Sacramental bread

Sacramental bread, sometimes called Communion 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 (see transubstantiation), whereas Eastern Christian theology generally views the epiclesis as the point at which the change occurs.

Bread was also used in Jewish Temple ritual as well as in the religious rituals of ancient Egyptian and other pagan cultures[1] or in the riturals of Mandaeism and Mithraism.[2]


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

Etymology of hostEdit

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 (prior to consecration, the term "altar bread" is preferred).

Eastern traditionsEdit

With the exception of Churches of the Armenian Rite and the Maronite Church, Orthodox Churches and Eastern Catholic Churches use leavened bread for the Eucharist. Thus, the sacramental bread symbolizes the Resurrected Christ. The hostia or sacramental bread, 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 riteEdit

Because leaven is symbolic of sin, 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 ChurchesEdit

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",[This quote needs a citation] or "in place of the gifts".[This quote needs a citation]

Eastern Catholic ChurchesEdit

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).[citation needed]

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]

Detail of tongs for baking hosts

Western traditionsEdit

Catholic ChurchEdit

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,[3] 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.[4]

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."[This quote needs a citation]

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".[5] Since the 2000s, hosts with low gluten content have been manufactured in the United States, especially in parts of Missouri and New York.[5] People with celiac disease must follow a strict gluten-free diet[6] and maintain it for life to allow the recovery of the intestinal mucosa and reduce the risk of developing severe health complications.[7]


United Methodist Elder presiding at the Eucharist, using a leavened loaf of bread

In the varying Protestant denominations, there is a wide variety of practices concerning the sacramental bread used. Some, such as the Christian Congregation use leavened loaves of bread, others, such as Lutherans, continue to use unleavened hosts like the Catholics, and some use matzo.[8] Reformed Christians use rolls which are broken and distributed to symbolize their belief that Christ is not physically present in their bread.[9] 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.


In Mandaeism, priests perform rituals with sacramental bread called pihta. 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).[10]

Some Mandaean ritual ceremonies also require the use of a small, round, saltless, half-baked biscuit called the faṭira. Faṭiras are used in rituals such as the Ṭabahata Masiqta, or the "masiqta of the Parents."[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Carpenter, E. (1920). Pagan & Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning. Harcourt, Brace. pp. 66–8.
  2. ^ Willoughby, H. R. (2008) [1929]. Pagan Regeneration: A Study of Mystery Initiations in the Graeco-Roman World. United Kingdom: Wipf and Stock Publishers. pp. 161–2.
  3. ^ Code of Canon Law - Book IV - Function of the Church Liber (Cann. 879-958)
  4. ^ "Altar Breads". Archived from the original on 21 March 2018. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Low-Gluten Diet Alternatives Have Reached A New Frontier: The Catholic Church". Archived from the original on 2015-01-03. Retrieved 2015-01-03.
  6. ^ 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): 121–35. doi:10.1177/2050640614559263. PMC 4406897. PMID 25922672.
  7. ^ See JA, Kaukinen K, Makharia GK, Gibson PR, Murray JA (Oct 2015). "Practical insights into gluten-free diets". Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol (Review). 12 (10): 580–91. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2015.156. PMID 26392070. 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.122,124 If adherence is questioned, a structured interview by a qualified dietitian can help to identify both intentional and inadvertent sources of gluten.
  8. ^ Wecker, Menachem. "Matzah Communion". American Jewish Life Magazine. Archived from the original on 2016-03-14. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  9. ^ Benedict, Philip (2002). Christ's Churches Purely Reformed. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-0300105070.
  10. ^ 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 readingEdit

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

External linksEdit