Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Why Do They Do These Things?

I got a call from my younger sister tonight. "Darwin, do you know if a consecration with bread that is probably leavened is valid?"

Circumstances had caused her to go to a different parish than usual (she lives in the Seattle area) for a 5pm mass, and on entering a few minutes before mass she saw on the table in the back of the church a large ciborium full of cubes of what looked like spongy pita bread.

I don't know the answer to this for sure. I'm thinking probably valid but illicit -- after all, the Eastern Rites use leavened bread. But the advice I eventually gave was: If you're really not sure and there's not another mass you can get to, attend but don't receive. You'll know for sure you met your Sunday obligation as best you can, and you won't be participating in the illicit elements any more than necessary.

After getting off the phone, I found myself fuming a bit. Why do that kind of thing? I'm a comparatively laid-back guy liturgically. I'm not one of those types who gets high blood pressure the minute I see a female alter server or an EM (I think we'd be better off without, but resign myself pretty easily), but for goodness sake, what possible good reason is there for messing which the communion species? There is absolutely no difficulty getting hold of real communion wafers in the modern US, and there is no cultural or traditional reason to even think about using anything else in the Roman Rite here. The only reason for it is to be "different" (read: defiant), and really: Why? You're not going to make anyone feel any better (unless its some sort of "we're so open minded" pride which isn't good for you anyway) and it's a good bet that you'll cause someone distress.

Good grief...


rose said...

After mass, I asked the deacon (?) who gave the homily, and he swore it was a completely yeast-free recipe for the L.A. Archdiocese (insert snarky comment here). So it looks like it wasn't invalid or illicit, just really, really dumb.

I'm sure that the decision was justified by something along the lines of "fuller symbolism" and "drawing the community into more active participation in the Eucharistic meal" or somesuch--which all sounds very nice at the meeting, but really boils down to a kind of stealth clericalism, because it changes the priests/liturgy committees from the servants of the liturgy into its masters, able to change it unilaterally, with the people barely able to get a word in edgewise.

No, I'm not bitter at all...

Anonymous said...

I hope you all had a pleasant day celebrating Baby Darwin's second birthday....God bless!!

Anonymous said...

GIRM 321: "The meaning of the sign demands that the material for the Eucharistic celebration truly have the appearance of food."

That would appear to be the justification. From the other end, I've heard the equally snarky comment that it takes more faith to believe pressed and pre-cut hosts are really bread than it takes to believe Christ is really present.


Darwin said...

From the other end, I've heard the equally snarky comment that it takes more faith to believe pressed and pre-cut hosts are really bread than it takes to believe Christ is really present.

Once people escalate to being witty, one almost feels called upon to respond in kind with something like, "Perhaps, but such while carryings-on do much to make the mass remind me of Calvary, they do nothing to remind me of a meal."

This, I think, is where some irreconcilable (or at least very difficult to reconcile) differences between conceptions of liturgy crop up. I understand the desire to underscore the "meal" aspect of the "sacrificial meal", but the fact is that nothing one is going to do even vaguely in the semblance of a mass is going to be a very good meal qua meal. If I wanted a good meal, I'd head out to a restaurant. And of course, if I'm going to sit down and eat some really good bread and drink some really good wine in the context of a meal, I'm going to be tearing in a big, hot loaf and leaving crumbs all over the place in a way that would hardly show respect for the Real Presence. Much though the meal context of the Last Supper is important, it doesn't seem to me appropriate to head in the direction of being more meal-ish with the mass.

But good, I guess, to know what motivation this sort of thing comes from...

rose said...

There is certainly an argument to be made for using more bread-like bread, or even leavened bread as they do in the Eastern Rites. It could also be argued that traditional communion wafers have the benefit of not only tradition, but also of being nearly immune to crumbs and spoilage.

(Also, they are much more similar to lembas.)

(Okay, maybe that's not a good argument.)

But on a purely practical/pastoral level, I would argue *very* strongly against any unnecessary innovation that is likely to create doubt in the minds of the faithful as to whether the sacrament is valid or licit. Because while the faithful need beautiful and complex symbolism, they need even more the assurance that they are receiving the sacraments.

Rick Lugari said...

I got a call from my younger sister tonight. "Darwin, do you know if...

So now I'm amusing myself considering that your sister calls you Darwin. I'm picturing an earlier scene where your family members ask, "[your given name] why are you wearing that silly fake beard and 19th century waistcoat?". You reply, "I told you before, don't call me that, my name is Darwin!"

Yeah, I know...I'm an idiot...but I still find the thought funny. ;)

Anonymous said...

My favorite example, in this regard, comes from a church in the area where my parents live. There was talk about adding raisins to the bread they baked themselves to make it more, you know, special.

