(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed) — As a prodigal son who has fallen away from the flock, I cannot help but look back on my 12 years of Catholic schooling with a wry smile and a mocking wink whenever the idiosyncrasies of Roman Catholic liturgy make their way into the news.
Now, let me be clear. I am not referring to the scandalous news that Vatican police recently raided a drug-fueled gay orgy of epic proportions at a top priest’s apartment; such orgies are hardly liturgical (though I can’t help but wonder if introducing drugs and sex as a regular feature in the liturgy of the word would increase attendance at mass while putting a dent in proverbial Catholic guilt and repression). I would never wish to highlight or make light of such embarrassments.
No, what came out of the Vatican this weekend was much less scandalous, though it was possibly bad news for the laity’s bloated bellies.
Pope Francis has seen fit to decree that the Body of Christ need not evolve in the face of a popular health craze, sending a stern message to clergy everywhere that gluten-free host wafers are verboten in the eyes of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church for the practice of the Eucharist.
“Hosts [wafers] that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist. Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread.”
However, despite the concern with not altering the “nature of bread,” the Church makes an exception for GMOs, saying, “Eucharistic matter made with genetically modified organisms can be considered valid matter.”
So let me get this straight—gluten-free is bad, but GMO’s are just fine!
Apparently, the doctrine of transubstantiation does require certain ‘natural’ component parts for the substance (or essence) of the bread and wine to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Certain beliefs such as this, it seems, are allowed to be both meticulous and mysterious — to be regulated by strict man-made guidelines all while hinging on enormous and suspect leaps of faith.
In all fairness to the Roman Catholic Church, I suppose many of the world’s most powerful institutions operate in this manner, be they churches, states, or major corporations. Hell, even run-of-the-mill superstitions operate in this fashion. That is, in order to keep a given tradition alive (say, the divine right of kings or mass liberal democracy or the secrets of Scientology), refrain from questioning the tradition’s shaky, poetic foundations while heaping mountains of red-tape and regulations onto the tradition to provide the appearance of something important and factual. How ironic to see the doctrine of transubstantiation — which tells us to forget the truth of our eyes and the appearance of bread to see the deeper essence of Christ — now being subjected to the doctrine of keeping up appearances.
So, do tell, Pope Francis, if natural unleavened bread can be transformed into the body of Christ while still looking like unleavened bread, why not gluten-free unleavened bread? I’m not suggesting we put yeast in our heavenly host, goodness no, but I must ask: does Jesus have some sort of hang-up when it comes to new age nutrition, or does the gluten act as a sort of mystical catalyst to allow Christ to be one with the bread?
Excuse me, pardon me, but is this the latest version of counting the numbers of angels who can dance on the head of a pin?