"Last week at Mass I received a lump of something on my tongue that tasted like raisin bread", a reader wrote. "Was this a valid Mass? What should I do?"
In recent months Catholics from around the country have been reporting with increasing frequency that their parishes are using "real" bread (i.e. table bread) instead of Communion hosts. Many are concerned that the validity of the Mass is affected. "Have I really received Christ?", is a frequent question.
Are they right to be concerned? You bet.
Since the release, in July 2000, of the new instructions for celebration of Mass, there has been a revival of liturgical experimentation reminiscent of the seventies. "Progressive" liturgists who object to the new rules in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani [IGMR] and other recent liturgical documents issued by the Holy See claim that Catholics need "proper catechesis" before the new regulations for celebration of Mass take full effect.
People are being told that the "new rules" will change many things - so they might as well get used to the changes before the new Roman Missal (which contains the IGMR) is officially released.
Too often, however, these so-called "changes" are not in the new rules at all, but are innovations in direct conflict with the actual rules.
One example of this "innovation-as-catechesis" is a resuscitation of the effort to replace traditional Communion hosts with ordinary table bread containing leavening and/or other ingredients in addition to the wheat flour and water prescribed in all the official norms.
"Real food" vs. Real Presence? "It's easier to believe that bread really becomes the Body of Christ than it is to believe that the host is really bread", proclaimed Monsignor Paul Turner in a bulletin insert recently reprinted by parishes across the United States.
Turner is a Kansas City, Missouri, pastor who writes bulletin inserts for Ministry and Liturgy (formerly Modern Liturgy) published by Resource Publications (www.rpinet.com). He maintains that since "the material for the Eucharistic celebration truly have the appearance of food", ordinary bread should be used at Mass.
Turner notes that "according to the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, Eucharistic bread is unleavened, and made from wheat flour and water", but he intends his readers to believe that hosts in the traditional form are not the "real food" bread that the instructions require.
Notwithstanding his opinion, the rules are very clear. The bread used for Mass must not only "have the appearance of food", it is also to be in the traditional form.
924.2. The bread must be made of wheat alone and recently made so that there is no danger of corruption.
926. 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.
The new Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani [IGMR 2000], drawing on these Canons, says the same thing:
IGMR 320. The bread for celebrating the Eucharist must be solely from wheat, recently baked, and, according to the ancient tradition of the Latin Church, it must be unleavened (emphasis added).
The phrase "recently baked" means that the bread to be consecrated be "free from spoilage, staleness, etc.". The hosts available at Catholic supply stores comply with this norm. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), in use since 1975 has the same norm as the new IGMR:
GIRM 283. The nature of the sign demands that the material for the Eucharistic celebration have the appearance of food. Accordingly, even though unleavened and baked in the traditional shape, the Eucharistic bread should be made in such a way that in a Mass with a congregation the priest is able actually to break the host into parts and distribute them to at least some of the faithful (emphasis added).
IGMR 321 repeats this verbatim, and continues,
(When, however, the number of communicants is large or other pastoral needs require it, small breads are in no way ruled out.) The action of the breaking of the bread, the simple term for the Eucharist in apostolic times, will more clearly bring out the force and meaning of the sign of the unity of all in the one bread and of their charity, since the one bread is being distributed among the members of one family.
"Real food", thus, means unleavened bread. The large hosts priests use that can be broken and shared among communicants fit this description.