As it is, they usually use spongy dough balls that are almost impossible to recieve in the mouth and impossible not to chew.

Anonymous said...

"Oh,good grief"

Bernard Brandt said...

I believe that the problems raised may be answered by reviewing the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church:

Can. 924 §2. The bread must be only wheat and recently made so that there is no danger of spoiling.


Can. 926 According to the ancient tradition of the Latin Church, the priest is to use unleavened bread in the eucharistic celebration whenever he offers it.

As an Eastern Catholic, I suppose I could be snarky and say, regarding Canon 926, that the "ancient tradition" goes only back to the 10th Century A.D. Before then, the Eucharistic Bread was leavened, as it still is in the East.

Be that as it may, however, for faithful and obedient RC's, unleavened wheat hosts are not just a good idea. They're the law.

Anonymous said...

I know this is tangential to your point, but why are female altar servers and EMs problematic for you? I'm curious because as an adult convert, seeing women and girls participating that way really helped me understand that the Church does value women though I'd been brought up to believe that it doesn't. I like to think that I'd have found my faith even if I'd never seen women and girls at the altar, but it definitely helped. I can understand and accept the tradition that only men are priests because Jesus' disciples were all men. However, reading the New Testament, I've always noticed that Jesus had women who served Him and who He valued so I guess I can't see why people would think that He would object to women serving Him at the altar.

I hope you understand that I am not trying to be contentious, but to understand your viewpoint.



Darwin said...


Fair question.

On altar servers, I think there was a value to having it as a boys-only function to the extent that that was used as a way to give young boys a closer look at the priesthood and encourage vocations. Often it wasn't effectively used that way, and so I don't think it's necessarily been a huge loss. But I would rather have seen more effort put into making it a source of vocations than simply opening it up to boys and girls (which often has the practical result of making it mostly girls.) Also, having been an altar boy during the transition on that, it annoyed me that the priests in our parish first loudly announced they would use girls whether it was approved or not (regardless of authority) and then once the permission came through made it clear that anyone who didn't like it wasn't listening to the bishops.

On EMs, I should be clear that it's not female EMs that I have an objection to but an overuse of EMs regardless of gender. (When EMs are used, I don't have a problem with them being both men and women.) I guess the shortest explanation is that it seems to me that there's a tendency to over-ministry things in modern parish life, trying to make the laity feel like they are at their most devout when being most priest-like. As part of that, there often seems to be an urge to use as many EMs as possible, not just use a few when there crowd is so huge that it would take too long with only priests distributing communion. I think the symbolism is better when we receive directly from the priest, and I also think that trying to cram too much "lay ministry" into parish life both obscures the importance of the priesthood and also obscures the real calling of the Laity to be the active Christian force in the world, rather than to seek to spend as much time as possible holding sanctuary roles.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for explaining. Actually, I can understand your reasoning since I have a son who will be old enough to be an altar server next year. I can imagine him eventually having a vocation to the priesthood and am hoping that being an altar server will encourage him to at least consider the possibility that he could be called to this.

I'll have to think further about the EM part of your response. I hadn't thought along those lines before. I guess I thought that the Church relied heavily on EMs as a practical solution, because they didn't have enough priests available to perform these tasks. I guess by your logic one could have a vocation to the laity as much as one could have one to the priesthood. It's an interesting thought.


Darwin said...

On the EMs, I'm not against using them as needed. Our parish has 700+ people at the two biggest masses every Sunday, and we've only got two priests, so I think it's pretty arguable we _do_ need them on a daily basis.

Some people seem bothered by ever having them, but I really only see a problem where they're used when not needed or when far more are used than are needed simply to make people feel like they are more a part of the liturgical experience. So at least to my mind, it's not a problem that one uses them, but it's important that one understands lay ministry in the mass the right way.

Katherine said...

We all have our particular sore points. For me, when an educated, adult Catholic writes "I'm thinking probably valid but illicit -- after all, the Eastern Rites use leavened bread", I'm disappointed that knowledge of a contrary eastern practice only leads one to "think" rather than to "know" of its validity.

As for altar servers, I don't see why boys with a potential for a vocation to the priesthood can't be encouraged to serve without closing the opportunity to everyone else.

We have an altar server in my parish who is not a potential candidate for the priesthood (the issue being Downs Syndrome rather than gender). Anyone moving to bar this special child from continuing to serve is going get a house call from this old lady with a 'talking to' like they never had before.

Anonymous said...


Todd at Catholic Sensibility cleared this up for me last year or so. Valid, but not licit.

If it appears to the faithful as wheat bread, it is valid. We don't have to carry around our "contaminant detection meters".