The fact that many monastic churches do not have a prominent tabernacle shapes the patterns of liturgical prayer. Monastic communities often protect the ancient value of “receiving from the same sacrfice,” meaning that the communicants are assured that what they eat and drink in the Holy Mysteries actually comes from the same celebration. It surprises many to learn that the Church does not foresee, nor does it provide for, Communion of the faithful from the reserved Sacrament. Liturgical laws have long defended your right to receive from the same sacrifice, the same Mass, that you attend.
At one time, of course, the bread for the Eucharist was the ordinary bread of the day, except unleavened, probably pre- pared at home. It was broken and distributed to the faithful. Early on the loaf itself was referred to as the hostia in Latin, meaning the “sacrifice,” the same word for the sacrificial animal in Jewish worship, and for Jesus as the Lamb of God. By giving his life on the cross, Jesus became the hostia for us. To this day in the Greek Church, one of the tasks of the priest’s wife is to bake the bread for the Divine Liturgy, sometimes in a bakery oven dedicated to that purpose and called a “Bethlehem.”
Today’s familiar individual hosts first appeared in the eleventh century at about the time when tabernacles were coming into use. The turn away from “bready” bread allowed the hosts to be reserved since they did not spoil like regular bread, and made the annual “Easter duty” counts easier.
—Rev. James Field, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co.