Why Wafers are Inappropriate for Communion

Communion wafers are inappropriate for the Lord’s Supper, rather, ordinary bread is the proper element for the sacrament. Herman Witsius wrote, “we can by no means approve of the small round things, made of meal, commonly called hosts or wafers, such as now the Romish church is pleased to make use of.” Similarly, John Willison stated, “Papists and others, who dispense the sacrament with an unbroken wafer, do egregiously swerve from the institution, and mar their souls’ profiting by this ordinance.” Wafers are unbecoming of the sacrament because they overturn the spiritual significance the bread is intended by God to signify. It does so in the following ways:

1. Wafers destroy the spiritual significance of the flavor and nourishment of bread.

John Willison illustrates six ways in which the bread signifies Christ’s body:

Q. Why hath Christ chosen bread to represent his body? A. Because of the resemblance between bread and Christ’s blessed body, in these things:

1. Bread ere it be fit to nourish us, must be first sown, and die in the earth; so Christ’s body must die, and be buried in the earth, in order to feed and nourish our souls. [Lev. 26:5; Isa. 30:23; 1 Cor. 15:44]

2. Bread must be prepared by threshing, bruising and grinding in the mill, and baking in the oven; so Christ, that he might be a fit Saviour to us, was content to be bruised between the millstones of God’s justice and our sins, and to be scorched in the oven of his Father’s wrath.

3. Bread thus prepared, is most excellent and useful for nourishing and strengthening our bodies; yea, it is the most necessary thing in the world, none can live without it: hence it is often called the staff of life, as being the support of human life [cf. Ps. 105:16]. So Christ’s broken body is a most excellent and necessary means provided by God for preserving our souls, without which we would eternally perish.

4. Bread is most pleasant as it doth refresh, strengthen, and satisfy our hungry bodies; and hence it is called “bread that strengtheneth man’s heart.” (Ps. 104). So Jesus Christ and his broken body is most precious, pleasant, and satisfying to a sensible, needy sinner. The hungry believing soul will highly prize this food, though others who are full and insensible of their wants do loath and despise it.

5. Bread must be broken, eaten, and received into the stomach, before it can be of any use to the health and advantage of our bodies; so Christ’s body must be broken, received, and fed upon by faith, ere it can be of use to the spiritual health and advantage of our souls in this sacrament.

6. Bread, thus received and eaten, becomes one with our bodies: so we by a believing partaking of Christ’s broken body, become one with him (John 6:56). (Sacramental Catechism, pp. 61-62).

Communion wafers have the texture and flavor of Styrofoam packing peanuts. They lack the refreshing and hearty flavor and nourishment of common bread. They are so distasteful that even scavenging animals would cringe to eat them. Is this the sort of message intended to be sent in the sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood? No. Witsius writes of wafers:

“There is either no analogy, or an obscure one, between the sign and thing signified. Neither is there that serviceableness for supporting life, nor that nourishing quality, nor sweetness of flavour in those wafers, as in common bread; by which both the serviceableness, and nourishing efficacy and grateful sweetness of the grace of Christ are represented.” (Economy of the Covenants, vol. 2, p. 446).

2. Wafers destroy the spiritual significance of the oneness of the bread.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the bread of life, there is only one, not many. “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world…I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger…I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:33, 35, 51) “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). “This is my body, which is broken for you” (1 Cor. 11:24).

Secondly, the Apostle explicitly grounds a theological argument regarding the unity of the Body of Christ in the one bread in 1 Cor. 10:17. “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” From this passage, John Chrysostom preached:

“Why do I call it communion? Because we are the very same body of Christ. What is the bread? It is the body of Christ. What are they made who receive the body of Christ? Not many, but one body; for as bread is baked out of many grains, so are we also incorporated with Christ.” (Homily 24 on 1 Cor. 10).

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12).

3. Wafers destroy the spiritual significance of this one bread being broken.

Zacharias Ursinus explains why the breaking of the bread is a necessary action for the right administration of the sacrament:

Christ then broke the bread not merely for the purpose of distributing it, but also to signify thereby:

1. The greatness of his sufferings, and the separation of his soul from his body.

2. The communion of many with his own body, and the bond of their union, and mutual love. “The bread which we break is it not the communion of the body of Christ; for we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:16-17)

The breaking of the bread is, therefore, a necessary ceremony both on account of its signification, and for the confirmation of our faith, and is to be retained in the celebration of the Supper:

1. Because of the command of Christ, “Do this.

2. Because of the authority and example of the church in the times of the Apostles, which in view of this circumstance, termed the whole transaction, the breaking of bread.

3. For our comfort, that we may know that the body of Christ was broken for us, as certainly as we see the bread broken.

4. That the doctrine of transubstantiation and consubstantiation may be rejected, and abandoned.

. . .

This do:” This is a command for the observance of this sacrament. This which you see me do, do ye also hereafter in my church; when congregated take bread, give thanks, break, distribute, eat, etc. He comprehends and gives command in reference to the whole transaction. (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pp. 385-386).

