Environmental Issues and the Eucharist

Our celebration of the Mass arose during a time when human-environment interactions generally led to the environment was a hostile force. Christ going into the wilderness, for example.

However, in modern times, humans relate to the environment in ways different from previously, and it still affects us in profound ways.

As Catholics who view the Eucharist as the center of our sacramental life, I think it’s time to consider some of the implications of environmental issues on the global celebration of the Eucharist, and vice-versa.

Here are a few examples for consideration:

(1) Soil desertification. For wheat and grapes to grow, they need fertile soil. Desertification is a process that robs land of its ability to sustain traditional crops. One might view desertification as a threat to the celebration of Mass in areas hard-hit by desertification, either directly (e.g., being unable to cultivate crops) or indirectly (e.g., by increasing the price of bread and wine through scarcity.
(2) Pesticides. Bread and wine are produced from two plants that have undergone large-scale conversion to the use of pesticides. Pesticides are associated with both benefits (e.g. greater agricultural productivity) and costs (e.g. developmental delays in developing children). As part of our celebration, shouldn’t we think more about the means by which the bread and wine are produced?
(3) Others, including air pollution from long-range transport.

I could go on, I suppose. The size of church parking lots could itself contribute to the degradation of water bodies like streams by reducing surface permeability.

I guess this isn’t really separate from other environmental issues, but I thought of it one day in Mass as something that we should consider.

There is certainly a lot to be said for putting one’s money where one’s mouth is. That is something that our church is working toward (not Catholic) and we are working toward in our family’s life. Things like looking for local organic or sustainably produced wine and bread might be a great start. localharvest.org/ might give you some ideas or places to contact to ask.

Looks like you are not alone in thinking about these things

Protect God’s creation: Vatican issues new green message for world’s Catholics

A church celebrating Green Mass

Bishops go green

Catholic Social Justice and the Environment

After many revisions, this is the most charitable way I can think to reply:

Many catholics struggle with excess guilt. They are nowhere near as bad as some environmentalists. Yeah, there are harmful side effects to most everything we do. That’s unavoidable. We just have to do our best not to be wasteful. When you worry about it too much, you start debating whether you should drive or walk to the store.

We all die. Someday the galaxy will be unlivable due to entropy. So be prudent and make the most of what we have to work with, and stop feeling so guilty over your every use of the earth.

Actually I view this as more of a way of living out one’s ethical principles, embodied spirituality, rather than a case of excessive guilt and scrupulosity. I didn’t read it as “am I sinning because I take the Eucharist if it isn’t organic wine?” I read it as “here are some ideas of ways in which we can make an already extremely meaningful spiritual action even more reflective of our ethics.” The idea is not to beat oneself up over unavoidable impacts but to be mindful and aware in every action.

Exploring the options of local or organic wine/bread is no different than looking at getting wine made by a monastery rather than a random winery or rosaries made by nuns rather than in a factory in China. Actually, this could provide a cottage industry for a cloistered order.


Saying “yeah, everything we do is bad” sorta lets everyone off the hook, though, doesn’t it? I’m not just talking about “waste,” but about real impacts in the here and now. The commandment about killing gets invoked when we think about the lifecycle impacts of the bread and wine we consume. Say you, living in Maryland for instance, use wheat from Mexico and grapes from California in making the host and wine. Suddenly, the distance that they’ve traveled contributes incrementally (like everything) to air pollution, which bears great danger for human health. Particulate matter, the microscopic soot and goop that hangs in the air, has been characterized by numerous public health agency as contributing to premature mortality and a range of other effects.

Pesticide use in agriculture has implications for human health as well. As one recent study found, children with higher *in utero *exposures to pesticides had worse birth characteristics (e.g. low birth weight), compared to their lesser-exposed peers.

