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Evelyn Reid

Stephen Harper: L'Hostie?

By July 16, 2009

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Stephen Harper enjoying Pope Benedict's pen.
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The hostly controversy seems to be abating but you can't help but wonder, how exactly did Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper handle the Catholic host? Did he put the body of Christ in his pocket? Did he truly consummate the consumption of said body or was it but a partial communion at best? To eat or not eat Christ, what's a non-Catholic to do?

This CBC News report seems to be having as much trouble as me figuring out what's the appropriate protocol. And I ask these questions with great interest because I was confronted with this holy issue myself, years ago.

I was eight, enthusiastically preparing to become a late-blooming Catholic, of my own volition and initiative no less, while living in a household of atheists (long story). It was Christmas and my now ex-step-grandmother and I were the only ones who wanted to go to mass out of eight plus doberman at the now ex-family gathering. And I was thrilled, honored, even tickled pink that I could attend.

When the time came for the Holy Communion, I didn't think twice about eating or not eating the host, even though I wasn't baptized yet -- apparently baptism is a requirement -- but I felt ready to eat Christ. Besides, I had already practiced with unblessed wafers.

So I marched to the altar and consumed the paper-thin bread, the body of Christ, "the host," and I finally felt like I belonged to something, blessed, at home as the wafer stuck to the roof of my mouth.*

Then I got back to the Christmas gathering. And as I was beaming with pride that I was digesting Jesus, my now ex-stepmother revealed to now-ex-step-grandmother that I was not baptized. Now-ex-step-grandmother went pale, then red. I, apparently, unknowingly and in good faith, committed a sacrilege worthy of damnation. A not-yet-Catholic daring to eat the host was likened to a walking abomination, doomed, under the best of circumstances, to live the afterlife in a supernatural dimension scrapped since 2007.

So if a non-Catholic eating the body of Christ risks death and damnation, why the knicker-twist over Prime Minister Harper? Shouldn't the church be thrilled Harper narrowly escaped a supernatural dimension scrapped since 2007? Nope. According to that CBC report, Catholics are deeply offended that he might not have eaten the host, with the PM's press attaches working overtime to convince the masses Harper did consume as expected, effectively damning himself.

My understanding -- and from cross-referencing anecdotes with a few Catholic and non-Catholic friends on what they did for years at mass -- is that non-Catholics don't even walk up to the altar. They stay behind out of respect, at their seat, with no priestly interaction. And yet others don't appear to be bothered with either approach. The Catholic Church's policy -- cross arms across chest to show one is not Catholic and then ask for a blessing without eating the host or maybe partake in an occasional host if one respects the holiness of the bread -- does not seem to be clear at all: this arm-crossing deal/do-you-believe-the-bread-is-holy loophole is brand news to me.

So let's get real. How was Harper supposed to know what to do with the wafer if Catholics and clergymen don't even agree on what he should do? And since Montreal is roughly 74% Catholic as per Statistics Canada, I'm curious how you feel.

What's your understanding of host protocol?

*In Quebec, the host is called l'hostie, a versatile word not so much employed to express communion with Jesus Christ in these parts as it is to indicate frustration, commonly used a stand alone curse (mon hostie!, pronounced moan-austee, means literally "my host!" but figuratively, it's more along the lines of "you *&#^**!" ) or as a swearing amplifier (e.g., mon hostie de tabernacle, pronounced moan-austee duh tab-bearrr-nak, which roughly translates into "my host of the holy jewel-encrusted box that encases the host!" or more popularly "you #$%^#&*%&%^#*^^%$%*!") .


July 16, 2009 at 12:30 pm
(1) e. says:

best post ever. and best title.

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