Why do Catholics use thin wafers for the communion bread?

“To avoid crumbs. No-one wants to have to vacuum-up Jesus.”

– Anglo-Catholic priest friend.


  1. Latter-day Guy says:

    This was rather how I used to explain the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism to my fellow missionaries:

    You see, in Protestantism, it’s just a cracker, but it reminds you of Jesus. In Catholicism, it’s really Jesus, but he reminds you strangely of a cracker.

  2. I feel bad for enjoying that.

  3. Question:

    Was it kosher of me as a Teacher to have gobbled up the sacrament bread in the kitchen after sacrament meeting?

  4. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE 3:

    My childhood bishop says yes. I’m not totally sure though.

  5. Mark Brown says:

    Ronan, that is probably better than having water fights with the leftover water. Kids these days . . .

  6. Question:

    Was it kosher of us to have put Sprite in a few of the sacrament cups one Sunday?

  7. Steve Evans says:

    It’s as kosher as using leftover waffles for bread. or Cheetos.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Was it kosher of us to have put Sprite in a few of the sacrament cups one Sunday?

    Nothing a few years in purgatory won’t take care of.

  9. Clarification:

    We did not use Sprite because we had no water. Instead, we did it as a prank to see how people would react.

    There were five teachers in that quorum. Two of us are active now.

  10. P.S.

    Of course, such behaviour is utterly deplorable.

  11. Ronan, I dreamed of trying the Sprite thing as a young Teacher. Just one cup of Sprite per tray. I thought it would be fun to see if I could tell who got the special cup. I never had the guts to go through with that particular prank.

  12. Rona, # 3, you’re only in trouble if it was fast Sunday. But even then, why would you want to eat something that somebody else has had their thumbs all over, and likely sneezed on my the 4 year old in the third row with serious sniffles?

  13. errr, “sneezed on BY the 4 year old….”

  14. Or last week where the bread was the consistancy of stuffing bread before putting it in the water.

  15. For a few weeks in our ward the leftover bread was left out on the kitchen table by a new member for kids to snack on during the other meetings. I think someone gently suggested throwing it away instead.

    Of course, in one branch on my mission, it was considered doctrinal that leftover bread had to be left out in the yard for birds.

  16. #2 – Are you Catholic? If so, big deal; you can feel bad about anything – at least according to Jack McCoy.

  17. Norbert, any reason given for that doctrine? I’d love to hear it.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was a boy, we always tossed the leftover bread for the birds, too.

    Just recently I heard or read somewhere that after the eucharist, the priest is supposed to eat up all the leftover hosts (except for those to be used to take to the sick during the week, which are kept in something called a tabernacle), and there is a special drain for the wine so it doesn’t go into the sewer system. But I just heard it, I don’t have a source and can’t confirm it.

    Also, if you have gluten allergies you’re out of luck. The host has to have wheat in it to be effective; you can’t substitute rice or something similar.

  19. I’m Catholic, and when I was young, someone told me not to chew the wafer but to just let it dissolve. I always figured it was unseemly to chew Jesus.

  20. Anna G. (#19),

    I remember as a kid I had to be careful not to let the wafer stick to the roof of my mouth because then I had to either try to pry it off with my tongue or actually get my finger in there and dig it out. I wonder if the wafers are still like that. I also wonder if it was just dorky me who had that problem.

  21. David T., it’s not just you! I always worry about that.

  22. When the doctrine of transubstantiation was being developed in the scholastic era, there were great debates on what would happen if, for example, a mouse were to accidentally consume a crumb from the host.

    Later, this argument became a protestant talking point. In A Plain Representation of Transubstantiation (1687), Henry Pendlebury discusses a Popish priest who converted to Protestantism after having “chanced to espy a bold and profane Mouse, that it seems had sallied out and seized on the little God Almighty, which he carried off before his Face… The sight of this made [the priest] very thoughtful, and uneasy in his Mind; and indeed well he might to think he had worship’d a God that was not strong enough to secure himself from a little Mouse.”

    In his Satires Upon the Jesuits (1681) the poet John Oldham is even more severe:

    Down goes the tiny saviour at a bit’,
    To be digested, and at length beshit;
    From altar to close stool or jakes preferred,
    First wafer, next a God, and then a turd.

