Leavened or Unleavened Bread?

About a year ago, I attended Mass at a parish I had never been to before. During Communion, I noticed that the host was made of leavened bread. I thought Communion hosts were only supposed to be made from unleavened bread. Could you explain the Church’s teaching on this matter?

— A reader from Falls Church As Catholics, we firmly believe that Our Lord instituted the seven sacraments and entrusted them to the Church. Therefore, the sacraments are the actions of Our Lord and the Church. Through the celebration of these sacraments, the faithful express their faith in genuine acts of worship to God. In turn, the grace received through the sacraments strengthens and sanctifies the faith of the recipients. Moreover, the sacraments "contribute to the highest degree to the establishment, strengthening and manifestation of ecclesial communion; therefore, both the sacred ministers and the rest of the Christian faithful must employ the greatest reverence and the necessary diligence in their celebration" (Code of Canon Law, No. 840). The "supreme authority" of the Church alone possesses the authority to approve and to define the elements of matter and form which are required for a sacrament’s valid celebration. (c.f. Canon No. 841) Remember that the matter of a sacrament would be the material elements and action involved in performing the sacrament, e.g. the pouring of water over a person’s head or the immersing of him in water when baptizing; the form of a sacrament is the necessary prayer offered, e.g. in baptism, the priest prays, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." To tamper with the matter or the form of the sacrament invalidates the sacrament, i.e. the sacrament does not occur. With this understanding, we can now turn to the question regarding the use of leavened bread at Mass. Following Pope John Paul II’s "On the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist" (1980), the Sacred Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship issued its "Instruction on Certain Norms Concerning the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery" (1980) with the intention of repeating and clarifying norms regarding the celebration of the Mass and the holy Eucharist. Sadly, after the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council, abuses arose which had to be addressed. For instance, I heard from friends of their experience during a college campus Mass in the early 1970s when beer and pretzels were used by a "with it" campus chaplain to make the Mass relevant for college students; too bad the priest made the Mass irrelevant by being without Christ. Regarding the matter of the holy Eucharist, the Sacred Congregation specifically stated, "Faithful to Christ’s example, the Church has constantly used bread and wine mixed with water to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The bread for the celebration of the Eucharist, in accordance with the tradition of the whole Church, must be made solely of wheat, and, in accordance with the tradition proper to the Latin Church, it must be unleavened. ... No other ingredients are to be added to the wheaten flour and water. ... The wine for the Eucharistic celebration must be of ‘the fruit of the vine’ and be natural and genuine, that is to say not mixed with other substances"(No. 8). (These norms are repeated in Code of Canon Law. Nos. 924 and 926.) Therefore, if a congregation decided to use leavened bread or add salt, honey, sugar, molasses or any over additive to the bread to be offered at Mass in the Latin Rite, the sacrament would be invalidated, meaning the Eucharist is not confected. To insure the validity of the sacrament as well as to alleviate the burden for a parish to provide its own unleavened hosts, over the years communities of religious sisters, especially cloistered ones, or commercial companies supply the unleavened hosts for parishes for use at Mass. Since the sacraments are precious gifts from Our Lord to the Church, they must be carefully guarded. To tamper with the matter and the form or the ritual for the celebration of the sacrament not only invalidates the sacrament but breaks the unity of the Church which the proper celebration is to strengthen. Fr. Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Queen of Apostles, both in Alexandria. Copyright ?1997 Arlington Catholic Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.

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