Real Bread

Since my undergraduate days studying theology at St. John’s University, I have favored homemade eucharistic bread that, as much as possible within the narrow rubrical requirements, looks, tastes, and feels like real bread.

But here’s a true confession: until fairly recently, it has been for the wrong reasons. I’m not proud of this, but only recently have I come around to a true, inward appreciation for the symbolic value of “real” (you know what I mean) communion bread.

This past semester, teaching Christian Worship to undergrads, one of the texts I used was Bernard Cooke’s Sacraments and Sacramentality, which was new for me. And teaching Eucharist to grad students I used Ed Foley’s excellent From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist, which I’ve been through several times now in the classroom. Happily, however long in coming, something clicked for me.

First Cooke: he makes the point, about five different ways and about twenty five times, that symbols are real, that humans are symbol-makers, that to be human is to know and perceive symbolically. Then Foley: he reminds us that for most of the first millennium, leavened bread was used for the eucharistic celebration. Pope Gregory in the sixth century might well have used a large load of bread, broken into pieces for distribution, in St. Peter’s Basilica. Just let that sink in.

I’ve come to realize that, up until now, my reason for supporting thicker homemade bread over little factory-made hosts has been one of extrinsic obedience. It’s what the GIRM calls for. That, plus loyalty to the St. John’s way of doing things: it’s what the profs at St. John’s taught me and what the abbey does at daily Mass every day. It’s a principle of liturgical reform of the sort I should support. It marks that one is on the “right” side of liturgical reform.

At the meals with table reading in the abbey refectory during the Triduum, there are big round loaves of dark bread at each table. This year it struck me in a new way how powerful it is for a group of people to tear bread apart with their hands and share it with one another. And then I thought of Ed Foley’s delightful tale of historical reconstruction, “Jacob and Ruben,” at the end of chapter one of Age to Age. Ruben sat at table with his fellow Jews, blessed bread, and gave it for all at table to share. First century eucharist.

I came to realize that the powerfully human (and therefore profoundly sacred, I’m sure Cooke would say) bread-sharing experience of Jacob and Ruben was preserved in the church for centuries and centuries, even as the celebration became more formal, more ritualized, and for larger groups of people in large buildings.

I began to dream. Why homemade loaves in the abbey only at daily Masses with smaller congregations? Why not one huge loaf for every Sunday and feast day? Or if larger crowds demanded it could be more loaves, but still everyone would receive bread torn apart by hand from a large loaf. How cool would that be?

Not possible, the sacristans would say. You can’t estimate accurately how many loaves will be needed, since eucharistic ministers tear off pieces of varying sizes. Fine, I say: then consecrate way too much and let the remainder be consumed reverently after Mass. The end game here is to make sure that no one wrecks the whole thing by bringing in pre-consecrated factory hosts from the tabernacle.

Is it possible, I asked Br. Aelred, to make unleavened bread into a loaf that is 10 or 12 inches high? No, it turns out. Unleavened dough won’t bake into anything resembling bread unless the thickness is limited and the top is pricked. So my dream got reduced just a bit: for Sundays and bigger celebrations we could stack many flat loaves on top of each other.

In liturgical planning and in instructions ministers receive in the abbey, it’s long been a custom to talk about hosts in distinction to “substantial” bread, as in “it’ll be hosts today instead of substantial bread.” I cringe and think to myself that the hosts better be the substance of bread, or else we’re a dime short of a valid sacrament! But I hold back. Everyone knows what they mean.

And in a way, they’re right. The little hosts are the substance of bread only in the most minimal way. Eucharist with little hosts is substantially lacking. The substance of the symbol is hardly there. The substance of sharing is hardly there. The substance of union with others is hardly there. What is there, beyond a legalistic minimum, is the strong suggestion that God acts in the sacraments in “churchy” ways unrelated to the real lives and human experiences of churchgoers.

When Mass in the abbey has the little factory hosts, I certainly still believe that it is the true Body of Christ. I certainly still believe that Christ is uniting us to himself precisely by uniting us to one another. But my reception of Holy Communion comes with a bit of painful regret. Though I believe all that, there is little in the way of sacramental symbolism to suggest that any of that is really true.




