(According to Redemptionis Sacramentum, “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.”
The following is an allegory, and I by no means want to imply that the bread used for Communion must be whole grain. Just heading questions off at the pass….)
You may not know this, but the history of food is absolutely fascinating. Who ate what, when, where, why and how? In the beginning, things were simple. Think “porridge.” Ancient peoples learned to make porridge from wild millet, as well as from wild wheat, wild barley, rye, flax, rice, corn…. The prehistoric world was apparently awash in porridge. It certainly was easy to make – grind up some grain, add water, cook, and cook, and cook, and that’s what’s for dinner! And for breakfast! And for lunch!
Fortunately for mankind, someone eventually learned how to make simple forms of bread. Soon, people were baking both leavened and unleavened loaves. It became the staple of staples, to the point where in many languages the word “bread” is synonymous with “food.” The importance of bread in the diet of the Jewish people was such that when Jesus sought to describe Himself in John 6, He chose the term “the true Bread from Heaven,” the very Bread of Life, which was of course tantamount to telling the crowd that He was their sustenance, the One to Whom they must go on a daily basis to continue living. Quite an audacious claim for a rabbi from Galilee. He didn’t stop there. Jesus went on to explain that this living bread which He would give for the life of the world is His very flesh:
I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.
Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”
As we know, this teaching of Jesus’ was very controversial: “as a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore,” not because they didn’t understand His words but because they did. Jesus never said that they did not understand; He said “there are some of you who do not believe.” He did not call them back to explain things, as He was morally obliged to do if they had misunderstood, since this teaching caused many to abandon Him. Even his 12 chosen men found all this “Eat My flesh, drink My blood” talk disturbing. After all, unlike every other hard teaching, Jesus did not take His twelve aside and explain “the real meaning” behind His words. There was nothing to explain – Jesus meant what He said. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” A hard saying, indeed, with absolutely no explanation that it was to be taken metaphorically. It was only at the Last Supper that it all finally fell into place for the 11 of the 12 who remained faithful to Him, when He took bread, broke it and declared, “This is My body which is given for you,” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”
And so the first Christians believed that the Eucharist, that is, the bread and wine which become the very Body and Blood of Christ, was meant to be their sustenance, their spiritual food and drink. As we can see from the earliest Christian writings, Jesus’ words were understood literally. Because the bread and wine truly did become Jesus’ Body and Blood, the Mass was considered a sacrifice – a re-presentation of Christ’s offering on the Cross. Jesus’ words concerning the Eucharist were taken literally by everyone all over Christendom for 1,000 years:
On the Lord’s Day of the Lord gather together, break bread and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure. Let no one who has a quarrel with his neighbor join you until he is reconciled by the Lord: “In every place and time let there be offered to me a clean sacrifice. For I am a Great King,” says the Lord, “and My name is wonderful among the Gentiles.” – The Didache, c. 60-90 A.D.
They [the Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. – St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. 110 A.D. in Syria
Moreover, as I said before, concerning the sacrifices which you at that time offered, God speaks through Malachi [1:10-12]…It is of the sacrifices offered to Him in every place by us, the Gentiles, that is, of the bread of the Eucharist and likewise of the cup of the Eucharist, that He speaks at that time; and He says that we glorify His name, while you profane it. – St. Justin Martyr, c. 150 A.D. in Rome
He taught the new sacrifice of the New Covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve prophets, had signified beforehand: [quotes Mal 1:10-11]. By these words He makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one; for His name is glorified among the Gentiles. – St. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 180 A.D. in France
“Eat My Flesh,” He says, “and drink My Blood.” The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutriments. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery! – St. Clement of Alexandria, c. 200 A.D. in Egypt
He Himself warns us, saying, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.” Therefore do we ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given to us daily, so that we who abide and live in Christ may not withdraw from His sanctification and from His Body. – St. Cyprian of Carthage, c. 250 A.D. in northern Africa
Our Lord Jesus took in His hands what in the beginning was only bread; and He blessed it, and signed it, and made it holy in the name of the Father and in the name of the Spirit; and He broke it and in His gracious kindness He distributed it to all His disciples one by one. He called the bread His living Body, and did Himself fill it with Himself and the Spirit. And extending His hand, He gave them the Bread which His right hand had made holy: “Take, all of you eat of this, which My word has made holy. Do not now regard as bread that which I have given you; but take, eat this Bread [of life], and do not scatter the crumbs; for what I have called My Body, that it is indeed. One particle from its crumbs is able to sanctify thousands and thousands, and is sufficient to afford life to those who eat of it. Take, eat, entertaining no doubt of faith, because this is My Body, and whoever eats it in belief eats in it Fire and Spirit. But if