Bread is one of the two elements absolutely necessary for the
sacrifice of the Eucharist. It cannot be determined from the
sacred text whether Christ used the ordinary table bread or some
other bread specially prepared for the occasion. In the Western
Church the altar-breads were probably round in form.
Archaeological researches demonstrate this from pictures found in
the catacombs, and Pope St. Zephyrinus (A. D. 201-219) calls the
altar-bread "coronam sive oblatam sphericae figurae". In the
Eastern churches they are round or square. Formerly the laity
presented the flour from which the breads were formed. In the
Eastern Church the breads were made by consecrated virgins; in the
Western Church, by priests and clerics (Benedict XIV, De Sacrif.
Missae, I, section 36). This custom is still in vogue in the
Armenian Church. . The earliest documentary evidence that the
altar-breads were made in thin wafers is the answer which Cardinal
Humbert, legate of St. Leo IX, made at the middle of the eleventh
century to Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople. These
wafers were sometimes very large, as from them small pieces were
broken for the Communion of the laity, hence the word "particle"
for the small host; but smaller ones were used when only the
For valid consecration the hosts must be:
* made of wheaten flour,
* mixed with pure natural water,
* baked in an oven, or between two heated iron moulds, and
* they must not be corrupted (Miss. Rom., De Defectibus, III, 1).
If the host is not made of wheaten flour, or is mixed with flour
of another kind in such quantity that it cannot be called wheat
bread, it may not be used (ibid.). If not natural but distilled
water is used, the consecration becomes of doubtful validity
(ibid., 2). If the host begins to be corrupt, it would be a
grievous offence to use it, but it is considered valid matter
(ibid., 3.) For licit consecration:
* the bread must be, at present unleavened in the Western Church,
but leavened bread in the Eastern Church, except among the
Maronites, the Armenians, and in the Churches of Jerusalem and
Alexandria, where it is unleavened. It is probable that Christ
used unleavened bread at the institution of the Blessed Eucharist,
because the Jews were not allowed to have leavened bread in their
houses on the days of the Azymes. Some authors are of the opinion
that down to the tenth century both the Eastern and Western
Churches used leavened bread; others maintain that unleavened
bread was used from the beginning in the Western Church; still
others hold that unleavened or leavened bread was used
indifferently. St. Thomas (IV, Dist. xi, qu. 3) holds that, in the
beginning, both in the East and West unleavened bread was used;
that when the sect of the Ebionites arose, who wished that the
Mosaic Law should be obligatory on all converts, leavened bread
was used, and when this heresy ceased the Latins used again
unleavened bread, but the Greeks retained the use of leavened
bread. Leavened bread may be used in the Latin Church if after
consecration the celebrant adverts to the fact that the host
before him has some substantial defect, and no other than leavened
bread can be procured at the time (Lehmkuhl, n. 121, 3). A Latin
priest travelling in the East, in places in which there are no
churches of his rite, may celebrate with leavened bread. A Greek
priest travelling in the West may, under similar circumstances,
celebrate with unleavened bread. For the purpose of giving
Viaticum, if no unleavened bread be at hand, some say that
leavened may he used; but St. Liguori, (bk. VI. n. 203, dub. 2)
says that the more probable opinion of theologians is that it
cannot be done.
* The hosts must be recently made (Rit. Rom., tit. iv, cap. i, n.
7). The rubrics do not specify the term recentes in speaking of
the hosts. In Rome, the bakers of altar-breads are obliged to make
solemn affidavit that they will not sell breads older than fifteen
days, and St. Charles, by a statute of the Fourth Synod of Milan,
prescribed that hosts older than twenty days must not be used in
the celebration of Mass. In practice, therefore, those older than
three weeks ought not to be used.
* Round in form, and not broken.
* Clean and fair, of a thin layer, and of a size conformable to
the regular custom in the Latin Church. In Rome the large hosts
are about three and one-fifth inches in diameter; in other places
they are smaller, but should be at least two and three-fourths
inches in diameter. The small hosts for the Communion of the laity
should be about one and two-fifths inches in diameter (Schober, S.
Alphonsi Liber de Caeremoniis Missae, p. 6, footnote 9). When a
large host can not be obtained Mass may be said in private with a
small host. In cases of necessity, such as permitting the people
to fulfil the precept of hearing Mass, or administering Viaticum,
the Mass may be also said with a small host but, as liturgists
say, to avoid scandal the faithful should be advised.
As a rule the image of Christ crucified should be impressed on the
large host (Cong. Sac. Rit., 6 April, 1834), but the monogram of
the Holy Name (Ephem. Lit., XIII, 1899, p. 686), or the Sacred
Heart (ibid., p. 266) may also be adopted.
The altar-breads assumed different names according as they had
reference to the Eucharist as a sacrament or as a sacrifice:
bread, gift (donum), table (mensa) allude to the Sacrament, which
was instituted for the nourishment of our soul; oblation victim,
host, allude to sacrifice. Before the tenth century the word
"host" was not employed, probably because before this time the
Blessed Eucharist was considered more frequently as a sacrament
than as a sacrifice, hence the Fathers use such expressions as
communion (synaxis), supper (coena), breaking of bread, etc., but
at present the word "host" is used when referring to the Eucharist
either as a sacrament or as a sacrifice. In the liturgy it is
* for the bread before its consecration, "Suscipe sancte Pater . .
. hanc immaculatam hostiam" (Offertory of the Mass);
* for Christ under the appearance of the Eucharistic Species,
"Unde et memores . . . hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam
immaculatam" (Mass, after the consecration).
Durandus says that the word host is of pagan origin, derived from
the word hostio, to strike, referring to the victim offered to the
gods after a victory, but it is also of biblical origin, as it
represented the matter, or victim, of the sacrifice, e.g.
"expiationis hostiam" (Exod., xxix. 36).
A.J. SCHULTE Transcribed by Michael C. Tinkler
[New Advent Catholic Website] http://www.knight.org/advent
From the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the
Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright © 1996 by
New Advent, Inc., P.O. Box 281096, Denver, Colorado, USA, 80228.