  1. The difficulty is not convincing children that the bread is changed. Rather that this stuff is bread in the first place.

  2. About 40 years ago at a wedding in an Episcopal parish in Houston, they used large loaves. Each person distributing had perhaps half a loaf which they took unbroken to the place of distribution, and they broke as they went along. I don’t think it was unleavened.

    At the celebration for the 50th anniversary of my ordination, we used flat loaves, about 10 inches in diameter, baked that morning in the parish. Each was sufficient for about 60 people. We also used one large cup witht two handles, from which each person was invited to receive, to underline the symbolism of sharing in the one cup. This took longer than usual, of course, but we made people aware of this beforehand, and the significance. It meant that the singing during Communion acquired an added importance.

    The argument that breaking the loaf is not possible, because we don’t know how it will be broken, seems countered by the fact that we use the cup, not knowing how much each individual will consume!

  3. Perhaps may be one way to appeal to traditionalists, as it would make prudent the still-current formal requirement for the use of the paten in the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament?

  4. Well over 30 years ago at Notre Dame (and I assume they may still be doing it), Communion under the form of bread was administered by two ministers at each station, one holding a basket of consecrated bread, the other tearing a piece off a loaf for each new communicant. It certainly made the symbolism of sharing come alive. Being fed by two ministers rather than just one, and with a basket rather than a paten, somehow made it feel more authentically human.

    The scriptural experts tell us that what was used at the Last Supper was in fact semi-leavened bread. That of course still exists today in middle-eastern countries as a staple food, and in western countries as an ethnic staple: pitta bread (sometimes spelled with only one ‘t’). You can get it at bakeries, Trader Joe’s, supermarkets…. While bread-baking by parishioners may be very laudable, I can’t help feeling that buying pitta bread may be giving some people employment who need the money.

    As Mary Wood said, having to make an additional act of faith that the plastic disc you are receiving is in fact real bread is an extra step that we could very easily dispense with. The snag is that the “factory hosts” that Anthony describes are what keep a fair number of convents alive.

  5. Thank you – had high school seminarians make, bake, and then we used at all liturgies and in the process was able to have them experience what you explain here. Unfortunately, have been unsuccessful doing this at a college seminary (rules were quoted) or at any parish (always *practical* limits some say).

  6. For our Sunday morning Mass we use unleavened loaves made by a parishioner that are scored for about 60 pieces. On a typical Sunday we use two. We usually break one up right before Mass and leave one intact as the “priest’s host,” which gets shown to the people at the consecration and is broken during the Lamb of God. The breaking usually takes four repetitions of the LofG, so it’s not really making things last much longer. Because the loaves are scored we can estimate pretty well how much we will use (sometimes we add a half loaf if we have more people than usual) and usually there is only a little left over, which is put in the tabernacle and reverently consumed after Mass.

    I think “real bread” was more important to me in the past than it is now. What people usually end up receiving (in terms of the species, of course, not the substance) is something like a chewy cube of whole wheat bread. I’m not sure it’s actually any closer to their everyday experience of bread than pre-made hosts are. If I had to choose between “real bread” and having the cup available, I’d definitely opt for the latter. But using a loaf does have the advantage that what people receive is clearly broken off of a larger whole, which I think is symbolically important, indeed more important than the form of the bread itself.

  7. There is an almost fundamentalist literalism here that is quite foreign to the Catholic consciousness. I must confess that while I have always (at least since my religious awakening in high school) regarded the Holy Eucharist as the Bread of Life that comes down to us from heaven and united us with Our Lord and each other, I have never felt it strange or awkward that we receive it in little pieces called hosts. It seems that “grown-ups” in the 1970s were bothered by the fact that believers receiving a host on the tongue while kneeling expressed the relationship of an inferior to a superior, a servant to a master, a child to a parent feeding it, rather like a baby bird receiving from its mother. But this has always seemed to me exactly right and expressive of the truth of the matter.

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski:
      I think that if one approaches it from “the Bread of Life that come down from Heaven” then individual hosts might seem quite natural. If one approaches it from “the bread that we break” being “a participation in the body of Christ” then loaves that are broken might seem more fitting. Both approaches are, of course, scriptural, and there isn’t really a need to choose between them.

