Why do some religions use unleavened bread?

What’s the history of the unleavened bread debate?

unleavened bread

This very special bread with decoration of grapes is a symbolic gift for the Church from children who have their first Communion in Catholic church in Poland. CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia

Ancient Christians have a long history of debating the use of leavened bread and the unleavened variety. Western-rite Roman Catholic churches use unleavened bread, but Eastern Orthodox churches use leavened.

“For Catholic Christians, there is some evidence in the first hundred several years that we used leavened bread for the Eucharist but at some point in that first millennium, maybe in the 7th or 8th century, the Western church, the Latin-rite church, switched to unleavened bread,” says Father Dan Merz, associate director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Divine Worship in Washington, D.C., in The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads by Lynne Golodner.

Where else was unleavened bread used?

Unleavened bread was in the Old Testament, in the Jewish Temple, as well as the Last Supper. Then, at Passover, St. Paul asked the Jews to throw out the old leaven. To be unleavened was fresh.

Several passages in the Old Testament refer to God saying, “You don’t have to do anything; just sit back and let me save you,” and unleavened bread is a symbol of that inactivity, so God can act upon you, according to Father Merz.

But in other places in the Bible, there are places where Jesus describes leaven in a positive light. He compares it to the kingdom of heaven, which “raises the world.”

What other debates are there around bread?

Should bread be salted or unsalted? That’s a big question. Usually, Western churches do not include salt as part of communion, but in Eastern churches, salt is quite common. Salt is revered in part due to its ancient ability as a preservative.

There’s even more breads that you might find around an altar. For more information on communion breads, bread traditions and recipes, check out The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads by Lynne Golodner.

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