In a post, I published last week, I dealt with the problem of using a big host as opposed to the exceptional small precut hosts (which I reckon make up well over 99.9% of how Catholics receive Communion). While it must be admitted that these hosts have become more breadlike over the last decades, bigger options and wholewheat options are available. However, I must admit that the prepared hosts hold no romanticism for me, particularly after I came across this article a few years ago on the not so mainstream spirituality website Killing the Buddah.
With this post, I want to take things further. The Eastern Churches usually use bread that has been baked. Here I am proposing that we consider something similar in the Latin Church. There is nothing in canon law or the current rubrics against parishes arranging for baked bread for the Eucharist. The main requirement is clear. The bread for the Eucharist must be of wheat and unleavened. The current GIRM puts it like this:
- The bread for celebrating the Eucharist must be made only from wheat, must be recently made, and, according to the ancient tradition of the Latin Church, must be unleavened.
- By reason of the sign, it is required that the material for the Eucharistic Celebration truly have the appearance of food. Therefore, it is desirable that the Eucharistic Bread, even though unleavened and made in the traditional form, be fashioned in such a way that the Priest at Mass with the people is truly able to break it into parts and distribute these to at least some of the faithful. However, small hosts are not at all excluded when the large number of those receiving Holy Communion or other pastoral reasons call for them. Moreover, the gesture of the fraction or breaking of bread, which was quite simply the term by which the Eucharist was known in apostolic times, will bring out more clearly the force and importance of the sign of the unity of all in the one bread, and of the sign of charity by the fact that the one bread is distributed among the brothers and sisters.
In the wake of the Council most worshipping communities continued to use small pre-cut hosts, although as early as 1967 Eucharisticum mysterium the instruction on Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery speaks of the possibility of baking a large host reminding that care be taken in the baking so that it be “of a form and appearance worthy of the eucharistic mystery.” The Third Instruction on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was published in 1970 September 5, 1970. Among the topics it dealt with was the new practices of using a type of bread that was closer to people’s everyday experience of bread than had previously been the case. It that the bread for the Eucharist be real bread, giving the following instruction:
The necessity for the sign to be genuine applies more to the color, taste and texture of the bread than to its shape. Out of reverence for the sacrament, every care and attention should be used in preparing the altar bread. It should be easy to break and should not be unpleasant for the faithful to eat. Bread which tastes of uncooked flour, or which becomes dry and inedible too quickly, must never be used. The breaking of the consecrated bread and the receiving of the bread and wine, both at communion and in consuming what remains after communion, should be conducted with the greatest reverenceLiturgicae instaurationes 5
As with any custom that is resurrected after more than a millennium of absence there were some growing pains, in this case some over-zealous bakers added some ingredients to make the bread taste better. Obviously, this was wrong and could not continue. In 1979 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter to the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. As the validity of the sacrament is of paramount importance the letter warned that “where there is question of slight additions (e.g. salt, condiments) the matter will be valid but illicit; where there is question of substitution of all or a large quantity of water by other liquids (e.g., milk, eggs, honey, etc.) the matter will be invalid.”
However the need for pure elements must be balanced with a realistic attitude towards their preparation. In some places in the middle ages that the bread from the Eucharist had to be prepared by virgin male monks, as bread prepared by a woman or someone who was not a virgin was not considered proper. The spiritual context of the Middle Ages is not the same as our own. Today we need to prepare the bread and wine for the Eucharist in line with the received tradition (naturally giving pride of place to the requirements for sacramental validity), but we cannot ignore the sensibilities of our own time. Today we know that from a scientific point of view it is impossible to have absolutely pure elements. Any wheat-flour will have some amount of additives, even if these are on the microscopic level. Even the water that we use for the mixing of the dough will have certain impurities in it. These impurities will also be present in commercially produced hosts, which if placed under a microscope will show some impurities, in common with virtually every substance in creation. Therefore, the problem is what constitutes too many impurities.
When dealing with the matter of validity today modern Canonists often make reference to Dominus Salvator Noster a 1929 instruction issued by the Congregation of the Sacraments. Here speaking of this problem it advises the use of the yardstick of “common estimation” in deciding if a particular piece of bread or wine is valid for the celebration of the Eucharist. Part I of the Instruction gives this advice:
It follows that bread made of any other substance, or to which has been added so great a quantity of any other substance than wheat that according to common estimation it cannot be said to be wheat bread, cannot be valid matter for the performance of the Sacrifice and the consecration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
So considering a particular piece of bread if the judgment is made that the substance is something other than wheat bread (as, for example, a muffin, cake, chocolate chip cookie or corn bread), then it is invalid, even if it is mainly made of wheat flour. On the other hand, bread prepared using a normal flour from a supermarket would be considered valid matter, even though the flour may well contain some additives. However, it would be better to use a high quality flour that has absolutely no additives or preservatives and be as close to pure as humanly possible (and obviously for Western Christians it is important that the flour not be self-raising). Perhaps using organic flour should be considered, from the point of view of a desire of giving the best for the Lord in the liturgy, given that it tends to contain far fewer chemicals that are absorbed during the growing process in commercial farming from pesticides, fertilizers, etc. It is of little consequence of the flour is white, brown or wholemeal (as all of these can be derived from milled pure wheat grain). Other than the need to use bread made from wheat flour, the main requirement is that it be the best bread possible. There is no particular description of the bread used by Jesus in the Last Supper, but it would seem that it would have been baked from white flour.
Much more could be said on this topic, and I hope that advantage will be taken of the last few days of the option to comment on PrayTell. But I must leave this post here. I am interested how widespread the use of baked bread (as opposed to commercially produced hosts) is in various places. I suspect that the admitted difficulty in preparing such bread has limited its use. As usual the tendency to go for the easiest option has proven to be a mortal enemy of meaningful liturgy. Indeed, I wonder how much theological consideration was given to the adoption of wafers rather than bread during the 1300’s when their use became widespread. I cannot believe that by using commercially produced hosts, we are automatically guaranteed absolutely pure bread. In answer to those afraid to use baked bread, I counter that the need for reverence and respect, demands that we strive to have the best possible bread for the Eucharist and not simply opt for a commercially produced version because it is easier.
 Dominus Salvator Noster, 26 March 1929, AAS 21 (1929) 631-639; English translation in Canon Law Digest: Officially Published Documents Affecting The Code Of Canon Law (Milwaukee: Bruce Pub. Co, 1934), Volume1 page 353-367.
Cover art: Small struggled wheat bread of Castrillo de Villavega (Palencia, Castile and León)., from Wikimedia Commons