      There is nothing “foreign to Catholic consciousness” in being concerned about the symbolic dimensions of the liturgy. No one is claiming that hosts are invalid matter; the question is what is the more fitting form for the eucharistic species? And to be honest, throwing around of sloppy terms of abuse like “fundamentalist literalism” really doesn’t contribute much to the conversation.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        If memory serves, the conventional form of host we receive is also meant vaguely to refer to manna, inasmuch as the Divine Liturgy is not only a re-presentation of the Last Supper (or Calvary, for that matter), but a much larger array.

        I recall a friend describing his community where pitta bread was used, and where someone mistakenly procured the wrong type, so that he ended up saying “The Body of Christ, except for the onion bits.” People were suitably mortified.

        And it would be just lovely time to revive the Azymite polemics of yore. I can see how edifying that will turn out. It will, of course, start very modestly, like yeast does. But eventually blossom, as yeast is wont to do.

  8. Eugene Walsh SS, my beloved mentor of happy memory, would say that it takes more faith to believe that these stamped-out rounds of stuff that taste like copy paper are actually bread than it does to believe that Jesus somehow gets himself in there!

  9. The sad fact would appear to be that in most or many parishes, we have minimalized all of the sacraments out of their meaning. We rarely immerse babies or adults for baptism – too messy. Confirmations and first Eucharists are usually held away from when the parish gathers – Sunday mass. I have been to confirmations where there are people to wipe the oil from the heads so that the pictures look better. First communicants seem to worry more about what they are wearing and how they are processing. Weddings are more about incorporating traditions that have nothing to do with religion. I have been to funerals where the first indication that a priest makes to acknowledge people of other faiths is to tell them not to come to communion.

    Even at the usual Sunday mass, most parishes don’t seem to tell visitors where to find the Gloria, the holy, etc. so that they can participate.

    We are all about getting it done quickly and efficiently, but rarely authentically. And with the ongoing efforts to return tabernacles to the main sanctuary, people now know that communion comes from the tabernacle, not the prayers of the mass.

  10. At least in common discourse, the word “symbolic” carries connotations of pretend or false. I’ve heard a deacon-catechist explain that “the host is not a symbol, it’s the real presence of Christ. Get that word out of your head, it is NOT a symbol.” As long as people mistakenly understand that symbol=not real, our understanding of the Eucharist will be lacking. This also contributes to those purveyors of old-time religion who still today tell First Communicants not to chew the host because they will hurt Jesus. I kid you not.

  11. Once again Tradition comes up against traditionalism. Both leavened and unleavened bread arise from Sacred Tradition. Traditionalists, however, suppose that any practices which pre-date post-Constantinian Christianity are to be dismissed as forms of primitivism. This is why, IMHO, the latter are so offended by the New Order of Mass and assert that it is radically discontinuous with the TLM with its numerous “innovations” and omissions. Thus the only “bread” needed for the valid celebration of Mass is that smallish plastic disc known as the priest’s host and a slew of tiny plastic discs that are consecrated from time to time to be stored away in the tabernacle. So the the fact that GIRM 321 refers to the desirability of the priest using a larger piece that can be broken into pieces, some of which may be distributed to the other ministers and the faithful is regarded by traditionalists as a silly notion of litniks. The same GIRM recommends the use of a large “paten”, really a vessell that doesn’t look like a chalice, in which all the bread to be consecrated is commingled. Yet sacramental minimalism continues to prevail as even bishops in their cathedral churches opt for the permitted practice of their “own” small host and paten within a sea of ciboria and chalices. So much for the symbolism of one bread and one cup and the breaking of the bread during the Lamb of God (oh yes, the little host is broken and carefully pieced back together). At the Benectine seminary I attend back in the early seventies the monks made loaves of unleavened bread sweetened with a small amount of honey. It looked and tasted like bread as we partook of the true body of Christ. Then came the temple police and that practice was labeled as an abuse. Do you think the truly Orthodox believe that?

