Last week faithful and valued commenters William Thompson and Maxine of Arc got on the subject of church mice, specifically questioning why they would be quiet or poor. I promised them an explanation, so today here it is.
Why are church mice quiet?
Church mice are quiet because in the 20th century two idioms got smashed together. “Quiet as a mouse.” Which has been around since the 16th century, and “Poor/hungry as a church mouse.” which has been around since the 17th century.
The quietness of rodents is pretty self explanatory. But why are church mice poorer and hungrier than other mice?
For any of you who didn’t have to sit through three years of confirmation or multiple years of religious history in college, transubstantiation is the Catholic belief that communion bread and wine become, in reality, the actual body and blood of Christ. Not a remembrance or a symbol or even just inhabited by the the spirit or essence of the body, (Lutheran consubstantiation.) The substance has been transformed into actual Godflesh.
So Catholics take a lot of care that any excess communion bread left over after a Mass is protected; and the place they put the extra, either a tabernacle or an ambry, often has kneeling rails for private devotions or eucharistic adoration.
Even before transubstantiation became a set idea, early Christians didn’t want little mice gnawing on communion wafers.
“Let all take care that no unbaptized person taste of the Eucharist nor a mouse or other animal, and that none of it at all fall and be lost. For it is the Body of Christ to be eaten by them that believe and not to be thought of lightly.”(Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition III:32:2 235 AD.)
But what would happen if a mouse DID eat communion bread? Medieval theologians were fascinated with the idea, and used the question ‘Quid Mus Sumit?‘ ‘What does the mouse eat?’ as a thought experiment to explore the idea of The Eucharist. What is it? What does it do? What would it do to someone who ate it without knowing what it was? At what point does it stop being body and blood?
“Even though a mouse or a dog were to eat the consecrated host, the substance of Christ’s body would not cease to be under the species, so long as those species remain, and that is, so long as the substance of bread would have remained; just as if it were to be cast into the mire. Nor does this turn to any indignity regarding Christ’s body, since He willed to be crucified by sinners without detracting from His dignity; especially since the mouse or dog does not touch Christ’s body in its proper species, but only as to its sacramental species. Some, however, have said that Christ’s body would cease to be there, directly it were touched by a mouse or a dog; but this again detracts from the truth of the sacrament, as stated above. None the less it must not be said that the irrational animal eats the body of Christ sacramentally; since it is incapable of using it as a sacrament. Hence it eats Christ’s body “accidentally,” and not sacramentally, just as if anyone not knowing a host to be consecrated were to consume it. And since no genus is divided by an accidental difference, therefore this manner of eating Christ’s body is not set down as a third way besides sacramental and spiritual eating.”
Of course all this Catholic rodent obsession was eventually used by Protestants during the Reformation as a big old ‘gotcha’ when lambasting Catholic ‘idolatry’ of the communion. Some of it got downright vicious and definitely disingenuous. And it’s from about this time that ‘hungry as a church mouse’ became an idiom.
So there you have it. Church mice are poor because they can’t get any communion bread, and we joke about it because of leftover anti-Catholic sentiment.
Many apologies to anyone who came to this blog today expecting comics criticism instead of a theological deep dive, but I wanted to end my shift talking about something I actually find compelling, rather than dance the Dinklepolka.
It’s been an interesting couple weeks. I mean in terms of the straws I grasped at to try and find something to say. Those straws were kinda fun to braid together. The strip was boring as mud. Actually, I take that back. Mud is much more interesting. I think I’ll research that next.
Join me again in a couple months as I regale you all about INTERESTING MUD. For example. Did you know all baseballs used in MLB are rubbed with special mud harvested, prepped, and packaged by a single man from New Jersey who gathers it in a secret location every year along the Delaware River?
Until next time then. TF Hackett is taking over tomorrow. Good luck good sir. You have my sympathies.
Oh look. Like so many of you guessed, adding a cat video will instantly lead to millions of dollars.
Sigh. I mean. I guess things are moving quickly. I wouldn’t have put it past Tom to subject us to a full week of Dinkle and Lillian sitting as they were on Monday, brainstorming ideas they won’t use back and forth, complete with bad wordplay.
But the writing today. Was he getting paid by the word? The letter?
It reminded me of an old ‘Between Friends‘ strip I used to have pasted to my door. (Between Friends is by Sandra Bell-Lundy. The art is simplistic, but the writing is great.) In the comic one woman spouts an unwieldly word-zeppelin. The other woman looks up at it, pulls out a pencil, and erases most of the words, simplifying the sentence.
The first woman looks at it and comments, “That’s what I said.”
The other woman replies, “No, that’s what you MEANT.”
A little something like this.
Or maybe something like this.
But, really, I think today’s strip is best with a little New Yorker magazine flair.
When I first saw this week’s strips I was skeptical of the feasibility of a cat living in a church. I know that businesses, nursing homes, and libraries have kept cats in the past; I’ve seen the same puff pieces in the lifestyles section as everyone else.
But with roughly 20 percent of people having some level of allergic reaction to cats, I had a hard time believing that any church would risk annoying congregants and turning away potential parishioners by letting a feline frolic through the foyer. On the other hand, Tom steals more story ideas than Shakespeare, there was a good chance he’d come across some fluffy choir cat story on the news. So I went on a quest to find church cats.
After cutting out the results for the undead monster cat from Pet Semetary, I found, among others, the following adorable moggy muffins curling up between the pews. And really, aren’t cat pictures better than trying to find something to say about Lillian talking to Dinkle about vermin?
Canterbury Cathedral has several cats, and a few made the news this past year for sneaking into the live streams of The Dean of Canterbury’s prayers.
Sadly, back in 2013 the cathedral mourned the loss of one of their sweet sneaky boys. His name? Laptop.
Yes Dinkle, we know. We know you know all about mascots. Just like you knew all about playing music and directing and fundraising. You’re a former high school band director. WE ARE PAINFULLY FAMILIAR WITH THE CONCEPT.
And who isn’t familiar with mascots? Was he being ironic? If so, why did we need an entire panel of him imagining a school logo?
And in what universe does this exchange not come across as extremely dickish? Lillian was explaining that the cat was the mascot, she wasn’t asking if Dinkle knew what a mascot was.
It would be like showing a friend your new Jeep and having them roll their eyes and tell you that they are familiar with the concept of internal combustion engines.
And Dinkle is imagining the school logo. He didn’t even have the decency to remember the actual live goat he bought to stand on the sidelines and nibble chemically treated turfgrass while watching the Scapegoats lose. Paul deserved better.
Our Funkistorian Billy The Skink posted these back in 2018. But for any of our more recent readers, a little journey back in time.