any doubter eat of it, for him it will be only bread. And whoever eats in belief the Bread made holy in My name, if he be pure, he will be preserved in his purity; and if he be a sinner, he will be forgiven.” But if anyone despise it or reject it or treat it with ignominy, it may be taken as a certainty that he treats with ignominy the Son, who called it and actually made it to be His Body. After the disciples had eaten the new and holy Bread, and when they understood by faith that they had eaten of Christ’s body, Christ went on to explain and to give them the whole Sacrament. He took and mixed a cup of wine. Then He blessed it, and signed it, and made it holy, declaring that it was His own Blood, which was about to be poured out…Christ commanded them to drink, and He explained to them that the cup which they were drinking was His own Blood: “This is truly My Blood, which is shed for all of you. Take, all of you, drink of this, because it is a new covenant in My Blood. As you have seen Me do, do you also in My memory. Whenever you are gathered together in My name in Churches everywhere, do what I have done, in memory of Me. Eat My Body, and drink My Blood, a covenant new and old.” – St. Ephraim. c. 330 A.D. in Syria
Let us approach the celebration of the mysteries. This bread and this wine, so long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain simply what they are. But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been sent forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine — and thus is His Body confected. – St. Athanasius, c. 350 A.D. in Egypt
When we speak of the reality of Christ’s nature being in us, we would be speaking foolishly and impiously — had we not learned it from Him. For He Himself says: “My Flesh is truly Food, and My Blood is truly Drink. He that eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood will remain in Me and I in Him.” As to the reality of His Flesh and Blood, there is no room left for doubt, because now, both by the declaration of the Lord Himself and by our own faith, it is truly Flesh and it is truly Blood. – St. Hilary of Poitiers, c. 360 A.D. in France
The bread again is at first common bread; but when the mystery sanctifies it, it is called and actually becomes the Body of Christ. – St. Gregory of Nyssa, c. 375 A.D. in Turkey
You may perhaps say: “My bread is ordinary.” But that bread is bread before the words of the Sacraments; where the consecration has entered in, the bread becomes the flesh of Christ. And let us add this: How can what is bread be the Body of Christ? By the consecration. The consecration takes place by certain words; but whose words? Those of the Lord Jesus. – St. Ambrose, c. 390 A.D. in Italy
When our Lord gave the bread He did not say, ‘This is the symbol of My body,’ but, ‘This is My body.’ In the same way, when He gave the cup of His blood He did not say, ‘This is the symbol of My blood,’ but, ‘This is My blood’; for He wanted us to look upon the bread and wine, after they had received grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit, not according to their nature, but to receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord. We should not think of them merely as bread and wine, but as the body and blood of the Lord, into which they have been transformed by the descent of the Holy Spirit. – Theodore of Mopsuestia, c. 400 A.D. in Turkey
After the type had been fulfilled by the Passover celebration and He had eaten the flesh of the lamb with His Apostles, He takes bread which strengthens the heart of man, and goes on to the true Sacrament of the Passover, so that just as Melchisedech, the priest of the Most High God, in prefiguring Him, made bread and wine an offering, He too makes Himself manifest in the reality of His own Body and Blood. – St. Jerome, c. 410 A.D. in Israel
“But by the prayers of the Holy Church, and by the salvific Sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. For the whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the Sacrifice itself; and the Sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. – St. Augustine, c. 410 A.D. in Algeria
To these, quotes can be added from the sixth century through the Middle Ages, all stressing the very Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. From Italy to France to Crete to Algeria to Israel to Syria to Turkey, from the first century to the eleventh, Christians were united in the belief that the bread placed upon the altar truly became their source of Life. In fact, in the “Our Father” the words “Give us this day our daily bread” refer not only to the fact that we rely on God to supply our everyday physical needs. The Greek word that we translate as “daily” was actually invented for this verse; it is found nowhere else in the ancient literature. St. Jerome translated the words “daily bread” as “supersubstantial” bread, a fitting description of the Body received in Holy Communion. It was this supersubstantial Bread upon which all Christians relied for life. It seems that when Jesus commissioned His apostles to “do this in memory of Me,” the Church became the “bakery” to which Christians came for their daily Bread.
As we have seen, by describing Himself as the Bread from Heaven, Jesus associated Himself with the staff of life upon which every man, woman and child depended for survival. But even in ancient times, mankind was not satisfied with survival. Mankind got tired of the everlasting porridge diet, and invented bread. Those early loaves of bread were wholesome and heavy, thick, and brown as dirt, whether they were made of barley or wheat, rye or buckwheat. Not that white bread is a modern invention – at the time of Christ white bread was preferred to brown. It was softer and lighter than whole grain bread, and had already become a status symbol, as only the well-off could pay for the finely ground grain necessary to make white bread. Darker breads were considered to be the food of the lower classes. White bread, though considerably less nutritious, just tasted better. It was easier to swallow. People developed a taste and a longing for it.
