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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > A > Altar Breads

Altar Breads

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Bread is one of the two elements absolutely necessary for the sacrifice of the Eucharist. It cannot be determined from the sacred text whether Christ used the ordinary table bread or some other bread specially prepared for the occasion. In the Western Church the altar-breads were probably round in form. Archaeological researches demonstrate this from pictures found in the catacombs, and Pope St. Zephyrinus (A.D. 201-219) calls the altar-bread "coronam sive oblatam sphericae figurae". In the Eastern churches they are round or square. Formerly the laity presented the flour from which the breads were formed. In the Eastern Church the breads were made by consecrated virgins; in the Western Church, by priests and clerics (Benedict XIV, De Sacrif. Missae, I, section 36). This custom is still in vogue in the Armenian Church. The earliest documentary evidence that the altar-breads were made in thin wafers is the answer which Cardinal Humbert, legate of St. Leo IX, made at the middle of the eleventh century to Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople. These wafers were sometimes very large, as from them small pieces were broken for the Communion of the laity, hence the word "particle" for the small host; but smaller ones were used when only the celebrant communicated.

For valid consecration the hosts must be:

If the host is not made of wheaten flour, or is mixed with flour of another kind in such quantity that it cannot be called wheat bread, it may not be used (ibid.). If not natural but distilled water is used, the consecration becomes of doubtful validity (ibid., 2). If the host begins to be corrupt, it would be a grievous offence to use it, but it is considered valid matter (ibid., 3.) For licit consecration: As a rule the image of Christ crucified should be impressed on the large host (Cong. Sac. Rit., 6 April, 1834), but the monogram of the Holy Name (Ephem. Lit., XIII, 1899, p. 686), or the Sacred Heart (ibid., p. 266) may also be adopted.

The altar-breads assumed different names according as they had reference to the Eucharist as a sacrament or as a sacrifice: bread, gift (donum), table (mensa) allude to the Sacrament, which was instituted for the nourishment of our soul; oblation victim, host, allude to sacrifice. Before the tenth century the word "host" was not employed, probably because before this time the Blessed Eucharist was considered more frequently as a sacrament than as a sacrifice, hence the Fathers use such expressions as communion (synaxis), supper (coena), breaking of bread, etc., but at present the word "host" is used when referring to the Eucharist either as a sacrament or as a sacrifice. In the liturgy it is used:

Durandus says that the word host is of pagan origin, derived from the word hostio, to strike, referring to the victim offered to the gods after a victory, but it is also of biblical origin, as it represented the matter, or victim, of the sacrifice, e.g. "expiationis hostiam" (Exodus 29:36).

About this page

APA citation. Schulte, A.J. (1907). Altar Breads. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01349d.htm

MLA citation. Schulte, Augustin Joseph. "Altar Breads." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01349d.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael C. Tinkler.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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