QUAERITUR: substantial bread and risk of profanation

From a reader:

I have a BA in Catholic Theology and A MA in Religious Studies;  however, my background is not strong in liturgy.  I focused on pastoral ministry, youth ministry and world religions. 
Could you help me answer a question with your background and expertise?
We occasionally visit a relative in ___ who attends a Catholic Church that serves communion that looks, tastes and feels like wheat bread that you would serve at dinner, not the traditional wafer-hosts that we are used to here in ___.  What I found disturbing was that these hosts at the ___ Church produce crumbs, which we observed being wiped off of by numerous folks’ hands as they were walking back to their pews after communion line and these crumbs were on the floor.  My young son was appalled and whispered to me that "Those people are wiping Jesus onto the floor and stepping on Him."  Out of the mouths of babes…
It is my understanding  that hosts for communion must be of the appearance of bread, be recognizable as bread, and only wheat may be used.  It is also my understanding that crumbs should not be remaining with enough in quantity to cause communicants to wipe their hands off like they are "dusting off their hands."  Is this Ohio Church granted some special permission to use real wheat bread instead of wafer-hosts?  Are other parishes making this switch as well?
Needless to say, the few times that we do visit this relative when we are out of town, now we worship at another Catholic Church closer to our hotel that is more respectful of the Real Presence.  I found this behavior at the Ohio Church to be offensive.  I also have four small children and don’t want them confused or scandalized by the behavior of those at this Church who do not realize Whom it is that they are wiping onto the floor.
The relative who attends this Church is my brother-in-law and he labels his Church "progressive" and "up to date" with Church teaching and he says that my objections to the behavior of some people regarding the Eucharist are just "…your interpretations of Catholicism."
Why are some Catholic parishes allowed to get away with nonsense like this?
We attend a … Church in Michigan that is very traditional and has great reverence for the Eucharist.  Relatives call us Pre-Vatican II Catholics, but I’d prefer to think we are just respectful Catholics.
If you could point me to a reference about the matter and form of Eucharist for non-liturgist specialists to understand, it would help me better explain this to my husband, too.

I will let others dig up the specific references.

I think there is a problem here.  Your son noticed what was going on and said something.  It must be noticeable.  In this case, one of God’s little one’s was scandalized by what he saw.

Since you are not parishioners there, it is hard for you to intervene.  On the other had, it sounds like there is a serious risk of profanation of the Blessed Sacrament going on at that parish.

You could first write to the pastor of the place, and make your concerns known.  After that you would write to the local bishop, of the place where that parish is.  The difficulty in writing directly to the Congregation in Rome is that some "proofs" are needed before they can really act quickly.

Everyone has a responsibility to see that the Church’s liturgy is conducted well.  If there are liturgical abuses, we all have the duty to try to help correct them.  This is made clear in the CDW’s Redemptionis Sacramentum:

6. Complaints Regarding Abuses in Liturgical Matters

[183.] In an altogether particular manner, let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism.

[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.


If you write to anyone, keep in mind my tips.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Jim says:

    I am reminded of my attendance at mass in a Northern California parish last Easter while visiting my dying aunt. The Eucharist consisted of square pieces of leavened brown bread in wicker baskets. They looked crumbly. When I opened my mouth to receive, the priest rummaged around, found a traditional host, and placed it on my tongue. I wish there were some uniformity in the Latin rite, as I find these experiences distracting.

  2. magdalene says:

    Yes. I have encountered this several times. When visiting a cousin some years ago, this was happening at her parish. I called the parish and spoke to the nice lady in tha baking ministry who gave me her recipe. I then contacted the bishop. This situation changed in that parish. But the bishop wrote back 5 months later and said it never happened. It also happened at his cathedral however.

    A certain campus parish also has bread chunks. I went to Mass there once and when I saw this, I did not go to ‘communion’ as I did not know if it was valid matter and thus a valid mass. I will not go back there even though it is close to my home. I called the parish and spoke to a woman. Extra oil is in the recipe but no yeast. And I left a message for the pastor who called me back and said if I have any questions to contact the bishop. I did. The bishop promised to look into this immediately.

    But as of last weekend when I stopped in to pray (assuming Jesus is in that tabernacle) there were bowls of breaad chunks out to defrost. What happens to the extra chunks I asked the lady when I called that first time. They go in the tabernacle! Well I had a priest tell me once how upset he was when he found moldy bread chunks in a tabernacle when he was helping out at a parish. These bread chunks–are they the Lord’s Body?- are also taken to the sick I was told. I do not think they fit in a pyx; I wonder if they use a baggie. And I was scandalized myself to realize that there could be crumbs that would be brushed off and trampled underfoot. I know there was that whole movement of ‘bread that looks like bread’ but this seemsmost irreverent to me.

  3. Charivari Rob says:

    Father Z. –

    Do you (or any readers) know offhand if any bishops make a practice of observing the liturgical practices of their parishes? Does anyone do it as a routine matter (proactive, preventive maintenance), or only in response to an inquiry received on a potentially grave matter. I’m not asking about any specific bishop, I just mean does anyone do it?

