A couple of weeks ago, we were at an estate sale (the one where I bought the dino chair), loaded with goods and ready to be checked out. I was putting my stuff on the table, and the cashier was beginning to total things up.
All of a sudden, a gentleman at the jewelry table starts making a fuss and demanding to see the person in charge of the sale. He's saying things like: "Oh no! We have to do something about this. Can't have this." Everyone else in the room was staring at him, including the cashier, who has stopped totaling my items. I have some issues with that. Don't they know I have other sales to get to?
Finally, the woman in charge comes in and he rushes over to her. Turns out he's found a pyx on the jewelry table. It's a simple thing, just a tiny, plain brass container that is used to bring communion to Catholics who are housebound. What's not so simple is the communion wafer (or Host) this dude has found inside the pyx.
If that Host was intended to be taken to someone who could not get to Mass, then it must have been consecrated. If it was consecrated, then, according to Catholic doctrine, it had become the body and blood of Christ. This is called transubstantiation, and is the central component of the Catholic Mass. Consecrated Hosts that are not used are supposed to be stored in a tabernacle in a church, not lying around in a pyx at an estate sale. If someone had bought the pyx, they would have also bought the Hosts. Selling consecrated Hosts is forbidden by church law.
The woman running the sale says that she's not Catholic and it pretty obvious that she doesn't understand what the big deal is. The guy who found it obviously is Catholic and sees it as a really big deal. I'm not Catholic either, but I do understand why he's making the fuss. Catholicism is one of my hobbies, after all. Yes, I know how weird that sounds.
I'm a little more put out at the crimp this whole scene is putting on my checking out plans than at the discovery of the Host in the pyx thing. The woman running the sale keeps saying that she doesn't know what to do about it. I can tell she would like to placate this guy, but really has no clue how to go about it. The dude keeps flustering and flummoxing around. I finally say: "Call a priest." I figure that will give them something to do besides attract the attention of everyone in the room. so I can finally finish checking out and go on my merry way.
The guy then asks if he can take the Host with him and bring it to his priest the next day at Mass. The woman in charge agrees and the moment is over. I'm assuming he found something to wrap it in for transport. Surely, he wouldn't just drop it in his pocket with his keys and lint and stuff. Not after all that fuss.
It was a good plan, since the priest would know how to properly dispose of it. My understanding is that he could have consumed it himself, provided he did it in a reverent manner. I knew this was one way to handle it, but I didn't suggest it because I was a wee bit frustrated with the whole scene. Instead of saying "You can reverently consume the Host," I probably would have said "Just eat the thing, dude." That most likely would not have helped the situation.
A few years ago, after the death of John Paul II, someone tried to sell a consecrated communion wafer from a papal ceremony on eBay. It caused quite an uproar in some circles, because the Hosts are supposed to be consumed during the Mass, not saved and taken away. The idea that a Host had been improperly stored was bad enough, but to have it sold as a collectible was kind of beyond the pale.
EBay would not intervene and pull the auction. The seller resisted calls to pull the auction down. Someone used the Buy It Now option to end the auction, intending to turn the Host over for proper disposal, but eventually a priest from the seller's local area persuaded him to end the auction and turn the Host over. I think the seller got tired of the publicity he was getting. There was talk at the time about pressuring eBay to prohibit the selling of consecrated wafers, but I don't know if it ever went anywhere. I do not recall seeing it on eBay's prohibited items list, but I could have overlooked it.
Even if it is in effect, there is probably someone who will figure out a clever way to word their listing to get around it, kind of like the way folks who sell saint's relics (which is forbidden by canon law) do: "You are bidding on the container. The relic inside is my gift to you." Yeah, right. Try selling that cheap brass box without the jawbone of St Mauritius in it and see who will give you $1500 for it.
Everything ended well at the estate sale that day. The woman in charge was off the hook. The dude's religious proprieties were restored, plus he got the satisfaction of righting what he saw as a serious wrong. I finally got checked out with my treasures. There was only one little sticking point to the whole ordeal.
I was bummed that I didn't see the pyx first.