Sacramental bread

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Sacramental bread, also called Communion bread, Communion wafer, Sacred host, Eucharistic bread, the Lamb or simply the host (Latin: hostia, lit.'sacrificial victim'), is the bread used in the Christian ritual of the Eucharist. Along with sacramental wine, it is one of two elements of the Eucharist. The bread may be either leavened or unleavened, depending on tradition.

Unleavened hosts on a paten

Catholic theology generally teaches that at the Words of Institution the bread's substance is changed into the Body of Christ (transubstantiation), whereas Eastern Christian theology generally views the epiclesis as the point at which the change occurs. Bread was in the religious rituals of Mandaeism, Mithraism,[1]: 161–162  and other pagan cultures similar to that of ancient Egypt.[2]: 66–68 


The Lamb and particles placed on the diskos during the Liturgy of Preparation for the Divine Liturgy

Etymology of host


The word host is derived from the Latin hostia, which means 'sacrificial victim'. The term can be used to describe the bread both before and after consecration, although it is more correct to use it after consecration.

Eastern traditions


With the exception of Churches of the Armenian Rite, the Maronite Church, and the Syro-Malabar Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches use leavened bread for the Eucharist. Thus, the sacramental bread is the Resurrected Christ. The host, known as prosphorá or a πρόσφορον (prósphoron, 'offering') may be made out of only four ingredients: fine (white) wheat flour, pure water, yeast, and salt. Sometimes holy water will be either sprinkled into the dough or on the kneading trough at the beginning of the process.[citation needed]

Armenian rite


Because leaven is symbolic of sin,[citation needed] the Armenian Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church traditionally offer unleavened bread (although it is distinctively different from the kind used by the Catholic Church) to symbolize the sinlessness of Christ.[citation needed]

Eastern Orthodox Churches


The baking may only be performed by a believing Orthodox Christian in good standing, having preferably been recently to Confession, and is accompanied by prayer and fasting. Before baking, each loaf is formed by placing two disks of dough, one on top of the other, and stamping it with a special liturgical seal. The prosphora should be fresh and not stale or moldy when presented at the altar for use in the Divine Liturgy.

Often several prosphora will be baked and offered by the faithful, and the priest chooses the best one for the Lamb (Host) that will be consecrated.[citation needed] The remaining loaves are blessed and offered back to the congregation after the end of the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist); this bread is called the antidoron (αντίδωρον, antídōron), i.e. a 'gift returned', or 'in place of the gifts'.

Eastern Catholic Churches

Rite of Renewal of Holy Leaven in the Syro-Malabar Church.

The Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic Churches (like the Eastern Orthodox Church) use leavened bread for prosphora (the Greek word for Eucharistic altar bread).[3]

The Maronite Church has adopted the use of unleavened bread due to liturgical Latinisation. The Syro-Malabar Church uses both unleavened bread as well as leavened bread in which Holy Malka is added.[citation needed]

Western traditions


Catholic Church

Detail of tongs for baking hosts

A host is a portion of bread used for Holy Communion in many Christian churches. In Western Christianity the host is often thin, round, unleavened hosts.

Catholic unleavened hosts of differing sizes.

In the Roman Rite, unleavened bread is used as in the Jewish Passover or Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Code of Canon Law[4] requires that the hosts be made from wheat flour and water only, and recently made so that there is no danger of spoiling.

Hosts are often made by nuns as a means of supporting their religious communities. However, in New Zealand, the St Vincent de Paul Society hires individuals with intellectual disabilities to bake, cut out, and sort the bread, thereby offering paid employment to those who would not otherwise have that option.[5]

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal §321 recommends that "the eucharistic bread ... be made in such a way that the priest at Mass with a congregation is able in practice to break it into parts for distribution to at least some of the faithful. ... The action of the fraction (breaking of bread), which gave its name to the Eucharist in apostolic times, will bring out more clearly the force and importance of the sign of unity of all in the one bread, and of the sign of charity by the fact that the one bread is distributed among the brothers and sisters."[6]

In 1995 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI), then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a letter to the Episcopal Conferences in which he expanded the Code of Canon Law, stating that low-gluten bread would be considered "valid matter" for hosts as long as no additional substances "alter[ed] the nature of the substance of the bread".[7] Since the 2000s, hosts with low gluten content have been manufactured in the United States, especially in parts of Missouri and New York.[7] People with celiac disease must follow a strict gluten-free diet[8] and maintain it for life to allow the recovery of the intestinal mucosa and reduce the risk of developing severe health complications.[9]


