Why Bread and Wine?

The fact that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus doesn’t mean that the elements bread and wine can’t also be symbolic. And indeed, they’re incredibly so. Consider just a few of the

1) Bread and wine both vaguely look like flesh and blood, respectively. This is a fact to which Jesus seems to allude at the Last Supper. Although both elements contain the fullness of Christ’s Real Presence, He calls the bread Body and the wine Blood. The reason here is transparent enough. The bread becomes Body and Blood and symbolizes Body, the converse for the wine.

2) As Justin Martyr noted in the 150s A.D., a bit of water is mixed into the wine at Mass. This is for two reasons. One, it reminds us of the blood and water which flowed from the side of Christ (John 19:34), a separation which clearly signalled that Christ had died. The Congregation of the Passion draws a number of Biblical connections here. Two, the waters -both in Mass and in John 19:34 – signify Baptism. The Baptized are united to the Passion of Christ. Romans 6:3, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” So the waters of Baptism are our entrance into Christ’s bloody Atoning Death. The mixing of water and wine signify us becoming truly one with Christ. It’s a small bit of water compared to the amount of wine, because the Eucharist celebrates His Death, rather than our Baptism. Our Baptism is significant because it joins us to His Death. If the amounts were reversed, the emphasis would be on us, not Him.

3) Both bread and wine are unique in that many things become one. Consider a bowl of pasta. You might consider it one thing, but you can draw out individual stands: one can be separated from the rest. In contrast, a single drop of wine probably contains juices from numerous grapes, just as a single chunk of bread contains various grains. The grains and grapes become literally inseparable when they become bread and wine. It’s irreversible. The Didache, a Church text from about A.D. 63, has as part of the blessing over the bread in Chapter 9, “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom.” 1 Corinthians 10:17, “Because there is one Loaf, we, who are many, are one Body, for we all partake of the one Loaf.”

4) Both bread and wine become one through dying. The grain is crushed, the grapes are stamped. Romans 6:4, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” We must die to ourselves to receive Eternal Life. Likewise, Christ Himself must die so that we may receive Eternal Life. Isaiah 53:5, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

All of this is why the sacred elements are bread and wine (mixed with a bit of water). Which is why it’s so depressing to read this headlines from the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa: “A simple fish and honey supper adds meaning to Maundy Thursday at Perry,” as if the Last Supper needed meaning “added” to it by some cocksure Iowans. Worse, the article explains that “Bread and fish represent the gospel loaves and fishes as symbols of the Eucharist.” Fish as a symbol of the Eucharist? Did nobody give Christ the memo on this one? Since one of the signifiers of the actual Eucharistic elements is that it’s many things dying to itself, and becoming united into an inseparable thing (like grapes becoming wine and wheat becoming bread), I propose that the Iowan Episcopalians use the Bass-O-Matic ’76 to turn the fish into a delicious fish shake. Talk about turning heretical lemons into lemonade!


  1. At least one can see where they’re coming from with the fish, wrong as it may be. There are unfortunate Catholic parishes that have replaced the host with an actual, chocolate-chip cookie to appeal to the children, or the wine being replaced with grape kool-aid (presumably for the same reason), and the list of offenses goes on.

    We have reached a rather lamentable state when so many Catholics do not understand or reject the significance, holiness and permanence of the Eucharist. 1 Corinthians 11:23-30 weighs heavily on my heart for them. Any suggestions on how to approach and correct such individuals?

    Let us pray that the hearts of our brothers and sisters will be opened to the truth, and ask the Lord to send us good catechists and leaders.

  2. Kerath,

    I hope for their sake that this is just a myth. I’ve never found anything very solid one way or the other. http://www.jimmyakin.org/2005/09/eucharistic_bre.html – Jimmy Akin had a forum talking about valid matter for the Eucharist, and that came up, but it was a “friend of a friend” type of thing.

    As for what to do about it, I would suggest something like “Let us pray that the hearts of our brothers and sisters will be opened to the truth, and ask the Lord to send us good catechists and leaders,” but you’ve already got that base covered.

    I suppose I’d just add to present the truth with reverence and love to those who are in error. My experience has been that you really can’t guess who’s going to be receptive, so just be bold without being brash. I think you’ll find a lot of people who lack the due reverence for the Eucharist do so innocently: in most cases, they’re trying to help. Just treat them like you would anyone else who’s well-meaning but making things worse.

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