I could go on, but suffice to say that we have at least a preponderance of evidence that many of our actions involved in producing the host and the wine in the Eucharist may themselves harm human health in the here and now. Not that the bread and wine differ from, say, the meat and cheese you have at home. However, given the purpose we have in using wine and bread (the Eucharist), it seems like we should explicitly address the lifecycle impacts on human health. I don’t know if I can honestly say that my conscience is clean if I don’t at least try to reduce the impacts that my partaking in the sacrament has on others.

We all die. Someday the galaxy will be unlivable due to entropy. So be prudent and make the most of what we have to work with, and stop feeling so guilty over your every use of the earth.

Um… so to get into the thermodynamics of life, you can accelerate the entropy (cosmologically associated with quantum state degeneracy) by being wasteful and inefficient. Heat is a major waste product of much of what we do, and so as you said, we should be prudent and make the most of what we have. By that, I mean avoid creating waste heat! Over about 200,000 years of human history, the past 50 years’ heat production probably outstrips the previous ~199,950’s.

The problem is when your heat or its other waste byproducts (e.g. CO2) begin affecting the whole of creation accessible to humanity, and in doing so influence everyone’s well-being.

those so intensely concerned with the impact of production of wheat and grapes for sacramental purposes (which in many countries are produced in small local farms such as in monasteries which do not use such modern methods) and of course, are such an immense proportion of all farming produce worldwide, are themselves no doubt applying those selective principles in all their consumption of food and other resources–raising their own organic produce, walking to work and church, wearing only used clothing from natural fibers etc.

Sounds like it’s better to just let the insects eat the crops and let the humans starve.

Look at DDT, for instance, and how bad it was. Now, look at the millions of people dying from mosquito transmitted diseases because its use was discontinued.

Some “green” types need to understand that life is a series of trade-offs and compromises. Remember the ozone hole? In our efforts to eliminate the effects we thought our aerosol releases were having on it, we succeeded in increasing planetary warming.

How many people would die within a year if we suddenly quit shipping grain surpluses to needy areas in order to save fuel and the resultant carbon dioxide emissions?

It’s all a matter of priorities and compromises. To go 100% in any direction is going to have negative results, also.

OK, guys, what am I missing? I am really not understanding why *"**As part of our celebration, shouldn’t we think more about the means by which the bread and wine are produced?" *is being cast as an extremist attack or saying that one should go “100%” in any direction?

Where is that being suggested?

Look at DDT, for instance, and how bad it was. Now, look at the millions of people dying from mosquito transmitted diseases because its use was discontinued.

Could you point me to the studies showing active causation between stopping use of DDT and such an increase in the numbers of people dying from mosquito transmitted diseases?

Some “green” types need to understand that life is a series of trade-offs and compromises.

I don’t know many who do not understand that very well.

How many people would die within a year if we suddenly quit shipping grain surpluses to needy areas in order to save fuel and the resultant carbon dioxide emissions?

How exactly do you get from “since we preach stewardship paying attention to the sources of the wine and bread used in Eucharist and trying to make those as environmentally responsible as possible might be a good idea” to “stop shipping grain surpluses to needy areas to save fuel and carbon dioxide emissions”?

I am amazed at the way peoples minds wander during Mass. There are innumerable threads about the priests missing words in the consecration , people who put their arms on the back of pews, whether the hold hands at the our father, yada yada yada,

Now someone wants me to sit there and wonder where the bread and wine came from. When I am at Mass. I am focused on the real presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I am focused on the fact I’m about to eat his body and drink his blood .

I can see where this is all going to lead, people picketing their churches unless they use organic bread and organic wine. Give me a break.

Can we please avoid extremes here?

My original posting, as KarenNC suggested, wasn’t to suggest we go back to Neolithic ways of living. I’m not even suggesting an answer to the question I asked.

We should be guided by evidence. No evidence is ever 100% certain, but like in a civil court proceeding (preponderance of evidence) or a criminal court proceeding (beyond reasonable doubt), uncertainty always remains. I think it’s most honest to say what we do and don’t know, and not spend forever debating facts based on ideological positions.

