Leavened vs. Unleavened Bread

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Leavened vs. Unleavened Bread


Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: Is the use of "real bread" with yeast, and other ingredients valid matter for consecration? If it is not, why is it valid matter in Byzantine Churches in union with Rome? I've seen priests "consecrate" rolls, etc., and break it for distribution; while it is not licit, does it affect the validity of the consecration? Speaking of matter for validity: Is the use of pure grape juice by an alcoholic priest who is in recovery still considered valid matter? I know an indult was available for these priests in the '70s and '80s but I thought it had been withdrawn — which could endanger the sobriety of some of our priests. — J.L., Sydney, Nova Scotia

A: This topic is dealt with most recently in the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," Nos. 48-50, which states:

"[48] The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools.

"[49] By reason of the sign, it is appropriate that at least some parts of the Eucharistic Bread coming from the fraction should be distributed to at least some of the faithful in Communion. 'Small hosts are, however, in no way ruled out when the number of those receiving Holy Communion or other pastoral needs require it,' and indeed small hosts requiring no further fraction ought customarily to be used for the most part.

"[50] The wine that is used in the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances. During the celebration itself, a small quantity of water is to be mixed with it. Great care should be taken so that the wine intended for the celebration of the Eucharist is well conserved and has not soured. It is altogether forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments. Nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter."

Although this document is written primarily for the Latin Church, what it says about the requirements for the validity of Eucharistic species also serves for the Eastern Churches, but not necessarily what refers to licit matter which may vary among Churches.

The use or omission of leaven in baking bread does not affect the reality of the end product as true bread. And so both leavened and unleavened bread are valid matter for the Eucharist.

The traditional use of unleavened bread in the Latin Church is a requirement for the Eucharist's licit celebration. A priest who consecrates a roll, bun or some other form of true wheat bread containing leaven performs a valid but illicit act.

Most Eastern Churches traditionally use leavened bread for the Eucharist and this would be a requirement for the licit celebration of the Eucharist in those Churches.

It must be observed, however, that one or two movements or associations of faithful within the Latin Church have received permission to use leavened bread within the context of Mass celebrated exclusively for members of the group or association.

The question of the validity of the use of "mustum," or grape juice, for priests suffering from alcoholism or for some other medical reason was finally resolved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994 in a letter signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger which also dealt with the question of low- gluten bread.

This letter stated:

"A. The preferred solution continues to be communion 'per intinctionem,' or in concelebration under the species of bread alone.

"B. Nevertheless, the permission to use 'mustum' can be granted by ordinaries to priests affected by alcoholism or other conditions which prevent the ingestion of even the smallest quantity of alcohol, after presentation of a medical certificate.

"C. By 'mustum' is understood fresh juice from grapes or juice preserved by suspending its fermentation (by means of freezing or other methods which do not alter its nature).

"D. In general, those who have received permission to use 'mustum' are prohibited from presiding at concelebrated Masses. There may be some exceptions however: in the case of a bishop or superior general; or, with prior approval of the ordinary, at the celebration of the anniversary of priestly ordination or other similar occasions. In these cases the one who presides is to communicate under both the species of bread and that of 'mustum,' while for the other concelebrants a chalice shall be provided in which normal wine is to be consecrated.

"E. In the very rare instances of laypersons requesting this permission, recourse must be made to the Holy See."

The document required furthermore that the ordinary must ascertain that the matter used conforms to the above requirements; that he grant permission only for as long as the situation continues which motivated the request; and that scandal be avoided.

Finally, it disposed that due to the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist in the life of the priest, those who suffer from a condition that would impede the normal reception of the Eucharistic species may not be admitted to holy orders. ZE05060729

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Follow-up: Leavened vs. Unleavened Bread [06-21-2005]

Among the readers who responded to our piece on the proper matter for the Eucharistic species and the danger of making it invalid through untoward additions (see June 7) a seminarian from Iowa asked the following:

"What would cause the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to no longer be? You indicated that a host saturated with water would no longer contain the True Presence. However, a while back we had the gluten-free battles, which seemed to indicate even if there is any quantity of gluten in the host the True Presence would exist. How would saturation of the host change this? Furthermore, would there be a similar situation present somehow with the species of wine? It is necessary to add water to wine, but why would too much wine invalidate consecration, and what would be the factor for judging what is too much?"

