Wednesday 25 August 2010

The Antidoron, the Pain Benit and the Sunday Loaf

I've been considering quite a lot recently the role and history of blessed bread in the liturgy and by extension, in parish life. The distribution of bread which is blessed, not consecrated, at the conclusion of the Liturgy is found in both Western and Eastern liturgical traditions. The Antidoron, the remains of the Eucharistic breads not consecrated during the Liturgy, is distrubted after every Liturgy amongst Russian and Greek Orthodox christians. The custom has as much of a history in the West, attested by the existence of no fewer that six benedictio panis prayers in the Roman Ritual, and the survival in France of the pain benit, bread blessed before, during or after the liturgy and distributed to the faithful as a sign of charity and community.

The common origin of both is found in the primitive liturgy, where the faithful would supply the bread that would be consecrated in the Liturgy. It is assumed by some that surplus bread was consumed by those who had been present at the Liturgy, including the catechumens (Gregory Dix makes reference to this in his description of the primitive liturgy in Sacramental Life, where he imagines a modern re-enaction consisting of secretive Christians arriving at a house laden with scones to be consecrated!). This custom survived as the Fermentum, where a Bishop would send consecrated Eucharistic Bread to his priests as a sign of their communion. Later, in order to prevent profanation of the Sacrament, as as the baking and supplying of the bread became the responsibility of ministers, supported by the donations of the faithful, the parrallel customs of the Western eulogia and the Eastern Antidoron took shape. As the Catholic Encyclopaedia notes:

The usage then began of sending blessed bread instead of the Holy Communion to those who did not communicate at the Mass, and to those who might wish to receive this gift as a pledge of communion of faith. These who did not communicate received bread offered at the Offertory the Mass but not consecrated. It appears to have received no other blessing than that of the Offertory Prayer, and was considered blessed because it formed part of the oblation. This bread is called eulogia, because it is blessed and because a blessing accompanies its use; it is also called antidoron, because it is a substitute for the doron, the real gift, which is the Holy Eucharist. The eulogia prescribed in the liturgies of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, but now it is distributed to all, both communicants and non-communicants. It existed also in the West, and is mentioned by St. Gregory of Tours, the Council of Nantes, and Leo IV in terms which would make it appear a somewhat universal custom.
Other small loaves, blessed but not consecrated, were also called eulogiae, and used by Bishops in a similar way to the fermentum, and the sending of a loaf signified by a Bishop could signify the resumption of communion after a schism or censure.

The development in the West of the wafer-like Eucharist host, which could not be easily baked in most homes and became a task entrusted to religious, signified the beginning of the end of the original eulogia, bread presented at the Offertory. The custom survived, however, in France, where one continues to see vestiges of Liturgical praxis that have died out in the rite of Rome. CE again:

Later, when the faithful no longer furnished the altar-bread, a custom arose of bringing bread to the church for the special purpose of having it blessed and distributed among those present as token of mutual love and union, and this custom still exists in the Western Church, especially in France. This blessed bread was called panis benedictus, panis lustratus, panis lustralis, and is now known in France as pain bénit. It differs from the eugloia mentioned above, because it is not a part of the oblation from which the particle to be consecrated in the Mass is selected, but rather is common bread which receives a special benediction. In many places it is the custom for each family in turn to present the bread on Sundays and feast days, while in other places only the wealthier families furnish it. Generally the bread is presented with some solemnity at the Offertory of the parochial Mass, and the priest blesses it before the Oblation of the Host and Chalice, but different customs exist in different dioceses. The prayer ordinarily used for the blessing is the first or second: benedictio panis printed in the Roman missal and ritual. The faithful were exhorted to partake of it in the church, but frequently it was carried home. This blessed bread is a sacramental, which should excite Christians to practice especially the virtues of charity, and unity of spirit, and which brings blessings to those who partake of it with due devotion. The Priest, when blessing it, prays that those who eat it may receive health both of soul and body: "ut omnes ex eo gustantes inde corporis et animae percipant sanitatem"; "ut sit omnibus sumentibus salus mentis et corporis". In some instances the pain bénit was used not only with superstitious intent, and its virtues exaggerated beyond measure, but also for profane purposes. This usage was brought from France Canada, and was practised chiefly in the province of Quebec. There the pain bénit had blessed immediately after the Asperges, and then distributed to those who assisted at high Mass. The parishioners furnished it in turn, and vied with one another in presenting as rich and fine a pain bénit as possible, until finally the bishops, seeing that it entailed too much expense upon the poor circumstances, prohibited it. Within the last twenty-five and thirty years the custom has almost entirely disappeared.
I'm not very knowledgeable about the extent of this practice in England, although it would seem to make sense that in Sarum something similar was done with bread as in France, at least on major feasts. However, the custom of wealthier parishioners supplying bread for the needs of the poor seems to have been a part of Parish life in the post-reformation Church of England, and to have possibly flourished on account of the Poor Laws enacted from the 16th-19th centuries. My own Parish church of S. Magnus, built by Wren in 1676, features eight small shelves either side of the main doors in the Narthex to house seven loaves, which were distributed to poor families after Sunday Service. It is unlikely that this bread ever received a special benediction before distribution, but the fact that this bread was donated by those with means to do so for the benefit of fellow Christians, as well as the mere fact that this bread was placed in individual shelves visible to all as they left the Church means this custom of the Sunday Loaf is linked, at least in ethos, to the eulogia of old.

