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Recent reminders on the Holy Eucharist (part 1): Legitimate bread and the wine

Recent reminders on the Holy Eucharist (part 1): Legitimate bread and the wine
Priests celebrate the Eucharist at the EDSA Shrine in Quezon City. JOHANN MANGUSSAD

RECENTLY, the mass media has picked up a bit of Church news—other than the attack on Australian Cardinal Pell—regarding the proper matter for the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist—i.e., wine and bread. It took the form of a Circular Letter to Bishops from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (Prot.N. 320/17), dated 15.VI.2017 (Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) and signed by Card. Robert Sarah, Prefect of the aforementioned dicastery.

Canonical nature of the document: Instruction to Bishops

Regardless of the form in which it was given (a circular letter to bishops), substantially this new document is really an instruction, which is described in c.34 of the Code of Canon Law in the following terms:

Can. 34 §1. Instructions, which set out the provisions of a law and develop the manner in which it is to be put into effect, are given for the benefit of those whose duty it is to execute the law, and they bind them in executing the law. Those who have executive power may, within the limits of their competence, lawfully publish such instructions.

— §2. The regulations of an instruction do not derogate from the law, and if there are any which cannot be reconciled with the provisions of the law they have no force.

— §3. Instructions cease to have force not only by explicit or implicit revocation by the competent authority who published them or by that authority’s superior, but also by the cessation of the law which they were designed to set out and execute.

As the circular letter clearly states, it is written “at the request of the Holy Father, Pope Francis” and is addressed “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).” More specifically, it reminds them that “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.”

Since it is an instruction, it really does not legislate anything new, but—in its own words—“recall the existing regulations and offer some practical suggestions.”  In this case, the immediate documents cited were (1) the Code of Canon Law and (2) the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, also issued by the same dicastery last year (19.III.2004). This is an important point for the bishops because it deals with a matter of paramount importance—the valid matter for the most august sacrament.

Indications on the altar bread (hosts) and wine

I will quote heavily from the recent letter to the bishops:

  1. Valid matter for the Holy Eucharist. As the document reminds the bishops, the norms about the Eucharistic matter are given in c.924 of the CIC and in nn.319-323 of the Institutio generalis Missalis Romani and have already been explained in the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum issued by this Congregation (25.III.2004):a) “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” (48).

    b) “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” (50).

  2. Indications on the manufacture of the altar bread and wine. 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:

a) Ordinaries should give guidance in this regard by, for example, guaranteeing the Eucharistic matter through special certification of legitimate manufacturers. 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.

b) 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.

Further down the document, additional suggestions are made:

c) 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.

d) 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.

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.


  1. Special cases of altar bread and wine. The document also cited a 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.VII.2003, Prot. N. 89/78 – 17498), issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, containing the norms for the celebration of the Eucharist by persons who, for varying and grave reasons, cannot consume bread made in the usual manner (e.g., those with gluten intolerance) nor wine fermented in the normal manner (those with severe alcohol intolerance):

a) “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).

b) “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).

c) “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).

Finally, the document recalled that 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.XII.2013, Prot. N. 89/78 – 44897).   (To be continued.)