3 October 2016


Is the Eucharistic Host bread? Or is It the Body of Christ? Can we call It 'Bread' after the Consecration? I remember long explanations given by myself to parishioners in Devon about how we should not talk about "taking the bread and wine". But there is a philological difficulty.

People are not always aware that the Latin (also the Greek) word means LOAF and only sometimes the substantia of BREAD.

There are two problems about translating PANIS simply as BREAD:
(1) One loses the meaning of phrases like UNUS PANIS, pointing as they do to a parallelism between the oneness of Christ's Eucharistic and Mystical Bodies. You will remember the very early Patristic topos of the symbolism expressed by the making of the one loaf from the innumerable grains of wheat.
(2) Referring to the consecrated element as "bread" suggests, misleadingly, that it is bread rather than Christ's Body (in Aristotelian-Thomistic terms, that the ousia or substantia of bread remains).

I don't think one can incorporate "loaf" into English renderings of liturgical texts, but I think it is a good idea for the thoughtful to be aware of this problem.


Pater Ignotus said...

In the Novus Ordo I avoid using the second Memorial Acclamation after the consecration - in a time when Eucharistic faith is so low in some places, it seems to be counterproductive to say "When we eat this BREAD..." right after it has ceased being mere bread.

Liam Ronan said...

I am no scholar; therefore, I wonder what is the literal translation of the Aramaic word 'bread' as used by Our Lord when He taught His disciples to pray the Our Father. I simply wonder if it was a nuanced term with various levels of meaning.

ccc said...


I agree with your explanation, but it should be noted that the Catechism of the Council of Trent also put forth a reason it was referred to as bread after the consecration:

Why The Eucharist Is Called Bread After Consecration

"Here pastors should observe that we should not at all be surprised, if, even after consecration, the Eucharist is sometimes called bread. It is so called, first because it retains the appearance of bread, and secondly because it keeps the natural quality of bread, which is to support and nourish the body.

Moreover, such phraseology is in perfect accordance with the usage of the Holy Scriptures, which call things by what they appear to be, as may be seen from the words of Genesis which say that Abraham saw three men, when in reality he saw three Angels. In like manner the two Angels who appeared to the Apostles after the Ascension of Christ the Lord into heaven, are called not Angels, but men."

Unknown said...

The Holy Eucharist would appear to be a special case, or at least, more special than others where it concerns difficult language and articles of our faith.

Another nuance that perplexes me personally, perhaps more unique to English language idiom, is how some say "take" Holy Communion , while most of the official texts I remember reviewing say "receive" Holy Communion. . . as you posted Padre :

Is the Eucharistic Host bread? Or is It the Body of Christ? Can we call It 'Bread' after the Consecration? I remember long explanations given by myself to parishioners in Devon about how we should not talk about "taking the bread and wine". But there is a philological difficulty.

Is the sentiment of openness to God not better expressed in "receiving" Him, rather than "taking" Him ?

Furthermore, it appears acceptable to imply "It" when we refer to the sacred Host, while it is in fact Him" Whom we receive in this same Holy Communion.

All of it - perhaps a good reminder of how God - in His infinite humility in this Sacrament, surpasses even the way our language can ever hope to portray Him . . .particularly concerning the miracle so profound that the very language we use to describe it almost appears flawed; words which spill over the edges a bit, so to speak (or attempt to speak :) .

Might we attribute some of the aforementioned to the fact that philosophy only allows us to admit that transubstantiation is possible, without actually being able to describe precisely how God does it ?

mark wauck said...

There are further difficulties with the terminology that came into vogue in the Middle Ages. while the ancient Greeks may have thought of "bread" as being "substance" in essentially the same sense as "Jesus" is a substance, modern Thomists know better. They know that a loaf of bread, or a slice, or a crumb, is not a "substance" in the true philosophical sense of the word, but is instead better viewed as an accidental, temporary, combination of material elements. A substance in the truest philosophical sense is a coherent being--which Jesus certainly is.