  12. On this subject see Prof. Tom O’Loughlin’s articles available at In particular see “‘Bread’ or ‘Loaf’ – Translating PANIS in a eucharistic context”; “The Eucharist and the grammar of meals”; “The Eucharist: the meal that should be?”; and more broadly “Eucharistic Celebrations: the Chasm between Idea and Action”. Also, “We are One Loaf — a way of understanding the Eucharist” in The Furrow Vol. 64, No. 7/8, July/August 2013, available via JSTOR @ Finally, his book ‘The Eucharist: Origins and Contemporary Understandings’ (Bloomsbury, 2015.

  13. I think that there is no problem with the bread used in church being special bread just as the music is special, not everyday, music.
    The advantages of the hosts that do not go stale or leave crumbs are practical. What do we do with excess consecrated bread that will go stale if not consumed?
    As the form of bread varies around the world the common hosts do serve a purpose of being a unifying symbol. A French baguette would well qualify as a bread shared around a family meal, leaving many crumbs behind. The ready sliced loaf would not be consumed in the same way but is easier to toast.
    None of this will convince those who prefer the larger loaf but are points that merit consideration.

    1. @Peter Haydon:
      Peter, I don’t see any engagement with the argument of my post here. I hope your last paragraph isn’t meant as dismissive sarcasm, but I can’t tell.

    2. @Peter Haydon:

      ‘Hosts’ (what a word !) that don’t go stale ? Ours at the Church I serve always taste like cardboard. Any stuff that’s made of cereal ingredients will stale after a while. I suspect that we order much more than we need (because we worry we’ll run out), so it is stale even before we get to use it at Mass.

      On the other hand, whenever I have taken part in Mass where ‘homemade’ bread was used, it was almost always practically inedible. I celebrated Mass in the USA once and was faced with a huge pile of brown ‘loaves’ at the offertory. After the Eucharistic Prayer I was told to stand back by the deacon, while he and a number of extraordinary ministers broke it all up. I found even a small piece really hard to chew and swallow. God only knows what went into it.

      The bottom line is that you can’t make even unleavened bread out of just flour and water, without some oil to avoid sticking. I have eaten a lot of unleavened bread baked in thin sheets on hot stones, and that seems to me to be the most satisfactory. But it looks nothing like the ‘hosts’ we use in church. I attended an Armenian Mass in London many years ago where the ‘bread’ was like a very large and quite flaky water biscuit.

      What is ‘bread’ anyway ?


      1. @Alan Griffiths:
        Well I am not sure that “slices” would do unless the loaf was sliced.
        One person’s neutral term is sometimes upsetting to others. Like cup and chalice.
        I don’t know about Armenian bread but Turkish goes stale quickly. Do “hosts” have a “best before” date?

    3. @Peter Haydon:

      Peter, I share your concerns about crumbs. My “support” for alternative altar breads is really placet cum cautione because crumbs may be scattered about the church, stepped on, etc. I can’t and wouldn’t speak out against religious communities who are trying alternative breads, but that also does not mean that I am entirely comfortable with the idea.

      French bread is a yeast bread, which is not applicable here. A quick bread (i.e. leavened with baking powder) might be a better category for alternative breads. Some quick breads are less crumbly (banana nut bread), and some (Irish soda bread) are quite crumbly. I suppose making altar breads is an inexact science, and some time must be spent in the test kitchen making, tasting, and checking the “crumble factor” of alternative altar breads.

      I am proud to say that were I to visit the Abbey for Mass, I would gladly receive the Eucharist in my hand. I remember trembling when “making a temple”, when at one time I actively denounced communion in the hand. In the end, it is possible to overcome phobias or unreasonable positions to participate at Mass, even if one is still cautious.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo:
        I guess that you know more about baking than I do. The risk of crumbs falling by the way side is a matter of how we show appropriate reverence. It concerns me that if an important person, the Queen for example, were to come everything would be polished etc but for our Lord we are, perhaps, too casual.
        I do appreciate the views of others about how a more substantial bread may have value but think that this needs balancing with other concerns.
        Luckily I do not have to make decisions on this.

  14. Fr. Ruff: Thank you for your documenting of a Eucharistic understanding. At our parish we use large Communion hosts that are scored for 24 hosts each. The box from the sisters hold 25 of these big hosts that number 600 when broken. We use these for Mass because I don’t want that primary symbol of who we are as a people into be misconstrued as a personal “me and Jesus” representation by a perfect circle of a host. I want our believers to know that in no way are they not connected to the person who received before them and the person who received after them.