The first documented demand for a lighter and fluffier doctrine of the Eucharist was made by a theologian known as Berengar of Tours in 1050. Commenting on a 9th-century discussion of the Eucharist, he began teaching that the bread and wine did not necessarily become Jesus’ actual Body and Blood, but that a more figurative understanding might be appropriate. The faithful understanding of the Eucharist which the Church had taught for 10 centuries he called “the opinion of the mob.” Berengar was excommunicated. The dispute dragged on for years before he agreed to sign a statement of faith which satisfied the Church:
“I, Berengarius, believe interiorly and profess publicly that the bread and wine, which are placed on the altar, through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of our Redeemer, are substantially changed into the true, proper and life-giving flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. After the consecration, it is the true body of Christ, which was born of the Virgin, and which hung on the cross as an offering for the salvation of the world, and which sits at the right hand of the Father. And it is the true blood of Christ which was poured forth from His side. And Christ is present not merely by virtue of the sign and the power of the sacrament but in His proper nature and true substance as is set down in this summary and as I read it and you understand it. This I believe, and I will not teach anymore against this faith. So, help me God and this holy Gospel of God!”
Some good came of this demand that the Church change the “recipe” for the Bread which had sustained her for 10 centuries, in that it forced her to clarify the doctrine of transubstantiation. At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, the Church issued the formal definition that “by divine power bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood.” It is this formal declaration to which Protestants allude when making the claim that Catholics “invented” the doctrine of transubstantiation in 1215, as if it had not been the universal teaching of the Church ever since the beginning.
But white bread tastes so good; it seems almost to melt on the tongue compared to the denser, firm composition of the whole grain bread which continued to be dismissed as food for the lower classes. The upper classes deserve white bread – so went the thinking. Pumpernickel is for peons. By the time of the Reformation, people were ready to make a substantial change to their diet. Nutrition be damned….
When Luther opened his Wittenberg Bakery in 1517, his recipe for bread was fairly similar to the one used by the Church since the beginning. Tweaking the ingredients slightly to accommodate more modern tastes, Luther insisted that while the bread does not become the actual Body of Christ, His Body is present alongside the bread. Luther called this new product “sacramental union,” and it sold quite well. Soon there were Lutheran bakeries all over Europe. But he had competition. Other bakers tried out their own recipes. At the Golden Tulip, for example, loaves were produced which Calvin claimed were only the visible reality through which the Spirit reached the faithful in order to unite them with the heavenly Christ – no wholegrain of the Real Presence, no bolted flour of the parallel Presence, just lovely, light baguettes of roller-milled grain, devoid of nutrition but oh-so tasty!
Sooo much easier to swallow! Unable to ignore the public interest in light and fluffy confections, and spurred by the desire to put the Church out of business, Swiss Baked Goods opened its doors. Undoubtedly, the “memorial” croissants of Zwingli’s were the airiest of all. Not only milled but adulterated with the alum of symbolism, Zwingli’s pastries were more popular than… well, than sliced bread, giving Luther and Calvin’s establishments a serious run for their money. Quils mangent de la brioche is what Marie Antoinette is supposed to actually have said, and the descendants of the Reformers heartily agreed. Patisseries proliferated, and soon the rich-yeast-bread-stuffed population had nothing but vague memories of those “peasant loaves” that their ancestors ate.
The Catholic Church just kept baking those old-fashioned, “original recipe” loaves.
The puff pastry of Pentecostalism ushered in a total cluelessness concerning the reason for baking bread at all. Some denominations in our day and age have even adopted a “low-carb” diet, and avoid bread completely. The situation in modern times has deteriorated to the point where laypeople presume to say the words of the Consecration over saltines and grape juice, pretending that that must have been what Jesus intended – utterly bankrupt in the nutrition department…. The connection between the consumption of the true Bread of Life and a Christian’s continued spiritual health has been lost. What can we do??
We can celebrate Corpus Christi – the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This solemn feast of the Church calls us back to the bakery, back to the only place where this Bread which is Life Himself is to be had. It’s where you go to get the Real Presence, the real deal, the bread which is His flesh.
Take – eat. It is really Him. He said so, and His Church adds her faith-filled “Amen.” Join us for a world-wide hour of Adoration of the Real Presence of Christ today.
On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood
Deo omnis gloria!
Selection of bread in German bakery by Maxim75
Homemade ryebread, Denmark 2005, by Sten Porse
Essene Bread, 100% sproud Spelt, Temperature 100-130°C, cut, by Fritzs
Slices of French Bread by Fastily
Schweineohr ohne Schokolade by RosarioVanTulpe