Although similar, the two situations are not quite the same. The question regarding gluten refers to the minimum requirements necessary for bread to be considered as valid matter for effecting the consecration. The question regarding soaking a host in water or the addition of copious quantities of water to the Precious Blood refer to the integrity of the already consecrated species.

Christ's presence is tied to the integrity of the species. Once this integrity is gone, then Christ's real presence also disappears. Thus, although a host soaked in water may retain for a while some of the accidents of bread, it has undergone such a change that removes the presence.

Likewise, if the quantity of water added exceeds that of the Precious Blood, although similar in appearance, it is no longer integrally what it once was.

Although adding unconsecrated wine to the Precious Blood does not change the accidents in any way, I believe the effect is the same in destroying the integrity of the species as after the consecration we are no longer dealing with wine but with the Lord's Blood.

For precision's sake I would note that if altar bread were soaked or altar wine severely diluted before the consecration, they would no longer be valid material for confecting the Eucharist. However, if done after the consecration they would not, technically speaking, invalidate the consecration, but rather corrupt the species so that it no longer contains the Real Presence. The holy sacrifice of the Mass would still have been validly celebrated.

This could throw light on a related topic regarding the duration of Christ's presence in the communicant. It is important to remember that the graces received in Communion derive from the participation in the sacrifice and the act of receiving holy Communion.

The consideration of the actual physical duration of the Real Presence after Communion, while beneficial for personal devotion, makes practically no difference as to the grace received in the act of Communion itself. Thus even if it were true, as some experts sustain, that the disintegration of the host is almost immediate, there would still be multiple motives for remaining in thanksgiving after Communion.

An Arizona reader asked about a practice in her parish. She tells of "extra ciboria (there may be two or more) taken by the server and brought to the far side of the altar and left on the end of the altar. The priest during the time of consecration does not even acknowledge that they are there, and they are not moved to the middle of the altar on top of the corporal for consecration. They are not picked up until Communion by the priest, who then hands the ciboria to the extraordinary ministers of Communion."

Certainly all hosts to be consecrated should be placed on a corporal, preferably in front of the priest. If the space before the priest is insufficient, then another corporal may be placed on the altar to receive the ciboria. It might be that there is a corporal on the altar not visible from the pews. If there is no corporal, then the practice is liturgically deficient -- but it would not necessarily affect the consecration.

For a valid consecration it is sufficient that the priest be aware of the presence of the ciboria and have the intention of consecrating them or has a general intention of consecrating all that has been placed upon the altar for that purpose.

Another reader asked regarding the omission of the rite of adding water to the wine at the presentation of gifts. We have addressed this topic June 29 and July 13 of last year. ZE05062120

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Follow-up: Leavened vs. Unleavened Bread, Continued [07-05-2005]

Several readers have made yet further enquiries regarding the integrity of the Eucharistic species (see follow-up in June 21 column) and the high level of interest leads me to address the topic once more.

Some readers requested the theological sources for the affirmation that the loss of integrity leads to the loss of the Real Presence.

My reply was principally based on an application of the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologiae" III pars q 77. In the corpus of the fourth article of this question "Whether the sacramental species can be corrupted" the Angelic Doctor affirms:

"An accident can be corrupted in another way, through the corruption of its subject, and in this way also they can be corrupted after consecration; for although the subject does not remain, still the being which they had in the subject does remain, which being is proper, and suited to the subject. And therefore such being can be corrupted by a contrary agent, as the substance of the bread or wine was subject to corruption, and, moreover, was not corrupted except by a preceding alteration regarding the accidents.

"Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between each of the aforesaid corruptions; because, when the body and the blood of Christ succeed in this sacrament to the substance of the bread and wine, if there be such change on the part of the accidents as would not have sufficed for the corruption of the bread and wine, then the body and blood of Christ do not cease to be under this sacrament on account of such change, whether the change be on the part of the quality, as for instance, when the color or the savor of the bread or wine is slightly modified; or on the part of the quantity, as when the bread or the wine is divided into such parts as to keep in them the nature of bread or of wine. But if the change be so great that the substance of the bread or wine would have been corrupted, then Christ's body and blood do not remain under this sacrament; and this either on the part of the qualities, as when the color, savor, and other qualities of the bread and wine are so altered as to be incompatible with the nature of bread or of wine; or else on the part of the quantity, as, for instance, if the bread be reduced to fine particles, or the wine divided into such tiny drops that the species of bread or wine no longer remain."

