Why Can’t You Consecrate a Pretzel?

Ok, so seriously…why is the host always a little circular tasteless wafer and not a pretzel, cookie, cinnamon bun, or even a scone???  You might think that the French would consecrate croissants.  Maybe Hispanics would consecrate a tortilla.  Maybe Americans would even try to consecrate a pancake…preferably chocolate chip. We could even make it have a smiley face!  Ok, so maybe not…but anyways, the answer is fairly easy, but most Catholics don’t quite realize it.

First of all, for a sacrament to actually be a sacrament (i.e., a sense perceptible sign that signifies and actually brings about grace in the soul) there have to be three things present: (1) an outward sign, (2) inward grace, and (3) divine institution.[1]  Consecrating a pretzel doesn’t have much to do with (2) or (3), so we will focus on (1) the outward sign.

The outward sign of the sacrament can also be described as the external rite that has two required components itself…(I) form and (II) matter.  The “form” of the sacrament refers to the words said by the bishop, priest, or deacon.  The words are considered to be the more important element of the two.[2] However, the matter is also important.  Talking about pretzels means that we are talking about matter and not form.  In other words, we are talking about the actual physical thing that is being used in the sacrament.  In this case, we are talking about bread.[3]

So where should we look first to figure out this question about “matter”?  Of course, we first look into the Scriptures, and we see bread all over the place.  In Genesis, a king-priest named Melchizedek offered…you guessed it…bread (and wine) to God. [4] (Maybe you remember hearing about this guy in Eucharistic Prayer I.) The church sees his offering as a foreshadowing of the Eucharistic banquet.[5]  In the later books, guess what the Israelites offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth in thanksgiving to God?  Bread (and wine) again.  (Don’t ask how bread can be a “fruit” – I have no idea!)  In the Book of Exodus, the unleavened bread of Passover is eaten to remember the Jewish liberation from Egypt.[6]  In the New Testament, does Jesus feed the crowd with muffins or cookies?  No, he multiplies the loaves…of bread, which is yet another foreshadowing the bread of the Eucharist.[7]

Then, and maybe most importantly, during the Last Super, we know for certain that Jesus used bread.  We have all read it and heard it – he “took bread.” In being faithful to his command, the early Church Fathers used bread and the Church continues to use bread.  Scripture does not say Jesus took a breadstick or a pretzel.  Similarly, Jesus didn’t take “dough.”  If bread was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us!  To make a long story short, Scripture and Tradition make it very clear that bread is absolutely necessary as the “matter” of the sacrament.  To top it off, the Magisterium of the Church has basically said, no bread, no sacrament!

Even though the Gospels do not specify the type of bread that Jesus used, we know from historians that, according to Jewish law, the Jews were not allowed to eat leavened bread on Passover.  So, we can make a pretty good guess that Jesus used unleavened bread (i.e., bread formed without yeast).  For this reason, at least in the Latin Rite, unleavened bread is required.  OK, I know what you are thinking – pretzels and pancakes aren’t formed with yeast either, so I still don’t understand what’s the big deal?

Thanks for asking!  The church has other requirements as well that are derived directly from history and sacred Tradition. For a valid consecration, the hosts must be: bread made of wheaten flour, mixed with water, baked in an oven, or between two heated iron molds, and not be corrupted.[8]  Why so strict?  Well, it still goes back to Scripture and Tradition.

But enough about history.  Lets talk about the bread itself since it’s only the matter that matters (for this discussion).  Since the first requirement is wheaten bread, the bread must be baked, otherwise it isn’t bread.  As I mentioned above, Jesus didn’t use dough.  Since the flour must be wheaten, not every type of flour will work.  Bisquick will not suffice. Although water is required, it has to be regular water…soda, Gatorade, chamomile tea, or Starbucks wont work.  Can you imagine trying to make a host with Coca Cola? (Actually people have tried to make hosts (and sometimes still do) with honey and syrup.  Others have actually used Oreo cookies and Coca Cola…no seriously they tried it!  No, SERIOUSLY…they did it! Suffice to say, you can’t have an Oreo Jesus and his blood isn’t Coke, so all of those attempts were invalid!)

Oh yeah, and the bread can’t be corrupted.  None of us wants moldy bread…and neither would Jesus.  In essence, these requirements exist so that we can use the same type of bread that Jesus used.  No pretzels, scones or pancakes for Jesus means none for us either!

So the next time you see the priest raise the bread up and say the words of consecration, try not to think about pretzels or cookies, even if you are hungry.  Try to think about the form and matter and remember the bread of Melchizedek, the bread of Passover, and the multiplying of the loaves.  Oh, and most importantly, try to remember that Jesus is still multiplying the bread, except its no longer bread that we are being fed with – Its Jesus himself!

God Bless!

[1] Catechismus concil. Trident., n. 4, ex St. Augustine, “De Catechizandis rudibus”

[3] In Baptism it’s the water, in confirmation it’s the oil, etc.

[4] 1333 Catechism of the Catholic Church; Gen. 14:18

[5] Id. at 1333

[6] 1334 Catechism of the Catholic Church; Deut. 8:3

[7] 1335 Catechism of the Catholic Church; Mat. 14: 13-21; 15: 32-39

[8] (Miss. Rom., De Defectibus, III, 1)


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