Some Problems with Whole Wheat Hosts

The “spotless” victim?!

It didn’t take long after I was ordained for me to start disliking whole wheat hosts.

For one, I noticed that when I fractured them, they tended to produce more crumbs or particles than regular white hosts. After communion, it sometimes took two or three rinses to completely remove the particles from the sacred vessel. These particles were less water-soluble than their pure-white-host counterparts, also. Of course, they’ll still dissolve — but it seems to take longer.

Then there was the experience of consuming them. Whereas we had been taught to let the host dissolve on our tongue when we received our first holy communion, these didn’t really work that way, either. You pretty much had to do some chewing before they could go down.

But then there was another insight that came to me at some point. This insight especially emerged after the new translation of the Mass went into effect, a few years after I was ordained. During the Roman Canon — the First Eucharistic Prayer — there is that beautiful and poetic passage (in the new/current translation):

…we, your servants and your holy people,
offer to your glorious majesty
from the gifts that you have given us,
this pure victim,
this holy victim,
this spotless victim,
the holy Bread of eternal life
and the Chalice of everlasting salvation…

The “pure” and “spotless” victim. But what is this bespeckled host before me?!

The prior translation completely obscured the crucial words. The corresponding passage in the translation used from 1969 to 2011 said:

…and from the many gifts you have given us
we offer to you, God of glory and majesty,
this holy and perfect sacrifice:
the bread of life and
the cup of eternal salvation…

The words we pray do make a difference. In this case, when we finally had an accurate translation, it led me to think about the host I was praying over in a different way!

Traditionally, hosts have been made of pure white, fine flour. Thus they dissolve readily on the tongue. Thus they break cleanly, without big chunks and particles ordinarily being left behind. Thus they more clearly represent a “pure” and “spotless” victim being offered to the Father!

The whole wheat host fad strikes me as one of those innovations introduced by the liturgical suppliers. Nuns used to make almost all the hosts that were used. With the steep decline in female religious numbers, there were fewer convents available to supply the need. Companies like Cavanagh also came around, offering a quality-controlled, economically-priced product. Market forces took over. Then marketing forces also came to bear – hence the introduction of various novelties that really didn’t make sense with respect to our tradition: such as larger hosts (“pizza hosts”, I call them), more substantial hosts that can really only be consumed via chewing, whole wheat hosts, etc…

I hate to think that any parish would have switched to whole wheat for health reasons, but there was the whole grains fad also… who knows. Looks like more marketing to me.

But once that host is consecrated, it’s the pure, holy, and spotless victim. It should look like what it is. As we approach it, it’s the time to count our blessings, not count calories or grams of fiber! 

A simple thing that every pastor could do to enhance a more coherent sort of reverence in his parish’s worship is to use up his supply of whole wheat hosts and then make the switch to pure white.

If he wants a lovely type of host for use on his own paten and for his own communion, he might consider something like the St. Michael’s Altar Bread celebrant’s hosts. The white ones are pure white, thin, dissolve easily, break cleanly, etc.

Of course, he should use the Roman Canon, at least on Sundays, also! How beautiful it is in the more recent and more accurate translation!

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