The Matter Or Eucharistic Elements

The Matter or Eucharistic Elements

There are two Eucharistic elements, bread and wine, which constitute the remote matter of the Sacrament of the Altar, while the proximate matter can be none other than the Eucharistic appearances under which the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present.

(a) The first element is wheaten bread (panis triticeus), without which the “confection of the Sacrament does not take place” (Missale Romanum: De defectibus, sect. 3), Being true bread, the Host must be baked, since mere flour is not bread. Since, moreover, the bread required is that formed of wheaten flour, not every kind of flour is allowed for validity, such, e.g., as is ground from rye, oats, barley, Indian corn or maize, though these are all botanically classified as grain (frumentum), On the other hand, the different varieties of wheat (as spelt, amel-corn, etc.) are valid, inasmuch as they can be proved botanically to be genuine wheat. The necessity of wheaten bread is deduced immediately from the words of Institution: “The Lord took bread” (ton arton), in connection with which it may be remarked, that in Scripture bread (artos), without any qualifying addition, always signifies wheaten bread. No doubt, too, Christ adhered unconditionally to the Jewish custom of using only wheaten bread in the Passover Supper, and by the words, “Do this for a commemoration of me”, commanded its use for all succeeding times. In addition to this, uninterrupted tradition, whether it be the testimony of the Fathers or the practice of the Church, shows wheaten bread to have played such an essential part, that even Protestants would be loath to regard rye bread or barley bread as a proper element for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

The Church maintains an easier position in the controversy respecting the use of fermented or unfermented bread. By leavened bread (fermentum, zymos) is meant such wheaten bread as requires leaven or yeast in its preparation and baking, while unleavened bread (azyma, azymon) is formed from a mixture of wheaten flour and water, which has been kneaded to dough and then baked. After the Greek Patriarch Michael Cærularius of Constantinople had sought in 1053 to palliate the renewed rupture with Rome by means of the controversy, concerning unleavened bread, the two Churches, in the Decree of Union at Florence, in 1439, came to the unanimous dogmatic decision, that the distinction between leavened and unleavened bread did not interfere with the confection of the sacrament, though for just reasons based upon the Church’s discipline and practice, the Latins were obliged to retain unleavened bread, while the Greeks still held on to the use of leavened (cf, Denzinger, Enchirid., Freiburg, 1908, no, 692), Since the Schismatics had before the Council of Florence entertained doubts as to the validity of the Latin custom, a brief defense of the use of unleavened bread will not be out of place here. Pope Leo IX had as early as 1054 issued a protest against Michael Cærularius (cf. Migne, P. L., CXLIII, 775), in which he referred to the Scriptural fact, that according to the three Synoptics the Last Supper was celebrated “on the first day of the azymes” and so the custom of the Western Church received its solemn sanction from the example of Christ Himself. The Jews, moreover, were accustomed even the day before the fourteenth of Nisan to get rid of all the leaven which chanced to be in their dwellings, that so they might from that time on partake exclusively of the so-called mazzoth as bread. As regards tradition, it is not for us to settle the dispute of learned authorities, as to whether or not in the first six or eight centuries the Latins also celebrated Mass with leavened bread (Sirmond, Döllinger, Kraus) or have observed the present custom ever since the time of the Apostles (Mabillon, Probst). Against the Greeks it suffices to call attention to the historical fact that in the Orient the Maronites and Armenians have used unleavened bread from time immemorial, and that according to Origen (In Matt., XII, n. 6) the people of the East “sometimes”, therefore not as a rule, made use of leavened bread in their Liturgy. Besides, there is considerable force in the theological argument that the fermenting process with yeast and other leaven, does not affect the substance of the bread, but merely its quality. The reasons of congruity advanced by the Greeks in behalf of leavened bread, which would have us consider it as a beautiful symbol of the hypostatic union, as well as an attractive representation of the savor of this heavenly Food, will be most willingly accepted, provided only that due consideration be given to the grounds of propriety set forth by the Latins with St. Thomas Aquinas (III:74:4) namely, the example of Christ, the aptitude of unleavened bread to be regarded as a symbol of the purity of His Sacred Body, free from all corruption of sin, and finally the instruction of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 5:8) to keep the Pasch not with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”.

(b) The second Eucharistic element required is wine of the grape (vinum de vite). Hence are excluded as invalid, not only the juices extracted and prepared from other fruits (as cider and perry), but also the so-called artificial wines, even if their chemical constitution is identical with the genuine juice of the grape. The necessity of wine of the grape is not so much the result of the authoritative decision of the Church, as it is presupposed by her (Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, cap. iv), and is based upon the example and command of Christ, Who at the Last Supper certainly converted the natural wine of grapes into His Blood, This is deduced partly from the rite of the Passover, which required the head of the family to pass around the “cup of benediction” (calix benedictionis) containing the wine of grapes, partly, and especially, from the express declaration of Christ, that henceforth He would not drink of the “fruit of the vine” (genimen vitis). The Catholic Church is aware of no other tradition and in this respect she has ever been one with the Greeks. The ancient Hydroparastatæ, or Aquarians, who used water instead of wine, were heretics in her eyes. The counter-argument of Ad. Harnack [“Texte und Untersuchungen”, new series, VII, 2 (1891), 115 sqq.], that the most ancient of Churches was indifferent as to the use of wine, and more concerned with the action of eating and drinking than with the elements of bread and wine, loses all its force in view not only of the earliest literature on the subject (the Didache, Ignatius, Justin, Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Cyprian), but also of non-Catholic and apocryphal writings, which bear testimony to the use of bread and wine as the only and necessary elements of the Blessed Sacrament. On the other hand, a very ancient law of the Church which, however, has nothing to do with the validity of the sacrament, prescribes that a little water be added to the wine before the Consecration (Decr. pro Armenis: aqua modicissima), a practice, whose legitimacy the Council of Trent (Sess. XXII, can. ix) established under pain of anathema. The rigor of this law of the Church may be traced to the ancient custom of the Romans and Jews, who mixed water with the strong southern wines (see Proverbs 9:2), to the expression of calix mixtus found in Justin (Apol., I, lxv), Irenæus (Adv. hær., V, ii, 3), and Cyprian (Ep. lxiii, ad Cæcil., n. 13 sq.), and especially to the deep symbolical meaning contained in the mingling, inasmuch as thereby are represented the flowing of blood and water from the side of the Crucified Savior and the intimate union of the faithful with Christ (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XXII, cap. vii).

Written by J. Pohle. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, SJ.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York