Bread and WineFR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS
I recently saw a story on the news about a little girl in New Jersey whose first Holy Communion was invalidated by the bishop. Apparently she is allergic to wheat, and a priest gave her Communion with a host made of rice. Why can’t she receive a rice host instead of a wheat host since she is allergic? What can be done?
the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s definition of a sacrament: A sacrament
is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. Our Lord instituted the
sacraments, and the Church has the duty of preserving their integrity.
The first point in dealing with this situation is to ask, "How did Christ institute
the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist?" In the gospel accounts of the Last Supper,
Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with His apostles. According to the Gospel of
St. Matthew, "During the meal, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave
it to His disciples. ‘Take this and eat it,’ He said, ‘this is my Body.’ Then
He took a cup, gave thanks, gave it to them, ‘All of you must drink from it,’
He said, ‘for this is my Blood, the Blood of the covenant, to be poured out in
behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins’" (26: 26-28). This account is repeated
in the Gospels of Sts. Mark and Luke. While the Gospel of St. John does not mention
these details of the Last Supper scene, the beautiful Bread of Life discourse
is recorded in which Jesus identified Himself as the Bread of Life (Cf. Jn 6).
Given the gospel accounts and the fact that the Last Supper was in the
context of a Passover meal, our Lord definitely used unleavened wheat bread and
grape wine. Therefore, since the earliest times of the Church, at least in the
tradition of the West, and in every early account of the Mass recorded by the
Church Fathers, never has there been a deviation from the use of unleavened wheat
bread and grape wine. (Please note, mention here is made of the tradition in the
West, i.e. the Latin Rite; the Eastern Churches have the tradition of using leavened
wheat bread and grape wine.) For this reason, the Code of Canon Law (Canon
924) mandates: "The Most Sacred Eucharistic Sacrifice must be celebrated with
bread and wine, with which a small quantity of water is to be mixed. The bread
must be made of wheat alone, recently made so that there is no danger of corruption.
The wine must be natural wine of the grape and not corrupt."
says, "In accord with the ancient tradition of the Latin Church, the priest is
to use unleavened bread in the celebration of the Eucharist whenever he offers
it." These prescriptions are also asserted in the Missale Romanum, Institutio
Generalis (no. 320) and most recently "Redemptionis Sacramentum" ("On
Certain Matters to be Observed or to be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist,"
Given this teaching on how Christ instituted the sacrament and
how the Church has preserved it since the apostolic times, to validly confect
the Holy Eucharist the priest must use unleavened wheat bread and grape wine (which
together constitute the matter of the sacrament) and pronounce the words of consecration
as prescribed in the Roman Missal (which constitute the form of the sacrament).
Remember the matter of the sacrament is the physical sign value and the form is
the prayer said; to deviate from the prescribed matter or form of the sacrament
invalidates it, meaning there is no sacrament. Redemptionis Sacramentum
states this clearly: "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" (no. 48).
Please note that
this teaching is not new, but has been consistently repeated. To make this clear,
if a person wants to make water, he uses hydrogen and oxygen; if he uses hydrogen
and nitrogen, there will be no water. At Mass, to confect the Holy Eucharist,
the priest must use unleavened wheat bread and grape wine; to use anything other
than unleavened wheat bread and grape wine will not result in the confection of
the holy Eucharist.
With this understanding, regarding the news story
in question, the little girl who received a host made from rice simply did not
receive the Holy Eucharist. While the news network may have reported that the
bishop "invalidated" the little girl’s first Holy Communion, in fact he simply
recognized that she did not receive the Holy Eucharist. A host made of rice simply
cannot be transubstantiated into the Holy Eucharist. Keep in mind, the Church
is not upholding "man-made rules," as some like to charge; rather, the Church
is preserving and defending what our Lord instituted.
Any priest should have known better. Objectively, the tampering with the matter
and form of a sacrament is a mortal sin.
So what are the alternatives?
First, the little girl who is allergic to the gluten in wheat could make her first
Holy Communion by receiving the Precious Blood from the chalice. The fullness
of grace is truly present and given by receiving just the sacred host, or just
the Precious Blood, or both.
Second, wheat hosts can be made in which
the gluten has been almost completely removed. Several convents of religious sisters,
who make hosts to help support themselves financially, now offer wheat hosts in
which nearly all the gluten has been removed.
Most importantly, we must
not lose the focus of what is at stake in this discussion. The Second Vatican
Council taught, "For the most Holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual
wealth: Christ Himself, our Passover and Living Bread. Through His own flesh,
now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, He offers life to men" (Presbyterorum
Saunders, Rev. William. "Bread and Wine." Arlington Catholic
This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington
William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College
and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article
is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald.
Father Saunders is also the author of Straight
Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral
Press in Baltimore.
Copyright © 2004 Arlington