    On the other hand, Father Touffain Bridoul, in his The School of the Eucharist (1672), argues that the reality of Transubstantiation is demonstrated by the miraculous reverence shown to the Eucharist by animals throughout Christian history.

    All this and much more is discussed in Douglas Burnham’s The Poetics of Transubstantiation: From Theology to Metaphor.

  23. Bill,
    That’s wonderful stuff. Cheers greatly.

  24. Kevin,
    Interestingly enough, a podcast I listened to about a year ago (probably the NPR Religion one, but maybe a food one) talked about the gluten issue. Apparently, a convent took it upon themselves to create a wafer that had very, very little wheat in it, so that people with gluten allergies could take it. I don’t remember all of the details, but it was a several-year process, involving experimentation, then checking with, IIRC, the Archdiocese (I don’t think they had to go all the way to Rome). At least one of their successes was rejected, but, again IIRC, they eventually produced a wafer that almost anyone with gluten allergies can eat.

    I might note that, along with Jeffrey Steingarten, I don’t believe most people who claim to have food allergies. I usually choose not to believe in food allergies at all, but I know there is that random person who really is allergic to something.

  25. Kevin,

    that’s close :)

    1)the priest drinks up the wine at the end. But he doesn’t eat all the hosts. there are always leftovers, and they have a special tabernacle over the alter where they are perpetually saved for the next mass.

    2)there is a drain that leads right to the ground, not the waste water system. but that is for washing the cup. again, anything enough to “drink” is consumed by the priest in full view after the whole congregation has partaken.

    3) you’re right about the inflexibiltiy re; food allergies. wheat-allergic and celiacs are in luck though, because taking wine alone is still a 100% complete experience, theologically speaking.

    you know, in my former life as an ultra-religious Catholic, I could stand on the alter during consecration and then hand out the bread or wine to the people alongside a priest, ritually saying “the body of christ” to each one as they bow and say amen…

  26. Growing up we used to buy Italian style nougat from the nuns at the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy. They would slap an uncut sheet of the host on the sticky sides before handing it to you, keep you hands nice and clean.

    Who knows what else it can be used for.

  27. re: #19 – How do you spell the sound you make while nearly choking with laughter?

  28. RE: Throwing bread out for the birds (#15 & #18)–

    In the majority-Catholic parts of Eastern Europe (like Poland), it is socially unacceptable to throw any bread away. They always leave it out for the birds to eat. In many places people still commonly buy fresh bread from neighborhood bakeries, so it does not have a very long shelf life. Putting bread out can be a very frequent act.

    My understanding is that this is out of reverence for the communion bread and the body of Christ that it represents.

  29. I was going to relate a funny story about First Communion from a book that I had read, then decided that I didn’t want to offend any Catholics, but I’m pretty sure we’re way past that now.

    Anyway, we do have in our ward a nice older guy that when he takes the sacrament, will take a piece of bread already broken by the priests, tear off the tiniest flake imaginable, and then throw back the bigger piece into the tray. Not sure what the motivation is on that.

  30. Because I’m never “behind the scenes” as far as sacrament is concerned, I had never before last week seen them dispose of the rest of the bread. I as shocked when they threw it in the garbage. It seemed kind of bizarro world! First holy symbolism, next – trash!

  31. Tanya Spackman says:

    I like the idea of throwing the bread out for the birds rather than just tossing. It seems nice.

  32. On my mish I’d tell people that we used water instead of wine because everyone was getting spots on their white shirts. I am the only one that constantly struggles with trying to not drip the sacrament water on myself?

  33. Correction “I am” -> “Am I”

  34. Transubstantiation.

    I wonder sometimes if the wine (FHL squirms inwardly) literally becoming the blood of Christ and being partaken is how the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ staunch position on blood got started.

    I’m afraid this is one concept I’ve never been able to quite wrap my mind around. As symbolism, totally makes sense. As a literal change of substance … just… can’t… do it. Maybe the Catholics can do it because they don’t really think about it. =)

  35. What is the point of this post exactly?

  36. I like the idea of sharing with the birds. In our ward, it is practically doctrine that the teachers eat the leftover bread. My 13 year old son seems very respectful of this “rule” and is eagerly awaiting his 14th birthday.

