The 1989 Statement on Communion Practices in the section “The Elements in Communion” stated, “Lutherans have been concerned to follow the biblical example established in the institution of the Lord’s Supper and thus to use the elements of bread and wine” (A Statement on Communion Practices
, 1989, II.C.1). Later in the section we read, “The one
loaf and the one
cup evoke the image of the unity of the many who participate in the broken loaf and the cup of blessing
.” The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America statement on sacramental practices The Use of the Means of Grace
(adopted August in 1997 at the Fifth Biennial Assembly of the ELCA), gives guidance on the use of bread and wine in principle 44, which states, “In accordance with the words of institution, this church uses bread and wine in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.” Application 44A, suggests, “A loaf of bread and a chalice are encouraged since they signify the unity which the sacrament bestows. The bread may be leavened or unleavened.”
It is from this point, a single loaf of bread, that the discussion about bread that is appropriate for Holy Communion might begin. We use bread and wine as the food for Holy Communion because these are the elements that Jesus used when he gathered with the disciples at the last supper. The bread should remind us of our unity in Christ, that we all share from the one source, which is Christ, our Savior.
The Use of the Means of Grace gives us more information about bread in background 44B, which discusses the question about the use of leavened versus unleavened bread. Background 44B says, “The use of leavened bread is the most ancient attested practice of the Church and gives witness to the connection between the Eucharist and ordinary life. Unleavened bread underscores the Passover themes which are present in the biblical accounts of the Last Supper.”
We do not know what kind of bread used at the last supper. There are two schools of thought. One says that because Jesus and the disciples probably gathered for a Passover Seder meal, the traditional unleavened bread was used. The other suggests that this was a meal before Passover for which typical food, staple bread and wine, were used. The Gospels of Matthew (chapter 26), Mark (chapter 14), and Luke (chapter 22) refer to the last meal that Jesus ate with the disciples as a Passover meal. The Gospel of John (chapter 19) says this meal took place before Passover.
In the early centuries of the Christian church, leavened bread was used. This practice is verified through paintings, mosaics, texts, and sculptures from that time period. In the Middle Ages in the West, Christians began to use unleavened precut wafers. At first monks made these wafers, and then the responsibility was given to nuns. The liturgical movement of the twentieth century generally expressed a preference for the use of a whole loaf of bread.
What rationale should then be used when selecting the kind of bread used for Holy Communion? Bread is a staple food for daily life in Western societies. For this reason, a whole loaf of bread can be used to suggest that the food is for all those gathered for this sacramental meal who are hungry. As well, a whole loaf suggests our unity (1Cor. 10:17).
First, the size of the loaf of bread visually communicates that there is enough to feed the assembly gathered for the meal. The bread should be carefully made of the finest ingredients. A communion hymn often sung in some congregations states, “You satisfy the hungry heart with gifts of finest wheat” (With One Voice 711). Wheat bread is traditional.
Where once the preparation of the bread to be used for communion was the responsibility of monks and nuns, one way that lay members of the community may participate today in the preparation for the meal is by baking the bread to be served for communion.
If individual wafers (hosts) are used, consider choosing wafers that have the texture of grain and using a large wafer that can be visibly broken by the presiding minister. This gesture expresses the symbolic value of one loaf. Whether one uses a whole loaf, leavened or unleavened bread, individual wafers, or pita bread, we remember the words from the communion hymn “Father, we thank you:” “As grain, once scattered on the hillsides, was in this broken bread made one, so from all lands your Church be gathered into your kingdom by your Son” (With One Voice
704; based on the text of the Didache
- The communion bread recipe used at the 2001 Churchwide Assembly in Indianapolis is available on the Web site of Grace and Glory Lutheran Church, in Prospect, Kentucky.
- Dornhiem, John. And He Took a Loaf of Bread. Fulton, MD: Campanile Press, 1998. This book contains a large collection of sacramental bread recipes.
- "Eucharistic Bread," Chicago: Division for Congregational Ministries, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1993. This two-page listing of a variety of bread recipes is available by calling ELCA Resource Information Service, 800/638-3522.
- Miller, Katherine S. The Welcome Table. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1994. Holy Communion instruction for children. A leader guide and a child’s book are available for use in teaching children about bread used in communion.
- Senn, Frank C. "Sacred Meals and Gracious Dining" Liturgy 2, no. 1.
- Stauffer, S. Anita. Altar Guild Handbook. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2000.
- Stauffer, S. Anita, and Ralph Van Loon. Worship Word Book. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995.
- These Things Matter: Word, Baptism, Communion.Division for Congregational Ministries, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 1999. Video on sacramental practices.
- The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament, Chicago: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1997. This is the statement that was adopted for guidance and practice by the Fifth Biennial Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (August 1997).
- White, James F. Sacraments as God’s Self-Giving. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1983.