Leavened vs. Unleavened Bread

And Still More on Blessings for Non-communicants

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ROME, JUNE 7, 2005 (Zenit.org).- 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 I know an indult was available for these priests in the '70s and '80s but I thought it had been withdrawn -- which could endanger the sobriety of some of our priests.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.

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Follow-up: Blessings for Non-communicants, Continued

The theme of blessings for non-communicants (see May 10 and 24) has struck a chord, albeit a sometimes dissonant one, in many readers. For this reason I will revisit the theme once more.

(Before embarking, however, I would like to thank the kind reader who made me realize that I pertain to the ranks of the grammatically challenged by confusing the first and third person plural in my previous follow-up.)

One reader proposed that accepting the possibility of this blessing of non-communicants went against the principle that "liturgical documents are prohibitive of all that they do not prescribe."

While in no means in favor of liturgical inventiveness, I do not believe this to be a valid principle in interpreting liturgical law.

Liturgical norms have several levels ranging from the Divine decree (such as the essential elements of the sacraments) to precepts descriptive of prevalent customs, the latter constituting the vast majority of liturgical norms.

The different levels do not lessen their value as true laws, which require obedience. But they are usually content to set out a general scheme with no desire to rigidly set every gesture to the exclusion of all others.

For example, in a recent controversy regarding some bishop's forbidding the faithful to kneel after Communion until everybody had received, the Holy See stated: "The … prescription of the 'Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani,' no. 43, is intended, on the one hand, to ensure within broad limits a certain uniformity of posture within the congregation for the various parts of the celebration of Holy Mass, and on the other, to not regulate posture rigidly in such a way that those who wish to kneel or sit would no longer be free."

The same could be said about other acts of private fervor such as making a sign of the cross after receiving Communion.

Since much liturgical law is grounded in custom, canonists generally admit that, according to canons 23-28, some ecclesial communities have the capacity to introduce customs that either interpret the law, or fill a vacuum or silence regarding the law.

Many, but not all, liturgical canonists deny that a community may establish a custom contrary to the law. They also discuss the relative capacity of the diocese or the bishops' conference to introduce customs in liturgical matters.

Even admitting the ability of these entities to introduce customs, since Church law already has official mechanisms for adapting the liturgy to local needs, these should be respected so as to avoid any cause of doubt or unnecessary conflict.

Historically, the use of customs that either interpret the law or establish practices to adapt to situations or conditions not expressly covered by the law, are frequent.

Even in the far more minutely regulated liturgy before the Second Vatican Council there where many particular customs that responded to concrete pastoral needs. For example, in the Baltic country of Latvia, the Catholic minority -- hemmed in on one side by a branch of Lutheranism that conserved many Catholic trappings and on the other by the Russian Orthodox -- developed a strong tradition of congregational singing not foreseen in the rubrics and quite different from the liturgical practice of neighboring Lithuania, where Catholics constituted the majority.

On the other hand, several other readers did express a fear that the introduction of the blessing for those not receiving Communion breached the general liturgical norm that "Therefore, absolutely no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," No. 22).

Here we are on different terrain. Even if we were to accept that the blessing offered to non-communicants could be established as a legitimate custom that responds to new pastoral demands, not foreseen in the law itself, it is clear that it is not incumbent on the individual priest to introduce a novel rite into the Communion procession.

Finally, even if we were to accept the (still hypothetical) legitimacy of this custom, I would be personally hesitant to generalize its use beyond those areas where it has proved a useful pastoral solution to specific problems for relatively small groups.

I also see no pastoral advantage in using it for children before their first Communion. A child who observes parents and siblings approaching the altar should have a greater sense of hope and desire to be able to participate just as they do.

As we mentioned before, a blessing in this case could even weaken the awareness of the greatness and uniqueness of holy Communion. It can also cause pastoral problems insofar as it is an easy custom to introduce but, once in, very difficult to renege upon, due to parental sensitivity.

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