The Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields is an Episcopal parish in the Diocese of Pennsylvania that is centered on the worship of God, the ministry of all baptized persons, and the call to be agents of Christ’s love in the world.
Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
8000 St. Martin’s Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19118

The Rev. Louis H. Temme


November 2009

Rubrics Expanded is making a rare appearance to explore the question: ‘to leaven or not to leaven’. For those of you furiously paging through the Prayer Book, looking for a rubric, your search is in vain: there isn’t one. Yet the use of leavened bread or unleavened bread has at times been a significant and divisive issue in the life of the Church and actually was one of the contributing factors in the split between the Western and the Eastern churches back in the Middle Ages. (It is amazing what we fight about, isn’t it?)

The Eastern Churches, with the exception of the Armenian Church, have used leavened bread in the celebration of the Eucharist as a symbol of the resurrected Christ and life in the Kingdom of Heaven. The church in the West tended toward unleavened bread, reasoning that if the Last Supper was indeed a Passover meal, Jesus would have instituted the Eucharist with unleavened bread. Early source materials are ambiguous on the matter, though clearly both uses were present in the early church and the differences in practice developed gradually. By the ninth century, the use of unleavened bread had become obligatory in the West; and by the Great Schism of 1054, the divergent practices had become a leading cause of dissension. About the only thing the two churches agreed on was that sacramental bread must be made from wheat. Western use of unleavened bread did not change until the Protestant Reformation.

In keeping with its more Catholic perspective, the first Anglican Book of Common Prayer in 1549 ordered the continuance of unleavened bread, ‘larger and thicker than it was, so that it may be aptly divided in divers pieces’. The more Protestant-influenced Book of 1552 dropped the requisite use of unleavened bread, stating simply: ‘it shall suffice that the bread be such as is usual to be eaten at the table with other meats, but the best and purest wheat bread that conveniently may be gotten.’ The 1559 Injunctions of Queen Elizabeth attempted to enforce the use of unleavened bread, but the 1552 rubric was retained in the 1662 Prayer Book virtually unchanged, as it was in the first American book. It was not until late in the nineteenth century, with the influence of the Ritualists (the second-generation Anglo-Catholics of the Oxford Movement), that wafers once again began to replace bread, as they had in the mediaeval Roman Catholic church. The current Prayer Book through its reticence permits the use of leavened or unleavened bread.

While all this may be quite interesting, you may be thinking, so what? For those attending the 11:15 service, you will notice that we are using a different bread this morning: in place of the challah, we have an unleavened bread made with wheat matzoh meal. The reasons for the change are at least twofold. The first is that we tend to have a large quantity of unconsumed consecrated bread at the conclusion of the service. Any remaining consecrated bread, as the Body of Christ, is to be consumed ‘reverently’ (BCP:409). The second is that the challah is often dry, resulting in a significant amount of crumbling at the fraction. The use of unleavened bread will allow a smaller amount of bread to be consecrated, more in keeping with the size of the congregation, yet still retain the symbolism of real bread.

Please let us know what you think of this change and forward any questions you may have to the clergy or director of formation. If you are interested in helping to bake the bread, please call the church office.