As to how my mind may wander during Mass, I seem to recall that one is to approach the Eucharist with a conscience free of mortal sin. Is it wrong to ask whether my worship of the Lord and experience of the Real Presence is adversely affecting someone else?

I think being concerned about whether the bread and wine are properly grown or not is the height of scrupulosity. However that is just my opinion and you can focus on anything you want. Personally I’m going to focus on the fact that I held our Lord and Savior in my hands this morning regardless of where the bread came from,

But, to what end? Almost every action I can think of may have some negative effect on someone. Are the so called deleterious effects really of a great magnitude?


No one person’s action, short of arson, yelling fire in a crowded theater, or shredding asbestos in the back of a neighbor’s house is going to have indirect consequences that are the most proximate cause of harm to another individual. In a market economy, no one actor really controls what happens, but each of us can have an impact in a small way. Waiting to light a cigarette before leaving an asthmatic child’s house might be one way. So might choosing not to spray fetal growth-suppressing insecticides on your lawn (see, for instance this link).

In combination, our individual activities add up. The air pollution from highway traffic ends up affecting the people who live nearby (see, for instance, these links 1 2).

Sure, we all contribute a miniscule amount to these effects, but that can lead to the tragedy of the commons, where no one person is responsible for the harms that collective activities produce. That’s led to concerns such as overfishing and loss of productive land which have had major implications for the prices of fish and corn, for instance. By maximizing my own welfare and ignoring even the miniscule effects that my own welfare-maximizing activities have on other people (what economists call “externalities”), I might be contributing to large-scale societal problems for which I never end up paying the real price.

As the Body of Christ, we have a unique opportunity to act in a manner that affects more than just ourselves. I don’t have a specific set of actions to take, but I think it’s important that we as a church begin the discussion.

I don’t see that anyone is suggesting that the Church considering purchasing environmentally conscious bread and wine for Eucharist is going to end global warming or anything else like that, but neither is it ridiculous or extreme to think of this as a positive action just because it won’t fix everything immediately on its own.

Should one avoid doing a postive action, however small, because not doing it will not cure all the ills of the world?

Why is this something that could only be discussed or considered during Mass, any more than choosing that particular time as the only time to choose whether the altar cloths the church is buying are embroidered by nuns or in a factory in China? Surely these kinds of things could and should be considered outside of Mass, when one is placing the order for the supplies, just like placing an order for paper towels or copy paper made from recycled paper?

Picketing churches???That’s a heck of a leap. I don’t even see a suggestion that one should avoid a Mass that doesn’t use organic bread or wine, much less picketing a church over it.

I still do not see any way in which being mindful in choosing the bread and wine used in the Eucharist just as one would be mindful of choosing the linens, vestments, etc or buying fair trade coffee for afterwards because the Church teaches fair treatment of workers is such a controversial thing.

I really can’t fathom how a religion that is so detailed in the requirements about what that wafer should be made of to the point of saying that one can’t substitute an entirely non-wheat one for someone with celiac disease because that would nullify the ritual could be considered ultra-scrupulous to consider also whether those elements were made less than ideally ritually pure by the manner in which they were grown or processed.

…the ruling class likes to play games…they,the anal retemptives…get bored,since the masses are so stupid…earth is just a temp.domain…Jesus…oops may I use His name on this secular site…said…earth is not my kingdom…meaning…the foul smelling moron called satan rules here…so we Christians are forever going up hill and against the wind…if you are a rockefeller or etc and own many oil preserves…you would invent stuff like the audubon society and stuff that will make sure land that has oil on it is not used…anyway…good luck…its all a joke

I do not know one needs to intentionally avoid such an action. Whether it is authentically positive is one debate. The other debate is if it is really positive does it make any difference? That is why I asked about magnitude. It may be a nice gesture but I am not sure it matters either morally or environmentally.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.