Proper Matter for Bread and Wine Used in Consecration

Issue: What constitutes proper matter for the bread and wine used in the Consecration at Mass? If variations in matter occur, do the variations invalidate the Eucharist or simply make it illicit?

Response: In both the Oriental and Latin Churches, the matter for the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is bread and wine. “The bread must be made of wheat alone and
recently made so that there is no danger of corruption. The wine must be natural wine of the grape and not corrupt.”[1]

The amount of variation in the matter determines whether the Eucharist is invalid or illicit.

Discussion: In numbers 319-324, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) provides guidelines regarding valid Eucharistic matter for the Latin Church. The information in this Faith Fact substantially reflects the discipline observed in the Oriental Churches in communion with Rome. However, due to certain nuances in their particular law, the laws of these Oriental Churches should be consulted.

Valid Matter

The Church has followed the example of Christ by making use of bread and wine with water to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The bread must be unleavened and
made from wheat.

It follows that bread made of any substance, or to which has been added so great a quantity of any other substance than wheat that according to common estimation it cannot be said to be wheat bread, cannot be valid matter for the performance of the Sacrifice and the Consecration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.[2]

The meaning of the sign demands that the material for the Eucharistic celebration truly have the appearance of food. It is therefore expedient that the eucharistic bread, even though unleavened and baked in the traditional shape, be made in such a way that the priest at Mass with a congregation is able in practice to break it into parts for distribution to at least some of the faithful. Small hosts are, however, in no way ruled out when the number of those receiving Holy Communion or other pastoral needs require it. The action of the fraction or breaking of bread, which gave its name to the Eucharist in apostolic times, will bring out more clearly the force and importance of the sign of unity of all in the one bread, and of the sign of charity by the fact that the one bread is distributed among the brothers and sisters.[3]

The wine must be made from grapes, “the fruit of the grapevine (cf. Lk. 22:18), natural and unadulterated, that is, without admixture of extraneous substances” (GIRM, no. 322). In addition,

That wine, or rather liquor, cannot be regarded as valid matter, which is extracted from apples or other fruits, or which is made chemically, although it have the color of wine, and may be said in a way to contain its elements; nor wine to which water has been added in a greater or equal quantity.[4]

In short, the matter used for the sacrament must have the true substance of unleavened, wheat bread and pure, natural wine. Either substantial alterations in the recipes or corruption of the matter invalidates its use.

So as not to subject the Blessed Sacrament to danger of corruption, the Church places strong emphasis on the use of fresh matter. As explained by St. Thomas Aquinas, when the sacred species lose those qualities generally associated with bread and wine, the True Presence no longer abides in the corrupted matter.[5]

Low-Gluten Bread and Mustum

The Church recognizes that some priests, deacons, and faithful are unable to consume consecrated wheat hosts or consecrated wine at Mass due to gluten or alcohol intolerance. The person might suffer from Celiac Sprue disease, alcoholism, or other related diseases. In recent years, the use of low-gluten hosts and/or mustum has become an option for those suffering from gluten or alcohol intolerance.

Low-gluten hosts are hosts that have a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of the bread and are free from any other additions or substituted ingredients. They must be prepared in a manner that does not alter the nature of the bread’s substance. Mustum is grape juice that has a very low alcohol content (less than 1.0%). It is either fresh or preserved by methods that suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing). As with the low-gluten hosts, it must not contain any additives (see Vatican Protocol No. 98/78-17498 and the Nov. 2003 BCL Newsletter). Both low-gluten hosts and mustum possess valid matter. Through these alternatives, the Church seeks to aid the faithful in participating in the life of the Church.

Additionally, just as a layperson who suffers from alcoholism may receive under the species of bread only, one who suffers from Celiac Sprue disease or another form of gluten intolerance may receive under the species of wine only (See Vatican Protocol No. 98/78-17498 and the Nov. 2003 BCL Newsletter). Each species contains the Body, Blood, soul and divinity of our Lord. A person who receives under only one species can be confident of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist he receives.

The use of these alternatives is reserved to those who need them. The current norms regulating the use of low-gluten altar breads and mustum can be found in a letter from the Vatican to Bishops’ Conferences. These norms were issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and are designed to make the alternatives more easily available to the faithful. A person who is gluten or alcohol intolerant should be able to make arrangements with his pastor to have low-gluten hosts or mustum present.

Questionable Matter

For since this Sacrament is made up not only of form, but also of matter, it is necessary that this latter be most carefully preserved in its substance. . . . Matter is to be regarded as dubious, and hence is not to be used, if a notable quantity of any other substance has been added to the wheat or to the wine, even though that other substance be not present in greater or equal quantity; for it is criminal to expose so great a Sacrament to the danger of nullity.[6]

In June 1979, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded to the issue of valid matter in a letter to then Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, then president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB):

It may be helpful to note that recipes sent to the Sacred Congregation over the past several years vary greatly in the matter of “additions”; where there is question of slight additions (e.g., salt, condiments) the matter will be valid but illicit; where there is substitution of all or a large quantity of water by other liquids (e.g., milk, honey, etc.) the matter will be invalid.[7]

Further inquiries in this matter can be directed to CUF, your diocesan liturgy office, or, if necessary, the Secretariat for the Liturgy, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 3211 4th St., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20017-1194.


Recommended Reading:

Holy Bible (Catholic Edition)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Documents of Vatican II

Mysterium Fidei; Pope Paul VI

The Hidden Manna; Rev. James T. O’Connor

Précis of Official Catholic Teaching on Worship and Sacraments

Available Faith Facts:

• Reception of Holy Communion • “This Is My Body”: Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist • Holy Communion Under Both Species • Signs of the Christ: Sacraments of the Catholic Church

Call 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484).

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[1] “Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition,” CLSA, Washington, DC, 1983, canon 924§2-3. See also “Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches,” CLSA, Washington, DC, 1992, canon 706.

[2] Congregation for the Sacraments, instruction (Dominus Salvator Noster), March 26, 1929; English translation in Canon Law Digest, vol. 1, 355; from Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS), 21 (1929), 631-639. The AAS is the Vatican periodical in which official Church documents are published.

[3] General Instruction to the Roman Missal (GIRM), no. 321.

[4] Op. Cit., Dominus Salvator Noster, 355.

[5] Aquinas, St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, Pt. III, Q. 77, Art. 4. See also, GIRM nos. 320, 323.

[6] Op. Cit., Dominus Salvator Noster, 355.

[7] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the NCCB President, June 4, 1979, in Canon Law Digest, vol. 9, 578-80.

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