    When our parishioners are told this, many will acknowledge that it makes sense to them…much like your words. We leave one large host unbroken and break all the rest (600-900) before Mass.

  15. Oh no Father.
    On the point about the sharing of bread the type of bread used may be relevant. The idea of sharing a loaf makes sense in a French context but much less in a British one where the bread is of a quite different sort and meal habits are different.
    The other consideration is about the way the practical needs of storage and preventing crumbs arising are well covered by the little plain hosts. Considerations such as these cannot be dismissed and merit consideration as well as the points others note about desirable characteristics of the hosts.
    I know that your readers have firm views. That should not stop them giving fair consideration to other views.
    God bless, Peter

  16. As a college seminarian at Saint Meinrad Seminary, using “real” bread was the norm. It was all new to me coming from parish life in northern Florida. But what a powerful change it was. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was better than the round, pre-pressed, manufactured hosts I knew growing up. I have always been grateful for those days when I was formed in the power of sacramental symbols.

  17. I support licit alternative altar breads. While abbeys and monasteries might readily accept alternative breads given the erudition of religious, the situation at St. Church-Around-the-Corner may be very different. I could see the use of alternative breads becoming a divisive wedge in the parish. The people who believe that they are walking Catechisms, especially, will make the most noise. A priest or deacon would need to provide in-depth catechesis on altar breads and the Eucharist in general before the use of Hosts are scaled back.

    I understand and agree that the homily should be foremost an exposition on scripture. Still, sometimes some catechesis is necessary (maybe woven into the readings for that Sunday).

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:
      “A priest or deacon would need to provide in-depth catechesis on altar breads and the Eucharist in general before the use of Hosts are scaled back.”

      And they will likely need to be able to reassure them that the only ingredients are licit ones of which the sacrament can be validly confected, as it were. (And they will need to consider provision for very very low-gluten hosts made of wheaten flour only; that can be much trickier.)

  18. FYI–a cursory inspection of the label of most commercially manufactured plain “pita” bread shows not only all the chemical additives to the loaves but that they contain sugar, yeast and sometimes baking powder as well.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:
        Yes–but remembering that the Orthodox use leavened bread for an entirely different reason than that it looks like (someone’s idea of) bread.
        Also, the Orthodox faithful never even really see the loaf as it once it’s prepared and cut before the Divine Liturgy, it’s veiled and when it comes time for distribution, the Lamb is placed into the chalice.

      2. @John Kohanski:
        Understood. They also have rules about the ingredients for the antidoron that the faithful do see, and about reverence for it (even to the point taking care to ensure crumbs of that are not trampled upon).

    1. @John Kohanski:
      and KLS

      My point was not about canonical validity but that this type of bread is pretty much identical to what Jesus would have distributed at meals, additives and all — pretty naive to suppose that they didn’t use any in those days: the basic recipes have not changed in 2000 years. Of course it contains yeast because it’s semi-leavened, as I pointed out in my original post.

      I don’t suppose the apostles at the Last Supper were much concerned about notions of validity. If so, they couldn’t have drunk the wine, which was undoubtedly full of resin to act as a preservative. (You can still buy Demestica retsina wine today in red, white and rosé.)

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:
        What was used at the Last Supper is not determinative, to be sure, but it’s not entirely beside the point either. It is surely of interest that, for example, the bread at the Last Supper may well have been made from barley rather than wheat.
        I think the great variety found in liturgical tradition oftentimes helps inform one’s mindset about what is possible, what is central, what is peripheral, and the like – even if a particular past practice is not really up for consideration to be revived in our day

      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        I am aware of that. And, interestingly, barley is a glutinous grain, capable of being leavened by yeast. All of the grains then permitted in Judaism for use in Pesach matzot were at least nominally glutinous grains. And, even if the Last Supper had been the night *before* Pesach (Johannine tradition), the breads would have been unleavened because chametz would have been cleaned out by then in the preparations of the room (which one imagines Jesus’s women disciples may have been involved in that, as they were obviously around). (In modern Judaism, IIRC, that interval of 10-14 Nisan is when egg matzot are normally eaten.)