  37. #35 – See “Apologies of the Apologists”; comment #27.

  38. That’s funny that you mention the thin wafer. Growing up as a Catholic, it did seem strange to for that to be the bread in sacrament.

    The first time I attended sacrament in and LDS ward, it seems more natural, humble and correct that they just used regular bread instead!

  39. >” there is a special drain for the wine so it doesn’t go into the sewer system. But I just heard it, I don’t have a source and can’t confirm it.”

    Its called a sacrarium. All Catholic churches have these. The sacrarium drains into the ground directly. The sacrarium is used for disposing of the water (no soap) which is used to clean the sacred vessels and the altar linens. The sacrarium usually has a locking lid to prevent misuse.

    BTW, the wine is never poured into the sacrarium, but is always consumed. Only the ablution (rinse water) may be poured into the sacrarium.

    “Also, if you have gluten allergies you’re out of luck. ”

    Nope. As the consecrated wine is also fully the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, communion by the cup is just as complete a communion.

    Secondly, while many people attempt to get around the wheat allergy by substitution, several people have asked Jesus directly for the ability to receive Him in the host. Jesus has answered all of these requests that I am aware of. The most famous case being that of Jewish convert Rosalind Moss who is a celiac. She can consume a consecrated host only.

    Forfeiting their Birthright
    Rosalind Moss

    God bless…

  40. This all reminds me of the Graham Greene story “The Hint of an Explanation,” in which a man remembers how he was, as a boy, tempted to steal a consecrated host for an athiest in his village. Great story.

  41. #29: Maybe a low-carb diet?

  42. It is worth mentioning that a dispute over whether both bread and wine needed to be received for Communion to be valid occasioned a century long (and occasionally violent) dispute in central Europe in the fifteenth century.

    The Utraquists believed that the reception of Communion in both its forms was necessary for salvation. The orthodox Catholics considered that a heresy both for the claim that reception of Communion was necessary to be saved, and for the claim that both forms were required.

  43. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    Back to the original question, *Why do Catholics use thin wafers for the communion bread?*

    I was listening to Catholic Radio on my way to and from my HC speaking assignment last week. The apologist explained that there is quite a bit of Passover symbolism behind the eucharist. During the Passover, the lamb is killed and eaten on the first day, however unleavened bread is eaten for the entire 7 days of the feast. His explanation was that they use unleavened bread as a part of the Passover symbolism.

  44. Norbert, I will look that one up. In the meantime, let me recommend the Balzac short story, “The Atheist’s Mass.”

  45. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE 43:

    My RC priest says basically the same thing. He highlighted the idea that unleavened bread suggests the symbolism of a pilgrim people journeying toward the promised land, an Exodus motif (unleavened bread takes longer to spoil, so it was ideal for travel).

    The Orthodox OTOH use leavened bread because, for them, during the time in which the liturgy occurs, they are IN the promised land/heavenly city. The leavened bread is a promise of things to come. (I think that this could be is tied into their view of “anamnesis.”)

  46. The sacrament itself isn’t kosher. It dispensed with the law of Moses after all. ;)

  47. non-mormon-observer says:

    #18 ~ what you describe (the priest consuming the bread post communion) is very Anglican, keeping it in a ‘tabernacle’ (holy box behind the altar) is the Roman Catholic way of doing it ~ in fact the Catholic have an entire liturgy for adoration of the Eucharist in which communion bread is exposed to the people during a service of prayer and worship…now that’s taking transubstantiation seriously!

    #34 FHL ~ the JW’s stance on blood tranfusions etc…comes from the Levitical reference to the life being in the blood and God saying not to eat blood

    Lev.17:11-12 “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
    Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood”

  48. #47 Sure, sure I knew that, but there aren’t any other faiths that I know of that interpret that scripture to mean “no blood transfusions.” I just wondered if the Catholic belief that they are essentially consuming the blood of Christ had any impact on the JW decision to go that way. Like, a conscious decision to be different than Catholicism.

    It just seems like a strange thing to believe. In many ways, it’s one of the defining characteristics that outsiders know about them.

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