Msgr. Charles Pope is currently a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where he has served on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, and the Priest Personnel Board. Along with publishing a daily blog at the Archdiocese of Washington website, he has written in pastoral journals, conducted numerous retreats for priests and lay faithful, and has also conducted weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House. He was named a Monsignor in 2005.
Most who regularly read the National Catholic Register have already heard about the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region scheduled for October.
A number of controversial subjects have been proposed for the agenda, including the ordination of married men. This has been widely commented upon by others more articulate than I, but for the record, I oppose any change to the Church’s current norms and practices regarding celibacy and insist that the problems encountered in Brazil can be dealt with in less radical ways (e.g., by ordaining more deacons).
Another proposal is to permit the replacement of the bread used in the consecration of the Eucharist with yuca. This must be opposed vehemently; it should be peremptorily struck from the agenda.
Yuca (not to be confused with yucca) is a South American starch tuber; it can also be found in Asia and Africa. Most of us northerners have little experience with it, but it is actually the main ingredient in tapioca pudding. Like other tubers, yuca can be used to make gluten-free “bread.” But it is not bread — it is merely bread-like. By definition, bread is made with grain. The Church has long been quite specific that the bread for the Holy Eucharist must be made with pure wheat flour. Nothing is to be admixed—no honey, no nuts, no other grains. This purity is necessary for validity.
Consider the following crystal-clear instruction from the Church document Redemptionis Sacramentum:
The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools. (No. 48)
Clear enough? Apparently not for some, who now wish to toy with or even discard this ancient, precise definition of what constitutes valid matter for the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. This is essential to get right. Proper matter and form, along with a validly ordained priest, are essential for the Eucharist to be validly confected. Proper matter for the Eucharist is not hard to get right — and it is essential to get it right.
Really, the discussion should end here — but, sadly, exotic and highly dubious ideas such as this one have become daily fare in this era of weaponized ambiguity.
Recently, Crux interviewed Jesuit Father Francisco Taborda, a professor of theology at the Jesuit university in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, who defends the idea of using yuca. His reflections illustrate well the tendency today to toy with even the most essential teachings, doctrines, and disciplines that make us who we are. In support of discarding the clear, ancient definition of valid matter for the Holy Eucharist, Fr. Taborda says:
The reason for proposing the change is because the bread normally used in Latin Rite Masses turns into a pasty mush during the Amazonian rainy season due to the intense humidity, meaning ‘it’s not bread, and if it’s not bread, it’s not the Eucharist.’
Of course, there are simple solutions to the problem of mushy bread. How about plastic food storage containers or plastic wrap? There are easy ways to keep food protected from moisture and other things that cause spoilage. Vacuum packaging could also be used. Does Fr. Taborda really suggest that we should take this radical and dubious step of redefining the matter of the Blessed Sacrament simply because of humidity? Come on!
Here was the money quote from Fr. Taborda:
If it’s not bread, it’s not the Eucharist.
Exactly, Fr. Taborda. That is why using yuca is such a huge problem. Yuca is not bread. It is not valid matter in any sense that the Church uses the term “bread” or defines valid matter. If wheat bread that is mushy somehow becomes “not bread” (actually it still is), then how does something that is not wheat bread to begin become “bread?” Yuca is not bread and therefore it is not the Eucharist. Better a soggy but real host that can become Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, than a crisp but invalid host that remains only a wafer.
The article says of Fr. Taborda:
And while changing material used in the Eucharist is ‘a very complex question,’ he believes it should be decided by the local bishops and will likely be mentioned during the October discussion.
No, it most certainly should not be decided by local bishops. This proposal goes to the heart of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Church, the very Sacrament meant to be the source of our unity. If anything should not be a local variation, this is it. May the Lord Jesus, the Most Blessed Sacrament Himself, save us from such awful thinking.
A simple request from me, just a lowly priest: Please, Holy Father and good bishops of Brazil and the Amazon synod, do not even allow this proposal to be considered. Radically toying with the very matter of the Most Blessed Sacrament should not be a discussion at any local synod or, I would argue, even at an ecumenical synod. If it does show up as a topic of discussion at any official synod, it should be refuted by the Pope and every Synod Father. Getting the matter of the Holy Eucharist right is not hard. Please don’t take what is straightforward and convolute it.
“Sweet Sacrament we Thee adore. O help us love Thee more and more.”