        My concern about treating such information as relevant is that it implies (or seems designed to encourage an inference) that ministers and pastors are somehow not quite as bound to what Church law directs. Having seen the terrible results at a pastoral level of decisions to ignore/override limits on valid matter and form, it’s not something I take lightly. Ministers and priests come and go, but it’s the community that is left to mop up after the consequences (I have yet to personally behold a community where there was a true consensus to proceed beforehand, though I am aware it happens in some relatively small conventual communities). So my progressive lens on this is not to foist that on the community without its true informed consent, however noble the intention.

      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        From a scholarly perspective, we need to be careful about treating speculation as a premise for further conclusions.

        What MAY have been used at the Last Supper isn’t actually evidence of liturgical diversity. Nor can we argue X may have be used then, so we can use it now. Because, in essence, it may not have. Our musings don’t override liturgical development in the early Church.

        On the other hand, there is of course real evidence of liturgical diversity between East and West regards things like leaven etc. But better to start with solid data rather than speculations (even informed speculations).

      4. @Mariko Ralph:
        No, I think not.

        You’d have to look at the basis for the scholars’ conclusions and how likely they think it is that something happened. Very much of historical reconstruction falls somewhere between 100% certainly and rather likely, on a scale of more or less likely.

        And even when the certainty about the past approaches 100%, it is a separate question as to how we interpret it and what conclusions we draw. And even if there is virtually NO historical precedent, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to begin doing it.

        So it is highly relevant to look at the best work of the best historical scholars, and assess it on its merits. The past provides us models and ideas and ideals and mistakes to avoid… and then invites us to look at our current situation with, we hope, a bit more perspective.

        Sometimes we conclude that a past practice should be revived. Sometimes we conclude that a first-ever innovation should be introduced. We have options.

        I find all too often in liturgy discussions that some people argue, “I don’t want this change (or perhaps any change) to happen, so I’ll discredit the supporting scholarship without providing alternate scholarship.” I don’t know whether you’re doing that or not, but I hope not.


      5. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        I would note that trends in secular historiography are migrating in the past 20 years to greater and more transparent epistemic humility about how much we know about the past. My sense is that religious history is somewhat lagging in this regard.

  19. Fascinating! Thank you for this reflection. I’ve also found the comment thread quite interesting.
    So much can be communicated by the form of the bread, and I have experienced many of the variations you describe.
    But I actually like the hosts. I get that they’re not very breadlike in the external ways (though if you use the thicker whole wheat ones and are scrupulous about freshness, they’re not too bad). I wish we could return to the pre-factory era and have them made at home–then the irregularity of size and thickness that would naturally occur would help connect them more to “real” bread. But it would be a lot of work, as I assume it once was.
    In the 16th and 17th centuries we Lutherans stubbornly held on to the thin hosts of the medieval tradition in the face of Calvinist and Zwinglian insistence on loaves of bread. It was mostly about distancing ourselves from “Last Supper re-enacting” and a too-casual connection between the bread of the altar and that of the dinner table. So hosts served for us the end of defending the “Mass” character of the Eucharist and the idea of the Real Presence. But holding that line as to the form of bread is no longer as much of a concern in the ecumenical age.
    I participate in the distribution of the bread in many settings, and I do think some attention should be paid to the way the bread breaks: some kinds have crusts that are quite tough and/or interiors that are too crumbly. It needs to hold together. Some bread is pretty elastic–that helps. I work hard at not worrying about things I can’t help, but I just hate visible crumbs lying around afterwards. And nobody seems to have those little waiter crumb-sweeping devices. There should be a Latin name for those. 🙂
    Thanks for helping us think, Fr. Anthony!

