Youtube?"

[NB.  My purpose in this post is not to put forward a theology of the Eucharist but rather to address how faithful Catholics should respond to acts of public desecration.  Given that Christ doesn't need our protection--he can take care of himself--and that the purpose of the desecration is publicity for the Bozo Desecrator, the best Catholic response is to deny said Bozo the satisfaction of seeing us insulted.  One way to deny him the attention he craves is to tell him that the Sacrament is no longer the Sacrament b/c he stole it with evil intent.  Now, is this true?  Does it matter?  If Christ doesn't need our protection (and he doesn't); and Bozo doesn't believe in God (and he doesn't); and the point is to insult Catholics (and it is), then I don't think it matters whether or not the Sacrament is still the Sacrament.  However, if the Holy Spirit wills it, Bozo's desecration could be used as a means of grace for Bozo's conversion.  Say, it nails the Host to a wall and it starts bleeding!  Now there's a great conversion story.  PLEASE HEAR ME:  I am not saying it's OK to desecrate the Sacrament.  All I am asking here is:  what do we say to Bozo to take the wind out of his attention-seeking PR stunt?  Is desecration insulting to Catholics?  Of course!  But do we want to react in a way that encourages or discourages any future desecrations?  Let's be careful not to attribute our insult to God.  We are perfectly right to feel insulted.  But we do not speak for God.]

*This sentence (and the whole idea of the host reverting to bread b/c of evil intent) has turned out to be a distraction from the issue at hand.  It was meant more as a thought experiment, not serious sacramental theology.  Please see the post directly above this one, "Desecrating the host:  another try" for clarification.  


  1. Fr. P.,

    "I would argue that the instant anyone steals the sacred species for the purpose of desecration the sacrament is no longer the Body and Blood of Christ."

    Please, do argue.


  2. great response!

    best reaction to a temper tantrum is to leave the room.....I thought every parent knew that.

  3. Anonymous3:56 AM

    On your account, the Blessed Sacrament logically cannot be desacrated. Prohibitions against it then would be empty -- like forbidding one to draw a four-sided triangle. Pointless.

    I gather the point about forbidding desacration is not protect Jesus from injury (he obviously doesn't need that) but to protect the descrator from himself, and the faithful from insult.

    Every Eucharistic miracle I know of which involves desacration (usually stealing) is predicated on the Sacred Species having been, and continuing to be, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord even after the offense.

  4. Doesn't scripture say,any person having unworthy reception, brings condemnation on themselves? Surely desecration would be a far worse act? As you say, pray for the person, that they repent, and the Lord show Mercy.

  5. Now, is this true? Does it matter?

    You can't assert that something is true with more confidence than you have.

    You could tell Bozo that the Sacrament may no longer be the Sacrament, but only a laxist would say that, because it's not strictly impossible, such is the case.

    And surely the most probable opinion -- I would have said the de fide doctrine before reading this post, but what do I know -- is that the Real Presence remains as long as the accidents remain, regardless of what happens to the accidents.

  6. 'Is this true? Does it matter?' Well, yes it matters if what one says about Catholic teaching is true. What have I missed?

  7. Joseph & Tom,

    Does it matter in how we respond to Bozo whether or not Christ is still present?

    Again, this is not a post about sacramental theology but how we are react to Bozo.

  8. Flambeaux7:38 AM


    It does seem to concede too much to the "you believe your reality and I'll believe mine" attitude so prevalent among the subjectivists who dominate Modernity.

    I agree that what you propose is the most sane course of action, practically speaking, when confronted with this puerile idiocy.

    And I agree that the issues raised vis-a-vis Sacramental Theology are not germane.

    I shall have to think more on this...

  9. This may be unrelated but why aren't the ushers instructed to be on the lookout for Bozo & his ilk?

    When I attended a Pentecostal Church and became an usher it was stressed to us that we were the gatekeepers. Any untoward acts were to be quickly nipped in the bud.

    The ushers were also held to a high degree of accountability, e.g. if one were found to be shacked up with some honey he would be immediately asked to stop ushering until his conduct was brought into line with the denomination's teachings.

    My point is that in that particular denomination ushers were considered more that well-dressed WalMart style greeters. Hey, we were even told that if a gunman came into the church WE were it's first line of defense!

    Since returning to the True Church I haven't seen that mindset in the ushers. They just seem to be pleasant men and women who dress nicely, pass out collection baskets and direct the Communion lines. Why aren't they given more responsibility to counteract the Bozos so prevalent these days?

    Its bad enough that we should endure attacks and insults OUTSIDE the Church. It seems we should feel more secure from the absurd acts of Eucharistic descraters (sp?) and idiots like the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (hello San Francisco) during Mass.