So perhaps it wasn't the wisest course, after one thousand one hundred years of Christian faith, for the Roman Church to dive into rather deep philosophical waters. Better perhaps to have stayed with the traditional language handed from Jesus and the Apostles, as the Eastern Churches have tended to do. It's useful in this light to consider the ICEL translation of the Creed, which used to use the phrase "one in being with the Father." That phrase is, IMO, preferable in its vagueness--harking back as it does to the Greek ουσια--to the technical sounding but misleading (as applied to the infinite Creator God) "consubstantial," which B16 restored. My view is that "substance' properly refers to composite beings and is best avoided when referring to God.

Titus said...

Of course, the Catechism of the Council of Trent was not composed in English, so it does not shed a terrible lot of light on Father's post about the layers of meaning one loses by translating certain Latin words.

Matthew Advent said...

Christ refers to himself repeatedly as "the bread of life," so I see no difficulty in referring to his body as bread. However, it may be a poor idea when faith in the real presence is so rare and misunderstood these days....

Josh Hood said...

Liam, the usual Aramaic word for "bread" is laḥma, which, like the Greek, can mean both "bread" and "loaf"; it is this word that the Syriac Peshitta uses to translate ἄρτος. Like its Hebrew cognate leḥem, it is also very frequently used to mean "food, victuals."

Unknown said...

... and Hlafweard, loaf-ward, Lord; just shows how Eucharistic God meant our English tongue to be.

Liam Ronan said...

When the priest presents the consecrated species he says:

"Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccáta mundi." The Lamb of God.

When the communicant recieves Holy Communion he says:

"Dómine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanábitur ánima mea." Lord.

Just some reflections on your questions, Father.

Liam Ronan said...

Just to add a further thought, Father. The question is how did Jesus Himself refer to the bread once He had consecrated it?

"Hoc est enim Corpus Meum."

Jacobi said...


The consecrated elements are the Body and Blood of Christ under the outward appearance of bread and wine.

Quite simple really, as Mr B.... explained along with a clip on the ear to those of us who were dozing off at Religious Knowledge classes.

Can still remember those clips – and the definitions!

Anonymous said...

In German, we have two words which we spell differently, but which cannot be distinguished in hearing because they sound identically: "Laib" and "Leib". "Laib" means "loaf", and "Leib" means "body". However, as the "loaf" is nothing but the "body" of the bread, actually both words are the same inspite of the different spelling. A nice similarity to the meaning of "panis" which we learned today thanks to Pater Hunwicke.

Oliver Nicholson said...

"preferable in its vagueness" - Mark Wauck says. This was surely the preference of the Homoeans, and what infuriated S. Athanasius and other Homoousians about them.
Consubstantial, co-eternal
While unending ages run.

mark wauck said...

@ Oliver Nicholson ""preferable in its vagueness" - Mark Wauck says. This was surely the preference of the Homoeans"

No, you're quite mistaken. My preference for "one in being" arises from the fact that "being" is in English a participle derived from our verb "to be," just as ουσια is a participle derived from the corresponding Greek verb, ειμι--unlike the Latin substans. I am, in fact, expressing a preference for translating "homoousion" directly into English, rather than through a Latin intermediate term. The Latin derived "substance," as reflected in its very etymology, refers properly to composite, material things--a sense which "one in being" largely avoids--which is why I regard variants on the Latin "substance" as unsatisfactory as applied to the Deity. When used in English "consubstantial" gives, IMO, a misleading sense of technical precision as applied to a mystery of the faith, when the philosophical and theological fact is that all language applied to the Deity can only be analogical.

These considerations are not new--the difficulties were understood at least as long ago as when Augustine wrote his De Trinitate. Aquinas in his turn also notes these problems. Be it noted, while the English use of "being" largely avoids these problems, similar difficulties do also arise in Greek and ultimately derive, as I said, from the inadequacy of human language to express matters relating to the infinite Creator God. It is supremely important for orthodox Christian faith to keep this in mind. Benedict's mandated return to "consubstantial," IMHO, reflects a type of archaism which is not an improvement. Just because the ICEL translators were often misguided doesn't meant they were always wrong.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I apologise to correspondents who keep drawing my attention to the phrase "panem sanctum ..." in the Canon after the Consecration, for not enabling their comments. My reason is that I am perfectly aware of that ... I say the Canon every day ... but my point in writing this post was to open out the question of what the word PANIS means. I am sorry if I failed to make this adequately clear. But now I have!!