A Prebysterian minister holding bread and a chalice containing wine, during the consecration

In the varying Protestant denominations, there is a wide variety of practices concerning the sacramental bread used. Lutherans and Anglicans vary by congregational tradition where some will use leavened breads while others—much like Roman Catholics—use unleavened bread. Reformed Christians use rolls which are broken and distributed to the faithful.[10]

The Christian Congregation, a Pentecostal denomination, uses leavened loaves of bread. Among those who use the unleavened hosts, there is a great deal of variation: some are square or triangular rather than round, and may even be made out of whole wheat flour.

Some, such as the Churches of Christ, use matzo.[11]

Latter-day Saints


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no strict rules on the type of bread used for sacramental purposes. Latter-day Saint scriptures state: "For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins." (Doctrine and Covenants 27:2) Different congregations may use either commercial bread or homemade bread prepared by members of the congregation. It is permissible to substitute rice cakes or other gluten-free breads for members who suffer from food allergies.[12] The bread is broken into fragments just prior to being blessed by one of the officiating priests.



In Mandaeism, priests perform rituals with sacramental bread called pihta (Classical Mandaic: ࡐࡉࡄࡕࡀ). Every Sunday, Mandaeans participate in a baptismal mass (maṣbuta) involving immersion in flowing water (yardena) by ordained priests. The baptized then consume pieces of pihta blessed by a priest in order to restore their connections (laufa) with the World of Light (see Mandaean cosmology).[13]

Some Mandaean ritual ceremonies also require the use of a small, round, saltless, half-baked biscuit called the faṭira (Classical Mandaic: ࡐࡀࡈࡉࡓࡀ). Faṭiras are used in rituals such as the Ṭabahata Masiqta, or the "masiqta of the Parents."[13]

See also



  1. ^ Willoughby, H. R. (2008) [1929]. Pagan Regeneration: A Study of Mystery Initiations in the Graeco-Roman World. United Kingdom: Wipf and Stock Publishers.
  2. ^ Carpenter, E. (1920). Pagan & Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning. Harcourt, Brace.
  3. ^ Waters, Ian; McGuckin, Robert (2016-01-01). "Eastern Catholic Churches in Australia: Canonical Issues for Catholic Clergy and Pastoral Workers". Australasian Catholic Record. 93 (1): 85 – via EBSCOhost.
  4. ^ Code of Canon Law - Book IV - Function of the Church Liber (Cann. 879-958)
  5. ^ "Altar Breads". Wellington, New Zealand: Society of St Vincent de Paul. Archived from the original on 21 March 2018. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  6. ^ Roman Missal §321
  7. ^ a b "Low-Gluten Diet Alternatives Have Reached A New Frontier: The Catholic Church". ThinkProgress. Archived from the original on 2015-01-03. Retrieved 2015-01-03.
  8. ^ Ciacci C, Ciclitira P, Hadjivassiliou M, Kaukinen K, Ludvigsson JF, McGough N, et al. (2015). "The gluten-free diet and its current application in coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis". United European Gastroenterology Journal (review). 3 (2): 121–135. doi:10.1177/2050640614559263. PMC 4406897. PMID 25922672.
  9. ^ See JA, Kaukinen K, Makharia GK, Gibson PR, Murray JA (October 2015). "Practical insights into gluten-free diets". Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology (Review). 12 (10): 580–91. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2015.156. PMID 26392070. S2CID 20270743. A lack of symptoms and/or negative serological markers are not reliable indicators of mucosal response to the diet. Furthermore, up to 30% of patients continue to have gastrointestinal symptoms despite a strict GFD. If adherence is questioned, a structured interview by a qualified dietitian can help to identify both intentional and inadvertent sources of gluten.
  10. ^ Benedict, Philip (2002). Christ's Churches Purely Reformed. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-0300105070.
  11. ^ Wecker, Menachem. "Matzah Communion". American Jewish Life Magazine. Archived from the original on 2016-03-14. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  12. ^ Christianson, Thira. "Accepting Allergies". Friend. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  13. ^ a b Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002). The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515385-5. OCLC 65198443.

Further reading

  • Tony Begonja, Eucharistic Bread-Baking As Ministry, San Jose: Resource Publications, 1991, ISBN 0-89390-200-4.