Circular letter to Bishops on the bread and wine for the Eucharist

The following letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship was made public today. The letter clarifies what is valid matter for the Eucharistic Sacrifice, especially with respect to low-gluten hosts. It appears that nothing in the letter diminishes the force of GIRM 321, “The meaning of the sign demands that the material for the Eucharistic celebration truly have the appearance of food,” nor the legislation in force in the U.S. which allows for distribution of Holy Communion under the forms of both bread and wine at any Mass. – Ed.

At the request of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is writing to Diocesan Bishops (and to those who are their equivalents in law) to remind them that it falls to them above all to duly provide for all that is required for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (cf. Lk 22: 8,13).  It is for the Bishop as principal dispenser of the mysteries of God, moderator, promoter and guardian of the liturgical life in the Church entrusted to his care (Cf. CIC can. 835 § 1), to watch over the quality of the bread and wine to be used at the Eucharist and also those who prepare these materials.  In order to be of assistance we recall the existing regulations and offer some practical suggestions.

Until recently it was certain religious communities who took care of baking the bread and making the wine for the celebration of the Eucharist.  Today, however, these materials are also sold in supermarkets and other stores and even over the internet.  In order to remove any doubt about the validity of the matter for the Eucharist, this Dicastery suggests that Ordinaries should give guidance in this regard by, for example, guaranteeing the Eucharistic matter through special certification.

The Ordinary is bound to remind priests, especially parish priests and rectors of churches, of their responsibility to verify those who provide the bread and wine for the celebration and the worthiness of the material.

It is also for the Ordinary to provide information to the producers of the bread and wine for the Eucharist and to remind them of the absolute respect that is due to the norms.

The norms about the Eucharistic matter are given in can. 924 of the CIC and in numbers 319 – 323 of the Institutio generalis Missalis Romani  and have already been explained in the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum issued by this Congregation (25 March 2004):

“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” (n. 48).

“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.  […]  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” (n. 50).

In its Circular Letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences regarding legitimate variations in the use of bread with a small quantity of gluten and the use of mustum as Eucharistic matter (24 July 2003, Prot. N. 89/78 – 17498), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the norms for the celebration of the Eucharist by persons who, for varying and grave reasons, cannot consume bread made in the usual manner nor wine fermented in the normal manner:

“Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.  Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread” (A. 1-2).

“Mustum, which is grape juice that is either fresh or preserved by methods that suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing), is valid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist” (A. 3).

“The Ordinary is competent to give permission for an individual priest or layperson to use low-gluten hosts or mustum for the celebration of the Eucharist. Permission can be granted habitually, for as long as the situation continues which occasioned the granting of permission” (C. 1).

The same Congregation also decided that Eucharistic matter made with genetically modified organisms can be considered valid matter (cf. Letter to the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 9 December 2013, Prot. N. 89/78 – 44897).

Those who make bread and produce wine for use in the Mass must be aware that their work is directed towards the Eucharistic Sacrifice and that this demands their honesty, responsibility and competence.

In order to facilitate the observance of the general norms Ordinaries can usefully reach agreement at the level of the Episcopal Conference by establishing concrete regulations.  Given the complexity of situations and circumstances, such as a decrease in respect for the sacred, it may be useful to mandate a competent authority to have oversight in actually guaranteeing the genuineness of the Eucharistic matter by producers as well as those responsible for its distribution and sale.

It is suggested, for example, that an Episcopal Conference could mandate one or more Religious Congregations or another body capable of carrying out the necessary checks on production, conservation and sale of the Eucharistic bread and wine in a given country and for other countries to which they are exported.  It is recommended that the bread and wine to be used in the Eucharist be treated accordingly in the places where they are sold.

From the offices of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the  Sacraments, 15 June 2017, Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Robert Cardinal Sarah
Prefect

19 comments

    1. @Carolyn Shalhoub:
      Neither does matzo that I see in the grocery store. Neither does the large puff of poori I get with my meal at my local Indian restaurant. Nor the injera that has the consistency of carpet padding from an Ethopian restaurant nearby. But they are all indeed bread.

      We’ve got people leaving the Church in droves, parishes being closed down, new allegations of clerical abuse by the week and we’re worried about the bread and wine used for Mass?

  1. I would distinguish between the norms and the dogmatic assertions–the latter being what is asserted about validity:
    “It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament.”
    ” 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.”
    The dogmatic assertions about what constitutes valid matter, when made to correlate to the canonical norms, can too easily eliminate discussion concerning what in fact should be valid matter, and why. From a theological perspective, I’m not sure that the Church’s freedom is as constrained as the present document assumes.

  2. Cdl. Sarah’s circular could merely be a non-hostile message to the global south. A friend of mine was educated in Catholic schools in Cameroon (before he fled to asylum in Canada). He told me that the school priests consecrated cornbread and other dubious Eucharistic species.

    I am surprised that Cdl. Sarah has not suggested Lauds or Vespers as a albeit weak substitute for Mass. The public Office does not compare to Mass, of course, but in times when the Eucharistic species cannot be got, perhaps the Office is the only recourse.