In conformity with this doctrine, the liturgical tradition of the Latin rite treats with utmost respect the tiny particles of hosts remaining after Communion (it doesn't, however, attribute gestures of adoration to the particles).

The liturgical tradition also takes great pains to ensure the proper purification of sacred vessels and altar linens as well as prescribing the careful purification of any place where the Precious Blood might have been accidentally spilled.

A Missouri reader characteristically asked to "be shown" how my statement — "For a valid consecration it is sufficient that the priest be aware of the presence of the ciboria and have the intention of consecrating them or has a general intention of consecrating all that has been placed upon the altar for that purpose" — be true in the light of the fact that at: "Papal Masses I see hundreds of priests standing many yards from the altar holding ciboria filled with unconsecrated hosts. It is taken for granted those hosts are consecrated by the Pope during the Mass, even though they are no where near the Pope or the altar."

My statement responded to the precise question at hand, which referred to ciboria placed on the altar.

I did not address the general principle of the priest's intention and it was not my purpose to set an absolute limit on the physical extension to the intention.

In the case of papal Masses, and similarly numerous celebrations, the celebrant has the specific intention of consecrating the hosts in the minister's ciborium.

In general, the papal master of ceremonies organizes the deacons and priests holding the ciboria so that they are as close to the altar as possible and that nobody except concelebrants are between these ministers and the altar.

Most priests have a habitual intention of consecrating all that is upon the corporal, but they may explicitly extend this intention to all that is upon the altar.

Although it is technically possible for a priest to extend his intention in the manner of papal Masses, it is practically never necessary to do so in a parish situation where the logistic difficulties proper to St. Peter's Basilica do not occur.

The proper solution in a very large parish Mass is to consecrate sufficient hosts in large ciboria upon the altar and transfer them to empty ciboria at the moment of Communion.

Several other readers also asked about the period of thanksgiving after Communion. One put it thus: If Christ disappears almost immediately "at such point, then to whom do I address my thanksgiving?"

Many, perhaps most, of us were formed in the tradition that the period of thanksgiving after Communion was somehow linked to the duration of the species within the body. This period was variably placed at 5 to 15 minutes, with some saying more and others less.

Although this abiding is a reality, over time I have become convinced that it is not the best focus to adopt in explaining the motives for giving thanks after Communion.

My reasons are that this explanation tends to obscure the act of receiving Communion as the high point and completion of participation at Mass, or of uniting ourselves spiritually to the Mass if we receive Communion outside of Mass.

Indeed, this tradition arose above all in an epoch in which the faithful who desired to receive Communion remained behind after the completion of the Mass, compounding this dissociation between the Sacrifice and Communion.

Why then should we give thanks?

When we have participated at Mass we have been present in a sacramental but real way at a new Bethlehem and a new Calvary. We have walked with Christ the dusty road to Emmaus and felt our hearts burning as he opened our minds to the Scriptures and recognized him at the breaking of bread. We have been witnesses to his death and resurrection.

In virtue of the common priesthood received at baptism and confirmation we have received the capacity to offer our personal prayers and sacrifices with and through the priest so that we are certain that our personal offering, although it seems to us no more than a grain of sand or a drop of water, is placed alongside the infinite and eternal sacrifice of Christ and presented to the Father as a pleasing and agreeable sacrifice.

Through our reception of holy Communion, we are nourished spiritually for life's journey; the new and eternal covenant between God and man is ratified once more.

We strengthen the family ties between God and ourselves, grow in friendship and imitation of Christ, become more fully children of the Blessed Virgin Mary and build up the bond of brotherhood that unites us to the communion of saints and with all those who are blessed to partake of the Lamb's supper.

In the light of all this, and there is much more to be said, a lifetime would not suffice to give personal thanks to Christ for the grace of participating in a single Mass and a single Communion.

To dwell only on the duration of the Real Presence is to reduce the graces received to one aspect and leave aside a trove of blessings from a God who is not content to show his love for us but almost spoils us in his generosity. ZE05070522

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