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Why do we call it a “host”?

Sometimes questions just hit you, things you’ve blindly accepted without mental bother for years suddenly become a pressing question in your mind.  This weekend clear out of the blue I realized I had absolutely no idea why we Catholics call the Eucharistic bread a “host”.  It seems a word with a host … *ahem* … a plethora of potential meanings, none of which really seem to apply and some of which would lead directly to such heresies as transfiguration (which holds the consecration creates a “figure” of Jesus’s Body) and consubstantiation (holding that Jesus’s Body and Blood co-resides with the bread).  Since teaching heresy didn’t seem to be a decent reason for the word, I had to look it up.

The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia has this, in part:

According to Ovid the word comes from hostis, enemy: “Hostibus a domitis hostia nomen habet”, because the ancients offered their vanquished enemies as victims to the gods. However, it is possible that hostia is derived from hostire, to strike, as found in Pacuvius. In the West the term became general chiefly because of the use made of it in the Vulgate and the Liturgy (Romans 12:1; Philippians 4:18; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 10:12; Mabillon, “Liturg. Gall. vetus”, pp. 235, 237, 257; “Missale Mozarab.”, ed. Leslie, p. 39; “Missale Gothicum”, p. 253). It was applied to Christ, the Immolated Victim, and, by way of anticipation, to the still unconsecrated bread destined to become Christ’s Body. In the Middle Ages it was also known as “hoiste”, “oiste”, “oite”.

In time the word acquired its actual special significance; by reason of its general liturgical use it no longer conveyed the original idea of victim.

Perhaps that’s all there is to it.  But somehow in Catholicism it seems the answer to a question this old never has just one string.  So… does anyone have anything else to add to this?

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