I believe personally that all of these uses of bread honour an ancient and authentic aspect of the liturgy; that of giving. The Sacrifice of the Mass, depends in material terms on the giving of real bread and wine by the faithful, or at least having contributed by giving money. The consecrated Bread was received by those initiated and disposed to do so, but surplus bread, blessed not consecrated, was an important sign of the Christian's belonging to the community, even if he is unbaptised. As we saw with the pain benit, when the Eucharistic bread was no longer supplied directly by the faithful, they substituted ordinary bread, blessed at some point during the Liturgy, to be distributed afterwards. To my mind, this is the meanings of the word "leitourgia", which signifies the whole community of the faithful supplying the spiritual and the material substance of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. To disinvest them of this opportunity to contribute materially, is the first step towards alienating the faithful from the liturgy of the Mass. I would urge "practitioners" of Liturgy to consider reviving the custom of the pain benit, or preferrably of the actual eulogia (blessed by being part of the Offertory). It would be quite simple for an MC or server to place a basket of bread on the altar during the Offertory which could be removed after having been blessed at "haec dona, haec munera" and distributed after Mass. Alternatively, bread could be blessed after Mass according to the Ritual and distributed in the Narthex. Does that sound like such an eccentricity.


  1. Thank you for this.

    Only recently I was giving thought to the various ways that bread is used liturgically and quasi-liturgically as I was reading something indirectly related to the topic.

    Indeed, the eulogion bread is used in Sarum, and features in our Orthodox Western Rite. The parallel to the antidoron goes beyond its distribution at the end of the Liturgy but also the prayer of blessing the eulogion refers to the five loaves in the wilderness, leading to a common usage of blesing five loaves at this point, which is the same number of loaves used in the Byzantine Rite for the preparation of the Eucharist, and from which the antidoron is taken, (although modern Greek use has become somewhat lazy, using a large single loaf with the five squares stamped onto it). A difference, though, is that the eulogion is actually complete loaves set aside specifically for the purpose while the antidoron is the remnants of the bread for the Eucharist and the commemorations of the living and the dead.

    The question of the purpose of the antidoron is interesting as well. The word literally means "as opposed to/instead of the Gifts", and at one point, as you note, was given to those who had not communicated, but who had fasted. This is still the practice in the Old Rite. At some point it seems to have taken on the meaning of a sign of fellowship and is open to more or less everybody, in communion or not, fasted or not. I think it is pastorally useful and would not wish to change it, but I would be interested in learning more about this development.

    The other thing that interests me is the reference to the antidoron being blessed. I have seen this in just about every explanation of the antidoron that I have found anywhere, yet at no point is there an explicit blessing of this bread such as there is for the eulogion in Sarum, (although, in the Old Rite, the wine, and the wine only, is blessed). I can only imagine that it is simply considered blessed by virtue of being put to sacred use.