  20. Musings from reading the post and comments:
    • In his blog, it seems to me that Anthony was inviting us to discuss matters of symbolism and substance. We all know what the Church’s teaching is regarding the elements of Eucharistic bread, so we should be able to set aside discussion of those matters. If we approach the topic in this manner, we should produce some enlightening liturgical reflection (as is most of what has been posted).
    • Jesus, was standing right in front of people when he referred to himself as the “bread of life (living bread) come down from heaven” and CONTRASTED this with “manna from heaven” so perhaps the similarity between manna and manufactured hosts is not something positive.
    • This scriptural reference happens outside of the Last Supper, not in a context that is restricted to unleavened bread. Might this help to explain why the early Church had more diversity in its practice?
    • Jordan’s mention of quick breads offers another interesting line of thought: are such breads in keeping with the spirit of Passover in that they are breads made without allowing for time for the dough to rise?
    • It would be interesting to get a synopsis from a discussion among a group of people shortly after they shared in an experience of a non-traditional form.
    • Both good and bad experiences with forms other than manufactured hosts can produce insights, but in different ways. Bad experiences don’t invalidate the concept, any more than poorly performed music should lead us to avoid using it at Mass. What can we learn that might lead to the use of a symbol that is more faith-nurturing?
    • Karl’s reminder of the principle that liturgists and pastors should not run roughshod over the community’s sensibility is helpful, but it should not necessarily prevent all change unless there is “a true consensus to proceed beforehand,” which can lead to a tyranny of the resistant minority. There is, after all, a role for good teaching/catechesis.

    1. @Jeff Rexhausen:

      Points taken. Just be careful with aspects of loading in those questions, which can lead to a certain three-card monty in discussions. For example:

      “a symbol that is more faith-nurturing” – assuming a conclusion?

      “tyranny of the resistant minority” (especially fun when it’s not necessarily a minority – especially if an issue is parsed out in different ways – but there are “consensus process” facilitators trying to game the discussion through manipulated ground rules – been there, done that, have the T-shirt – some people came to call the outside facilitators Boris and Natasha for their methods…)

      If “bad experiences don’t invalidate” doesn’t necessarily mean “good experiences validate”, either, et cet.

      In other words, so much of the discussion involves identification of assumptions. So much fun to be had.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:
        Thanks, Karl; I appreciate so much of what you share here at PTB.

        You are quite right in your cautions. I can only say that, on my part:
        1) I’m trying to be open to a possibility, but not assuming a conclusion;
        2) We do have to tread carefully in working with a community of believers, and I believe we have to listen carefully to all who are willing to enter into an authentic (Ignatian) discernment process, but I have also seen in action the tyranny of which I speak, as well as the tyranny of a facilitator (of which you speak);
        3) I absolutely agree that individual experiences of all types neither validate nor invalidate – they can and should inform – and the one assumption we should all [be able to] start from is that all who participate in the discussion have something worthwhile to share and good intentions in sharing it.

        May the Lord continue to enrich and bless such discussions.

  21. In a bit of historical speculation I recently came across an interesting item in Sally Grainger’s “Cooking Apicius,” which is an attempt to reconstruct ancient Roman cooking and recipes. It contains a description of a type of bread called “tracta.” This is essentially a mixture of wheat flour and water which was rolled thin, cut into discs and dried in the oven. Unlike other forms of bread, it kept for a very long time. It seems to have sometimes been layered with other ingredients like phyllo is used today, although it was primarily used as a thickener by crumbling it into stews and sauces. The description of “tracta” sounded so familiar it led me to wonder if, as it became more common to reserve the Eucharist, some ancient priest or bishop didn’t just turn to what was already available in the family cupboard. And thereby leave us to celebrating Eucharist with the equivalent of ancient cornstarch.

    1. @Fr Lou Meiman:
      Well, as a matter of practice, for peasants at any number of points in history, bread was more valuable in properly *staled* form (which would resist mold) than fresh. Staled bread was the stuff of that staple dietary item: gruel or porridge. You might have treasure bit of fresh bread once a week, but if you got a large loaf meant to last a week for a family, staling was part of the point. We got soup in the Western culinary traditions from this very process. So much human ingenuity has gone into finding ways to preserve grains for consumption in ways that rodents and fungus wouldn’t spoil first (beer comes immediately to mind; but also the ancient invention of hulled and/or parboiled grains, which rodents didn’t care for as much and also were less likely to go rancid).

      One of the lovely touches in the filmed version of Babette’s Feast is the care they took to show what “daily bread” typically meant (if they were fortunate not to be suffering famine!) for peasants before the Industrial Age of daily fresh bread for the masses (for me, panzanella would be much more appealing):

  22. Fr. Anthony & Karl,

    Epistemic humility was indeed my point. The developments over the last 5 years in New Testament / Historical Jesus studies are instructive here.