George Gillespie explains how the use of communion wafers violate this element of the Lord’s Supper:

It is not indifferent for a minister to omit the breaking of the bread at the Lord’s table after the consecration and in the distribution of it, because he ought to follow the example of Christ, who, after He had blessed the bread, and when He was distributing it to them who were at table, brake it, breaking into pieces in his hands the bread he had taken, but had it not carved in small pieces before it was brought to the table. Hence, G. J. Vossius does rightly condemn those who, though they break the bread in multas minutias [into many small pieces], yet they break it not in actu sacramentali [in sacramental act]. Such a breaking as this (he says well) is not mystica [related to mystery], but coquinaria [related to cooking]. (Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies IV.vii.2, p. 403).

Similarly, Witsius writes:

Nor do they sufficiently clear themselves of a violation of the Lord’s institution, who keeping their bread (if it may deserve that name) whole, maintain, that they have fulfilled its purport, because with them the lump is divided into many small wafers. For that breaking of the lump is culinary, not mystical, being performed in the kitchen, not in the church, and done before the sacrament, not at the administration of it. It is to no purpose objected that breaking among the Jews is sometimes equivalent to distributing, as Isa. 58:7, “deal (break) thy bread to the hungry,” and Lam. 4:4, “the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh unto them.” For to break is there a metalepsis taken for that distribution, which is made after the breaking. But that none should feign any such metalepsis in the words of the supper, these two actions of Christ are distinctly mentioned, he broke and he gave. (Economy of the Covenants, vol. 2, p. 451).

Willison likewise concludes:

Q. Is the breaking of the bread a necessary or essential action in this sacrament? A. Yes; it being instituted by Christ, and practiced by his apostles, with a design to teach us the necessity of Christ’s death, and that an unbroken Christ could not profit sinners: And consequently we may infer that Papists and others, who dispense the sacrament with an unbroken wafer, do egregiously swerve from the institution, and mar their souls’ profiting by this ordinance. (Sacramental Catechism, p. 64).

Lastly, wafers are an historical novelty.

Witsius comments:

They were unknown in the church for near a thousand years. Vossius in his Theses de S. cœnæ Dominicæ Symbolis has laid open their origin from Honorius Augustodunensis. His words are these:

It is said that formerly the priests received from every house or family, a quantity of meal, which custom at this day the Greeks still observe, and of that made the Lord’s bread, which they offered for the people, and after consecration, distributed among them. But after the church really increased in numbers, but abated in holiness, it was decreed, on account of the carnal, that such as could, should communicate every Lord’s Day, or every third Lord’s Day, or on the high festivals, or thrice a year. And because the people did not communicate, there was no occasion to make so large a cake, it was decreed to make it in the form of a penny.

This is the true reason why the host has the form of a penny: but afterwards men of subtlety sought, as is usual in such cases, for a ministry where there was none, whence he immediately subjoins; “and that the people, instead of offering meal, should offer a penny, as an acquittance for receiving the Lord.” Durandus (Rationali, lib. iv. c. 14), has words also to the same purpose. “It is prepared in the form of a penny, both because the bread of life was betrayed for pennies, and because a penny was given as wages to the labourers in the vineyard.” These are foolish conceits, and foreign to the august mystery of the holy supper.

One thought on “Why Wafers are Inappropriate for Communion

  1. The Nassau (Dillenburger Synod) Confession (1578) listed “The Small Host” as a popish abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Here is the section:

    “After all, at communion in the greater part of the Protestant churches in Germany (as carried over until now from the Papacy), a small host is used, the name which they yet bear being also derived from the Papacy.
    “The name host, which means a sacrifice, advises us that it was made up by the pope because he has changed the Lord’s Supper into the sacrifice of the mass and thereby daily offers Christ to His heavenly Father.
    “In some Papist authors, these wafers, with an image of the crucified Christ depicted on them, are called the money-changer’s bread [panes nummularii] because of their form, being like that of a low-value coin or denarius or a small penny. For their use of small pieces of bread in this form, they advance the childish reason that Christ was sold for thirty round Argeneos or pieces of silver. They might much more say that this name of host is fitting because they are still daily selling Christ in their mass and their entire mass is held only for the sake of money, inasmuch as to this day they are, by means of their mass, gathering the property and money of the world to themselves.
    “Because these round wafers are justly held as questionable, as that which was concocted by the pope and by which so much abomination and misuse has been brought into the church of God, they have been replaced in the churches of this land with genuine and suitable bread. And with it, the ancient and Christian ritus fractionis, or breaking of bread, is once again provided at the Lord’s Supper because the mystery of the sacrament is not in any way to be obscured, and proper and genuine bread for eating serves much more forcefully to represent to us that Christ is a food for our souls. Furthermore, by this the common man can so much the more be disabused of the superstition that they are not allowed to eat sanctified bread, but must only allow it to melt on the tongue.” (Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries, vol. 3, pp. 498-499, compiled by James T. Dennison Jr.)

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