    Another way that bread is used in the Byzantine Rite is as part of the zapivka. After communion, each communicant takes three sips of wine diluted with hot water, and then takes a piece of bread for the purposes of ensuring that all of the Holy Things are swallowed. The name zapivka technically refers only to the wine and the bread comes from the same source as the antidoron, although it is not properly called antidoron at this point.

    Meaningless trivia, but there it is. :-)

  2. Totally not meaningless. You've supplied the details I didn't have and contributd to the post.

    Thanks again

  3. Very interesting post.

    My understanding is that in Greek praxis the antidoron is blessed by it being held over the Eucharistic elements on the Holy Table. In the Russian praxis it is considered 'blessed' as the Lamb has been cut from it.

    There are clearly many levels of typology here. Bread is a type of the body. The idea of the church giving bread to the poor really does resonate rather deeply to my thinking. The only place I have seen pain benit in this county was the at the former chapel of the late Fr. Ronald Silk (RIP/VP).

  4. Can someone link me to the Sarum material please?

    On further reflection it strikes me that the blessing of the bread during the canon in the Roman rite is quite anomalous, since the Byzantine antidoron comes from the moment of separation of the Lamb from the rest of the bread, and is considered holy, as Michael says, by virtue of that origin. As the Roman Mass has no vestige of that rite of selection (the offertory prayers starting with Suscipe Sancte Pater), and the bread supplied is ordinary bread, the blessed bread in the West seems to be quite a different thing.

    Still, an ancient Roman practice, to my knowledge was to bless things during the "Canon" (Lambs, loaves etc), so perhaps it's just evidence of an earlier divergence between Roman and Byzantine practice?

  5. Quite possibly, although at first, yes, they do appear to be different things. The Sarum blessing of the Eulogion may be seen on page 31 of this PDF.

    Thank you, rubricarius, for that reference to the difference in Greek use. I agree with your feeling about the distribution of bread to the needy, and was touched to hear of its use in recent times.

  6. The A.H. Pearson translation of the Sarum Missal gives some information. It groups ‘divers benedictions’ together at the end, noting that in various original books these were placed in different locations. There are two blessings of bread given (pp. 593 f.) without any suggestion of location or timing; followed by one headed “The Blessing of Bread on Sundays”, this begins with a rubric that the Priest says the Johanine Prologue. Pearson gives a footnote “i.e., this being the last Gospel at Mass, the bread was probably blessed in the sacristy afterwards”.

    The blessing proceeds:
    V/. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
    R/. From this time forth for evermore.
    V/. Let us give thanks to the Lord.
    R/. Thanks be to God.
    V/. The Lord be with you.
    R/. And with thy spirit.
    Let us pray.
    Ble+ss, O Lord, this creature of bread, as Thou didst bless the five loaves in the wilderness, that all who taste of it may receive alike health of body and soul. Through.

    Then let the Priest sprinkle the bread with Holy Water

    The reference to the Last Gospel does seem to tie it clearly with the celebration of Mass, though as an addition following it rather than an integral part. My understanding is that which you note, that former practice was to bless ‘things’ during the Canon itself; I seem to remember Fr. Hunwicke noting this point, though I fear I forget the reference and whether it is a significant discussion or mere passing comment.

  7. In the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, the loaf used for the Lamb, as well as that for the Theotokos, are both blessed in the sign of the Cross with the Lance, with accompanying prayer during the Rite of Prothesis. All the subsequent loaves are similarly signed in blessing, although no words are prescribed.

    I believe that the antidoron from these can fairly be described as "blessed" by reason of these actions, so that the subsequent step of signing the antidoron over the Consecrated Gifts at the anaphora, as is usual with the Greeks, or not, as is the Russian practice, should present no problem as to calling the Antidoron "Blessed Bread."

  8. Greeting Ex fide. I have just come across your site looking for pain benit. What a beautiful thing it is. Your knowledge and passion is obvious. I am very keen to learn from you in my quest for the origins of sacred bread. I have written several times about this on my fromthehearth website. hope we can continue a fascinating dialogue.
    honey in the hearth

  9. Greetings. this is a very old blog on a very very old subject, but one that is occupying a much of my time. I would like to know from rubicarius which church he saw Fr ronald silk dispensing pain benit in cambridge?
    My main area of study is the tradition of pain benit and wondered if anyone else has any knowledge of this practice in the UK
    Honey in the hearth