    The so called Quests for the Historical Jesus ended up creating so many equally plausible yet hopelessly contradictory reconstructions, that the scholarly consensus has essentially acknowledged the limitations on what is historically knowable at a reasonable level of probability (i.e. scholarly plausibility and probability are different standards). The scholarly consensus has therefore moved on from tools such as criteria of authenticity, to different more promising approaches such as memory theory which are more realistic as to what data is recoverable.

    A related development can be seen with for example Q as a solution to the synoptic problem – There were peer reviewed work which built to this idea to such an extent that it sought to identify a great number of recensions in the transmission history of this hypothesized text. And yet now, following the work of Professor Mark Goodacre and others, a scholarly consensus has (nearly) been reached that Q is unnecessary and likely never existed (and thus almost certainly never had any recensions).

    In light of these conclusions, the scholarly community in this field of study now expresses a lot more caution about the value of chains of plausibility (i.e. speculation upon speculation).

    So it is not so much discrediting anyone’s scholarship, so much as a need to assess the utility of scholarship in accordance with modern scholarly standards, which as Karl mentioned have shifted in recent years (i.e. the last 5 to 10 years particularly).

    1. @Mariko Ralph:
      Excellent. Good to know this progress is being made in this area of specialization.

      On the other hand, I wonder how long it would take for this to filter down to the lower-rent part of the market, as it were. Having behld the credulity-bending gossamer (between the occasional more substantial bits) in “The Last Days of Jesus” on PBS last month, my hopes are not high. Unfortunately, I suspect I will encounter that gossamer in homilies sooner than it will be better seen as a How Not To Speculate Recursively.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:

        Ha! Well, I am sure the TV specials will still be able to rely on the Joseph Atwills of the world for far fetched speculation.

        But time at least fixes the lag arising from the fact people don’t keep up to date. What one was told in a class in seminary or college 10 years ago, is quite often not what the same professors would teach now.

  23. If anyone thinks that scholarship in liturgical history is lagging behind, compared with other fields, they must not have been reading the latest work of Paul Bradshaw, Max Johnson and many others.

    1. @Paul Inwood:


      Paul Bradshaw would, I think, agree with the point Karl and myself are making. In light of the reassessment of Hippolytus and the Apostolic Tradition* a few years ago for example, he wrote:

      Experts and church authorities gave the impression that what was being “restored” was a pattern very similar to what the apostles would have known, if not the very customs of Jesus himself. They were not engaging in a deliberate sales gimmick or confidence trick when they did this: the state of academic research of the period generally led to this rather naïve view”.

      Scholarship has moved on since then, but those working in the Church haven’t always kept up.

      * No I don’t think that episode discredited the reformed rites or anything. Ecumenical convergence had more to do with its use than historical interest in any event in my opinion.

  24. Mariko Ralph : @Karl Liam Saur: Ha! Well, I am sure the TV specials will still be able to rely on the Joseph Atwills of the world for far fetched speculation. But time at least fixes the lag arising from the fact people don’t keep up to date. What one was told in a class in seminary or college 10 years ago, is quite often not what the same professors would teach now.

    Unfortunately, the TV specials teach the same thing today that they did whenever they were made. Rerunning older material is much cheaper than creating something new, a fact TV producers have taken more advantage of than even university professors.

  25. Having read your post with great interest, I wonder if there’s a typo changing the meaning?

    You wrote
    “Then Foley: he reminds us that for most of the first millennium, unleavened bread was used for the eucharistic celebration. Pope Gregory in the sixth century might well have used a large load of bread, broken into pieces for distribution, in St. Peter’s Basilica. Just let that sink in.”

    Certainly, you do mean that for most of the first millenium leavened bread was used? as the Copts still do. The priest tear off bits and put in the people’s mouths, if I remember correctly. I suppose the art of baking a suitable bread, and tearing it in pieces without causing crumbs, is something to be practised and learned just like the Coptic priest’s splashing of small amounts of water over the congregation, using no aspargill, just his palms.

    Then of course Western tradition is unleavened bread, and the Roman rite demands it is unleavened. But that came later. Or?

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