EUCHARISTIC BREAD, one of the two visible elements constituting the eucharistic sacrament, the other element being the eucharistic wine.
The bread is leavened, unsalted bread made of the finest wheat flour. It is circular in shape and has a diameter ranging from 3 to about 5 inches, as required. On its upper surface, it is stamped with a cross consisting of twelve little squares, each of which is marked with a diagonal cross. The four central squares form the despotikon (the bread of the Lord). Along the circumference runs a sacred legend containing in Coptic the words Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal.
Such crosses are engraved on the inside of the wooden seal used for stamping the eucharistic loaves before baking. An old wooden seal was found in DAYR ABU HINNIS in the Eastern Desert that had thirty-six small crosses around its inner rim, this number being the thirty-six signs of the cross made by the celebrant priest on the eucharistic loaf in the course of the liturgy. Of particular significance, also, are the five small holes pierced in the surface of the loaf before baking, representing the three nails, the crown of thorns, and the spear, by which our Lord suffered on the cross.
Two points of special traditional and historical importance must here be stressed.
In accordance with the Church Ordinances of Ibn al-‘Assal (1922, chap. 13, page 124), only wheat flour may be used in the preparation of eucharistic bread. This was the custom followed by the Jews at the time of our Lord, and established by the disciples (Acts 2:42; 20:7). When Christ spoke of His death, he likened His body to a grain of wheat, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn. 12:24).
Following the example set by Christ when He instituted this sacrament, the eucharistic bread must be leavened. He took ordinary, that is, leavened bread, as is indicated by the Greek term for bread (artos), and not unleavened. Saint Paul constantly speaks of bread (1 Cor. 11:23, 24; 1 Cor. 10-17). After the Resurrection the disciples devoted themselves to Christ's teaching, and frequently met to celebrate the Eucharist by breaking bread (Acts 2:42; 20:7, 11). It is also worthy of note that Christ instituted the Eucharist on Thursday preceding the Passover, one day before the use of unleavened bread, according to the Jewish custom. The early fathers of the church unequivocally speak of leavened bread (see EUCHARIST), and until the eleventh century the Roman Catholic church continued to use leavened bread for the Eucharist. The Orthodox churches, however, adhere to the tradition established since the earliest days of Christianity, corresponding as closely as possible to the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper.
Throughout the preparation of the bread—a task for deacons of the church—Psalms are read as a sign of reverence and awe toward the bread that will become the Body of the Lord. It is then baked a few hours before the service on the morning on which it is required for the celebration of the liturgy.
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