  3. I agree with Carolyn. Hosts do not resemble “real food” nor are they “recently made.” I’m happy when parishes have bread baking ministries that are “aware that their work is directed towards the Eucharistic Sacrifice…” I was afraid when clicking on this letter that there would have been a loophole for conferences to tell parishes to go away from that. I’m relieved it is present as a wonderful option but I wish more communities would take on this ministry. Where were the finely pressed and stamped hosts at the Last Supper?

    1. @Steve Adams:
      Two comments on your post. This letter refrains from citing Redemptionis Sacramentum 49, words supportive of pressed circles of bread, and one of the biggest weaknesses of that document. I’ve had some success here and there encouraging bakers. They often dog me, “Just a little bit of honey, please?” But I’d also like to see more parish vintners give it a try. Given the desire for homebrewing these days, I’m sure more interested people would give it a try if they were invited.

  4. Nothing there is in conflict with the recently updated USCCB guidelines on celiac disease and alcohol intolerance. As a celiac, I receive a low-gluten host, knowing every time I receive I make a small sacrifice of my long-term health. Personally, I do not have an immediate reaction, but I know people who cannot tolerate even the low-gluten-host. (There is now provision for a specially prepared separate chalice for those people.) See http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/order-of-mass/liturgy-of-the-eucharist/celiac-disease-and-alcohol-intolerance.cfm

    1. @Joyce Donahue:
      As a celiac, I receive a low-gluten host, knowing every time I receive I make a small sacrifice of my long-term health.

      Is that what Jesus really wished? Had the bread or wine for the Last Supper been of less than the 100 percent standard possible only in modern bakeries and wineries would He have stalked out and canceled Redemption? I can’t believe that He or St. Peter ever gave such scrupulosity a moment’s thought, so where did it come from?

      1. @Michael Slusser:
        @tom blackburn:
        Indeed, the assertion that only wheat constitutes valid matter, along with the question of the right to the Eucharist of those with this serious disability, has not been fully addressed. The use of wheat is intractable tradition and will probably remain so.

        For celiacs, to receive the Eucharist, even with the low-gluten host, or by the cross-contaminated chalice means accepting that long-term internal damage to health is the cost of discipleship. Although the USCCB guidelines address this for the United States with the option for a separate chalice for the immediately sensitive, the question – along with the separation of people with this disease from the “communal loaf” remains. I spent months after my diagnosis grieving this separation. For us, it is not “One bread, one body…”

  5. Has the position on mustum changed? It seems like this letter just quotes the old letter.

  6. I note the word ‘fresh’ in the letter. May I add a Parish Priest’s complaint ?

    I don’t like the feel or the taste of holy Communion these days.

    Are stale ‘hosts’ valid matter ? or has something that tastes like cardboard the ‘appearance of real food ?’

    Also, some commercial suppliers in the UK now supply ‘hosts’ that are almost too small to distribute.

    In Italy, where I frequently go to see friends, we use peoples’ ‘hosts’ that are white, large (about 3cm in diameter) and fresh. How do they do it ?

    AG.

  7. I can’t see anything substantially new here from what was in force before, and yet some are making a fuss as if it’s the first time the Church had said anything on the subject. The only addition, as Todd pointed out, seems to be the fact that mustum is now available to lay people whereas formerly it was restricted to clergy. I think the implication of this is that the SCDW has now realised that it’s not just alcoholic priests who have a problem with wine, but that anyone can have or develop an allergy to alcohol itself.

  8. I would note that the NY Times has been pumping this story repeatedly into its RSS feeds today like it’s the biggest story of the day. Perhaps says more about the religious literacy of their editors….

    1. @Karl Liam Saur:

      “Pope Francis doesn’t care about your celiac disease” is how someone put it on the internet.

      Put together “Pope Francis” and any one of the most mundane stories coming out of the Vatican, and the story instantly will have legs, they must think.

  9. A quote yet again from my beloved mentor Father Eugene Walsh, SS:
    It takes less faith for me to believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist (he promised he would be) than to believe that this tasteless disc is real bread rather than copy paper.

    Sorry John Kohanski, but matzo, poori, etc. ARE real food for the people of those cultures.

    The only thing of which our usual hosts remind me are the penny-candy “flying saucers” with the candy beads inside!!

  10. The recent circular letter quotes the earlier 2003 circular letter from the CDF when it states: “The Ordinary is competent to give permission for an individual priest or layperson to use low-gluten hosts or mustum for the celebration of the Eucharist. Permission can be granted habitually, for as long as the situation continues which occasioned the granting of permission” (C. 1).

    So there has been no change in the discipline for laypersons in the recent circular letter.

    Apparently this was not noticed by some (or many) fourteen years ago. But I wonder about the practicality of using mustum for laypersons when the priest presider does not use mustum for his own communion. Will the persons desiring to receive communion under the form of must bring their own to the Masses, just as those who suffer from Coeliac Sprue bring their own gluten-low hosts in some communities? Or will churches need to have a supply on hand?

    There are some persons who suffer from Coeliac Sprue who say, or whose doctors say, they may ingest no gluten whatsoever, even the small amount in gluten-low hosts. If some of these persons also have an allergy to alcohol, mustum is their only choice, if they are to receive holy communion.

    Remember, must needs to be kept refrigerated and, even then, fermentation has already begun (somewhat) once the grapes have been pressed (if it is truly must, and not pasteurized grape juice).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *