WHEN IS BREAD NOT BREAD?
Before the eucharistic prayer, to the question: ‘What is that?’ the believer answers, ‘It is bread.’ After the eucharistic prayer, to the same question he answers, ‘It is truly the Body of Christ, the Bread of Life.’ (ARCIC 1) So why do so many Common Worship texts describe the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body as ‘bread’?
The problem arises from a difficulty in translating Greek: ARTOS (singular) but ARTOI (plural) often translated ‘bread’. But the dominant sense is ‘loaf’ (similarly, the Latin panis). In other words, it does not refer to the substance of what lies on the altar. Saying ‘bread’, however, suggests ‘this is still only bread and it hasn’t really changed into Christ’s Body’. Which may be why CW describes communion in some places as ‘Giving of the bread and wine’.
Exodus 16.4 tells us that the Lord will ‘rain down bread from heaven’ upon the Israelites in the wilderness. The Hebrew text has the singular lehem (which can mean foods as diverse as honey, goat, and sacrificial meat). The Greeks translated this as artoi, because artos would have suggested that the manna was just one single loaf. And artoi is the word used in all four gospels in the feedings of four and five thousand for the loaves which Jesus multiplied.
To put it differently: when you go to the supermarket, you do not say to your husband, ‘Nip across to the bakery section and get four breads and be sharp about it,’ do you? So when Common Worship refers to the Blessed Sacrament as ‘bread’, this points to a sense quite different from what the ancient liturgies meant by artos (happily, the word ‘cup’, traditionally used, saves us from texts such as ‘bread and wine’).
What to do? ‘Loaf’ would be accurate but has a curiously non-sacral feel to it. ‘Food’ could be defended. Perhaps the simplest thing is to avoid using the word bread on its own. ‘Bread of Life’ does shift the emphasis. The new post-Vatican II Roman prayers prefer to talk about our offering as ‘this holy and living sacrifice’ or simply ‘his body and blood’. ‘Your own, of your own’, say the Orthodox.
Fr John Hunwicke celebrates the Mass in Devon.
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