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The Eucharist — Matter And Form

May 13, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DON FIER

As we concluded our two-part examination of the marvelous effects of Holy Communion worthily received last week, we saw that it can be accurately described as a “pledge of future glory.” The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains why this descriptor is so fitting:
“It fills us with every grace and heavenly blessing. It fortifies us for our pilgrimage in this life and makes us long for eternal life. It unites us already to Christ seated at the right hand of the Father, to the Church in heaven, and to the Blessed Virgin and all the saints” (n. 194).
Indeed, as further elaborated upon by the servant of God, Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, “Even on earth we have a foretaste of heaven in the measure that we avail ourselves of the light and strength that the Eucharistic Christ confers on those who believe in Him” (The Faith, p. 122).
To complete our treatment of the Most Holy Eucharist, we will examine what the Church teaches regarding matter and form for valid celebration of the sacrament. Earlier in this series (see volume 149, nn. 18-19; May 5-12, 2016), we saw that “at the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], n. 1333).
Scripture passages were cited showing this was the essential matter used by Christ Himself at the Last Supper and arguments of fittingness for bread and wine, especially from the Summa Theologiae (STh) of St. Thomas Aquinas, were discussed. Our focus in this column will be to drill deeper into the precise requirements for matter and form to ensure valid consecration.
Canon 924 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC) prescribes the following: “The most holy eucharistic sacrifice must be offered with bread and with wine in which a little water must be mixed” (§ 1); “the bread must be only wheat and recently made so that there is no danger of spoiling” (§ 2); and “the wine must be natural from the fruit of the vine and not spoiled” (§ 3).
The mingling of a small amount of water with the wine (CIC, canon 924 § 1), according to St. Thomas, has four purposes, two of which will be considered here. First, Sacred Tradition informs us that “it is believed with probability that Our Lord instituted this sacrament in wine tempered with water according to the custom of that country” (STh III, Q. 74, art. 6).
More importantly, however, the admixture symbolizes the participation of the faithful in Christ’s sacrifice: “We see that the people are signified by the water, but Christ’s blood by the wine. Therefore when water is mixed with the wine in the chalice, the people is made one with Christ” (ibid.).
This profound signification is evident in the Offertory Prayer: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
It is important to note, however, that even though addition of water to the wine is necessary for liceity, it is not required for validity of the sacrament. The Roman Catechism (RC) of the Council of Trent explains:
“Although there are reasons so grave for mingling water with the wine that it cannot be omitted without incurring the guilt of mortal sin, yet its omission does not render the Sacrament null. Again as in the sacred mysteries priests must be mindful to mingle water with wine, so, also, must they take care to mingle it in small quantity…that water is changed into wine” (II, 4, 17).
As regards the quantity, Fr. Paul Haffner states that “a few drops are sufficient…[but] a quantity of water in excess of one third would render the matter doubtful” (The Sacramental Mystery [TSM], p. 96).
As stated earlier, the matter used for the eucharistic bread must be wheat (see CIC, canon 924 § 2). Furthermore, “according to the ancient tradition of the Latin Church, the priest is to use unleavened bread in the Eucharistic celebration whenever he offers it” (CIC, canon 926).
In its 2004 liturgical instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (RS), the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments reaffirmed this requirement: “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” (RS, n. 48). Moreover, the wheat flour is to be mixed only with water and baked.
This means that hosts made from other types of grain (e.g., barley, rye) or substitutes such as rice cakes are not permissible — the sacrament is invalidated by their use. Likewise, “it is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist” (RS, n. 48). Similarly, “nothing must be taken away from the wheat, which would change the nature of the bread. For this reason, gluten-free hosts are not seen as valid material for the Eucharist, as that essential component of wheat has been taken out” (TSM, p. 95).
This brings up the question of those who are physically unable to tolerate the gluten in wheat, i.e., people who are afflicted with celiac disease. One solution is to receive only the Precious Blood, which may be the only viable option for people who are unable to tolerate even trace amounts of gluten.
In God’s Providence, however, two Benedictine nuns from Clyde, Mo., were able to develop wafers with a gluten content level of less than 0.01 percent, which is safe enough for consumption by most celiac sufferers. These wafers are produced from unleavened wheat and water, are free from additives, and thus conform to the requirements set forth in Canon Law.
On July 24, 2003, then-Prefect Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a circular letter approving their valid use under the competence of the diocesan bishop. Many parishes, therefore, keep a pyx with consecrated, low-gluten hosts in the tabernacle for celiac disease sufferers. Great care must be taken by the priest to purify his fingers prior to distributing low-gluten hosts so as to avoid cross-contamination from gluten hosts.
Hosts used by most Eastern Churches consist of leavened wheat. In 1439 during the Council of Florence, the Church solemnly declared that “the body of Christ is truly effected in unleavened or leavened wheaten bread; and that priests ought to effect the body of our Lord in either one of these, and each one namely according to the custom of his Church, whether that of the West or of the East” (Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, n. 1303).
For the Western Church, the absence of yeast represents purity (see 1 Cor. 5:7-8) whereas in Eastern theology, the addition of yeast in leavened bread symbolizes the vivifying action of the Holy Spirit (cf. TSM, p. 96). In the Latin Church, the use of unleavened bread is a strict requirement for the Eucharist’s licit celebration.
“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” (RS, n. 50). Therefore, as explained by Fr. Haffner, “the wine cannot be made from any other fruits or from the stems and skins of the grapes after the juice has been pressed out” (TSM, p. 96). Moreover, wine which has more than 20 percent alcohol content as well as wine from which the alcohol has been completely extracted is invalid material (cf. ibid.).

Loving Wisdom

The Church, in her loving wisdom, provides a solution for priests who are unable to ingest alcohol. As stated in the previously referenced circular letter by the CDF, the use of mustum is permitted under certain specific circumstances.
As defined by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, mustum is “grape juice in which fermentation has begun, but has been suspended with the result that its alcohol content (usually less than 1.0 percent) does not reach the levels found in most table wines….The process used for the suspension of fermentation must not alter the nature of the juice in any way.” Furthermore, it must not contain additives.
The Code is very exact in specifying that double consecration is required for valid celebration of the Eucharist, and that consecration must take place during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: “It is absolutely forbidden, even in extreme urgent necessity, to consecrate one matter without the other or even both outside the Eucharistic celebration” (CIC, canon 927).
The form of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist “is the words spoken by the priest at the Consecration, ‘This is My Body’ and ‘This is My Blood’” (Fr. Hardon, Basic Catholic Catechism Course [BCCC], p. 140).
As taught by the Angelic Doctor, “The form of this sacrament is pronounced as if Christ were speaking in person, so that it is given to be understood that the minister does nothing in perfecting this sacrament, except to pronounce the words of Christ” (STh III, Q. 78, art. 1). He goes on to explain that the words of consecration are a synthesis of those given by the evangelists in the four scriptural accounts (cf. STh III, Q. 78, art. 3, ad 9).
So important are the exact words as defined by Holy Mother Church that Fr. Hardon categorically states: “If these words are altered, the Consecration does not take place” (BCCC, p. 140).

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is doing research for writing a definitive biography of Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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