In Monday's paper, I had a story about the planned resumption of perpetual adoration at the St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in Boston. The feedback from readers has been mixed -- I have received a number of e-mails from people pleased with the story, but also a number critical of one aspect of it: my use of the word 'wafer.' Among the critics is Terry Mattingly over at GetReligion.org.
Just to be clear: multiple mainstream dictionaries identify the altar bread most commonly used in Catholic churches as a wafer. Here, from Dictionary.com, is the second definition of wafer: "a thin disk of unleavened bread, used in the Eucharist, as in the Roman Catholic Church.'' Although some of the commenters complained that the word is pejorative, so far as I can tell dictionaries do not describe it that way, and a quick Google search suggests that the word is widely used in the Catholic context.
Furthermore, I need to be clear about how I see my role here: I'm a religion writer for a secular newspaper; I am not an apologist or an evangelist for Catholicism or any other religion. Part of my job is to try to describe what is going on in the world of religion using language that is clear, descriptive, and understandable, to readers of a variety of faiths and to readers of no faith. It is not my job to stake out, or to state, a position on what takes place metaphysically during a Catholic Mass or any other religious rite -- in this story I described, to the best of my ability, what the Catholic Church says takes place, but it is not my role to simply assert, as some readers suggested I should have, that God is present in the consecrated bread. That is a belief, and one that I respect, but when I am describing a religious practice I am attempting to describe the tangible and visible aspects of that practice in language that readers can clearly understand, and I rely on worshipers, religious leaders, and academics to describe what believers understand to be happening spiritually or supernaturally.
(Photo, by David L. Ryan of the Globe staff, shows the consecrated wafer in a monstrance at St. Clement Eucharist Shrine in Boston on August 5, 2009.)