    I mean, I presume they can’t get a complete picture visiting once or twice a year for confirmations and other events when the locals might be more particular (and the bishop’s secretary is acting as MC, anyway). In a lot of places, a parish might be lucky if they see their bishop even as much as once a year. Though they do observe and comment sometimes (Bishop Murphy’s (Rockville Center) recent example regarding the frame of mind of the faithful and the placement of the Tabernacle (at a parish he was visiting for confirmation or some event) would be one case).

    You know, the act of observation changes the actions being observed. Does anyone send around trusted laity (or clergy in ‘civilian clothes’) periodically to observe anonymously from the pews and keep tabs on what’s routine and give the bishop information to decide if some matter needs gentle advice or more particular attention, if warrented. I realize that it may simply be logistically impractical (if not impossible).

    I guess the flip side of the question would be – Do parishioners notice their parish priests tightening-up their orthodoxy when the ‘boss’ comes to visit?

    Just curious.


  4. Perhaps a simple solution is that where such Bread is used for the Mass, suspend the practice of Communion in the hand altogether. When I receive the Eucharist in my hand as a deacon at our Divine Liturgy, it is leavened, and, despite the best efforts of those who prepare the prosphora bread, there are always some crumbs, which I am careful to remove from my palm.

    I personally used to favor the practice of Communion in the hand, but over the years I believe it to be too risky a proposition, especially with (but not in any exclusive way) children. The use of intinction is a guaranteed way to avoid this issue as well, since no one can receive Holy Communion like this in the hand.

  5. Paul Madrid says:

    Father Z, I’ve noticed that when you’ve mentioned contacting the Roman Congregations you always recommend having “proofs.” Would statements work as proof? In other words, could someone send affidavits to the congregation, or is the congregation only interested in photographs and the like?

  6. Not Getting Creaky Just Yet says:

    In addition to the (serious) matter of crumbs of Jesus getting left all over the place, there is the distraction factor of the bread-chunk Eucharist. Specifically, this is often made by ladies of the parish. Where I used to go, the “ministry” of baking flatbread in salad-plate sized wafers scored into cubes was at first given to a whole group of ladies. These ladies knew how to cook. They figured that, since the bishop’s approved recipe had been handed to them, they were entitled to “fix” it. So in addition to being given a hunk of bread that was nearly as big as my whole mouth, and having to vigorously chew it while walking back to my seat instead of focusing on Jesus, I had the distraction of discovering that the taste of the chunk was not consistent from week to week. And I really hated the tendency this created to become a food critic at Mass. “Jesus is a a bit oversalted today, don’t you think?”
    Eventually the two ladies who took the approval of a recipe for this particular bread more seriously outlasted all the others. And after I made a few comments at bull sessions about getting something so big that I wanted to ask for coffee on the side, the chunks were a bit smaller. But it definitely became a little kingdom for these two ladies. Ugh.
    Can we just have the boughten kind that’s an actually-flat wafer that has no falling-crumbs and is possible to dissolve on the tongue? and has no distracting flavors? Please?

  7. Mila says:

    I too have experienced this abuse. At our former parish in a Chicago suburb, on Holy Thursday no less, they used what seemed store-bought pita bread that the priest broke in pieces on the altar. Needless to say, in addition to being extremely distracting, there were crumbs all over the place, and it was very sad. It seems that enough people complained and it was not done again. While not all the abuses ceased, at least Our Lord was not trampled on again.

  8. A Random Friar says:

    When I was a deacon back in the day, someone thought it would be GREAT to have lots of those flatbread-type hosts for our Easter Vigil. It took 10 minutes after the Agnus Dei to *finally* be ready to distribute communion (well, at least we had some nice, albeit unplanned, silent meditation before Communion). Not to mention, I got more than a bellyful of the Sacred Host, just in crumbs, trying to consume everything left at the bottom of the ciboria.

  9. PMcGrath says:

    Extra oil is in the recipe but no yeast

    They figured that, since the bishop’s approved recipe had been handed to them, they were entitled to “fix” it. … “Jesus is a a bit oversalted today, don’t you think?”

    There should have been NO yeast or salt or oil of any kind in Communion hosts in the Latin Rite. Wheat and water ALONE are allowed. If you only have wheat and water, there’s no need to “fix” it.

    Different canon for our Eastern Rite colleagues, as alluded by Father Deacon Daniel above.

  10. Maynardus says:

    FWIW, even in the otherwise-liturgically-apathetic Archdiocese of Boston they take this sort of thing seriously. I encountered a cake-like substance when forced to attend a Baptism (during Mass) at one of the more outré suburban parishes a few years ago. I managed to obtain a cube of the stuff prior to the next Mass (prior to any attempted consecration) and confirmed that it had a very sweet odor – either honey or molasses. A letter to the (incumbent) Cardinal-Archbishop, a churchman noted neither for his liturgical sensibilities nor his accessibility to the hoi-polloi, brought results within a week! Perhaps it was the “proof” – the half-cube of the “cake” I enclosed? Or maybe it was the statement that if action was not forthcoming I’d be sending the other half of the “proof” to Rome!