    I apologize for the rant, its a pet peeve (I'll bet THAT is a suprise).

  10. Father Powell --

    I understand that you are not putting forth a sacramental theology here, rather, you are seeking the best way to respond to Bozo. And, I also understand the tactic of attempting to dis-allow the attention that Bozo is seeking -- as a parent and as an educator, I have often employed that technique myself.

    That having been said, however, it is my understanding that we are to speak the truth in all things. The fact is that the Church teaches that the host remains substantively the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ so long as the accidents remain. To say that God through the Holy Spirit "could" do x, y, or z is always true of God. However, but the truth that has been taught by the Church is that, in the case of the Eucharist, He doesn't, in fact, change it back into mere bread and wine when someone steals it.

    The intent of the person lying (ie. the one who would tell the Bozo that it's not really Jesus) cannot be enough to render the moral object (lying) just. Furthermore, it would not appear to be the case that denying Bozo his 15 minutes of fame even comes close to the seriousness of content (say for example that lying to the Nazis about whether or not Jews were hidden in your house) that would make any faithful Catholic consider speaking a falsehood about the most holy Eucharist.

    I do understand your intention. However, it does not justify the means by which you propose to achieve it.

  11. Fr Philip,

    I don't understand your argument. Saying that the host is no longer the Body of Christ if taken with intent to desecrate is quite simply incorrect. To say such a thing is, in my books, lying. It also causes scandal because it's a denial of a core point of Catholic doctrine.

    I can understand telling Bozo that he's not doing any harm to Christ by desecrating the Blessed Sacrament. It might be appropriate to mock Bozo by asking him what he thinks he's doing by playing with what he thinks is only a piece of bread.

    However, making an incorrect statement about the Real Presence cannot be a morally justifiable approach and probably does more harm than good. I see what you're doing trying to take the wind out of Bozo's sails. I think that the intent is enough to justify some equivocation in talking to Bozo, but not an outright incorrect statement.

  12. Father, I understand your intent which is to NOT give demented satisfaction to those who seek to despoil the Body and Blood of Christ. How does this square with those many saints who chose death over allowing anyone to desecrate the Eucharist? I agree fully with FrB.

    "However, making an incorrect statement about the Real Presence cannot be a morally justifiable approach and probably does more harm than good. I see what you're doing trying to take the wind out of Bozo's sails. I think that the intent is enough to justify some equivocation in talking to Bozo, but not an outright incorrect statement."

  13. Anonymous3:56 PM

    Father, Your unfortunate attempt to separate sacramental theology from a situation rooted in a sacrament, and to use an incorrect notion, does great damage. Your disclaimer on the following post says the right thing, but it is inadequate. Your are a Dominican priest and just raising this possibility for the sake of discussion compromises your credibility, but even more, can create confusion. Please prevent further confusion and remove this entire entry from your site ASAP.

  14. Anonymous5:27 PM

    Father Powell,
    You must remoce this entire post. By writing "Second, a public reaction: ignore it. Even better, a declaration from the bishops' conference stating that the Sacrament is no longer the Sacrament the instant someone intents to desecrate the species." you are opining that such a thing could happen and it cannot. People are confused enough by silly priests with wacko ideas. Remove those words from your website. Please.

  15. Anon., the post directly above this one clarifies my thoughts. I will footnote the sentence and cf. to the later post.

  16. Anonymous1:59 AM

    Boneheads to a one.

    Christ come back. Please.

    Make sense out of the senseless and the one's among us with the mute button on their craniums.

    You all are as hate mongering as the "Bozo." The very use of "Bozo" puts you all at a disadvantage.

    Regroup. Become wise. Start over. It's Advent after all. Did Jesus every say anything akin to "Let's kick ass?"

    I'm so sorry. It's pathetic.

  17. Anonymous3:28 PM

    Father, I agree with Anon. [last comment]

    If there is something negative, that seems to become the focal point. I'm looking for a place that puts the emphasis on the POSITIVE aspects of faith and, especially, the Eucharist. These tirades are blustery and useless.

    I've gone to the Vatican site on YouTube to no avail. It is mostly in languages I don't know. I do know ONE language, though. It is the utterance of love I feel in the scriptures and SOMETIMES at mass.

    I have to ignore most homilies or I would go insane.

    I say: Begin anew. Take a hard look and regroup.

    I'm doing it. It's not easy. But nothing worthwhile is.

    This is a time in the Church when it falls upon the Laity to be holy. We don't see it in priests.


  18. My reaction is the same as Jesus' was as the Romans desecrated his earthly body.

    "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."