  11. Joan Moore says:

    “There should have been NO yeast or salt or oil of any kind in Communion hosts in the Latin Rite. Wheat and water ALONE are allowed. If you only have wheat and water, there’s no need to “fix” it.”

    “they used what seemed store-bought pita bread ”

    I’m sure many people think that pita bread is unleavened. However, having made it a number of times, I can state that it most definitely is leavened, and therefore should not be used in the Latin Rite.

    Why do so many think they must “tinker” with the Liturgy – whether words or matter. Can’t we just follow the rules????? I know, I’m just venting….

  12. Emilio III says:

    I have read that the only possible variations (in the Latin rite) were to use whole wheat or refined wheat flour, and fresh or salt water. If that’s the case, the presence of salt from seawater would not indicate any impropriety.

  13. E. Osodemo says:

    The big problem is that God’s litle one’s scandalized are not one, three, five, no, the problem is, that they are thousands, millions.

  14. Tom Lanter says:

    Fr. Z.
    I have posted this thought here before;
    When passing your a land fill, remove your hat, stop get out, and genuflect because they are large tabernacles. If this is too inconvenient at least slow up and bow reverently as you pass.
    There is no doubt in my mind that many Sacred Particles of
    The Hosts, no mater what the recipe, are in like new condition under your local dump, mainly because of communion in the hand.

    Tom Lanter

  15. Jack says:

    This situation is symptomatic of a lot of problems in the Church. I believe that all of the issues facing us: liturgical abuse, lack of vocations, lack of Mass attendance, sexual abuse, etc., are all the result of one single thing. There is a declining lack of belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

    Think about it. How could you possibly NOT attend Mass every week (every day!) if you truly believed that Christ was present. We are saddled with people who do not believe, and some that “believe” only with their minds, not their hearts and souls. I include some unfortunate priests and bishops in the latter group.

    With belief, all of the other issues become easy. The implementation of the REAL Spirit of Vatican II, social justice, lay involvement, etc., are naturally implemented once we accept the truth of way we are here doing this! We also avoid the sacrilege of having “crumbs” causing scandal with small children.

    I have to believe there were valid reasons for the change from everyday bread to the hosts we are familiar with today including the fact that we are not in someone’s private residence and the “crumb” issue. It seems the shift backward is being done with less desire to be “authentic” than to be “hip and trendy.”

    Sorry for the rant, I know I’m preaching to the choir here. The solution seems so easy I just want to shake people to wake them up. If we could first get everyone to agree that the Mass is primarily for worship and not entertainment, that would be a good start.

  16. Maureen says:

    Re: local dump

    If particles are in the dump and mixed with trash, you can be pretty sure that they’ve rotted or are otherwise unrecognizable as an appearance of bread; and thus are no longer Christ’s Body and Blood.

    “You will not leave my soul among the dead” (as in the dump)
    “nor let your beloved know decay.”

  17. Peregrinus says:

    When I was in the States, and had those “flatbread” for the matter of the Eucharist, I was fortunate to be in a parish which took the Real Presence more seriously. Yes, there were crumbs, but it was interesting to see how the then-still-spproved sacristans and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion carefully finish off the small crumbs of consecrated bread. It was also a catechetical moment when we train new extraordinary ministers, to remind them to value each small particle of the consecrated bread. The priests were also careful not to break the consecrated bread in such a way that would leave crumbs on the altar linen. The Sister in-charge of RE was more non-chalent however. The irony of it.

    We always try to finish these “flatbread” since they don’t stay fresh for more than 1 day outside of the fridge, but there was once these consecrated “flatbread” stayed fresh even after 2 whole days in the tabernacle because the priest had over-consecrated for Easter. Perhaps we witnessed a simple Eucharistic Miracle then!

  18. Xavier University’s Bellarmine Chapel in Cincinnati uses student-baked, non-host bread for the Eucharist, and communicants can be seen wiping fragments on their pants or permitting them to drop to the floor. So I was told by a former extraordinary minister for the chapel. My sense is that Coadjutor Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr is going to receive a deluge of letters once he becomes our ordinary (most likely next summer.)

  19. Tony from Oz says:

    The whole motivation for bake-your-own hosts is grounded in the post-conciliar fetish for busy ‘participation’ of all kinds justified by archaeologocal references to the Early Church, too, no doubt!

    There are plenty of proposerly manufactured wafers out there – so don’t muck with the formula!

  20. Charivari Rob says:

    No, a participation ‘fetish’ is not “the whole motivation” for bake-your-own. In fact, for a lot of us, it’s not any motivation.

    At our parish, we’re not exactly flush with money. Over the years, we’ve had to take a pretty cold, hard look at our budget, and justify every dime. We considered “bake-your-own” communion breads. A cursory review was enough to establish that, in our case, the economic benefits (if any) would not outweigh the concerns regarding practical hassle and product quality.

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