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Dear visitors: This website from Catholic Answers, with all its many resources, is the world's largest source of explanations for Catholic beliefs and practices. A fully independent, lay-run, 501(c)(3) ministry that receives no funding from the institutional Church, we rely entirely on the generosity of everyday people like you to keep this website going with trustworthy , fresh, and relevant content. If everyone visiting this month gave just $1, would be fully funded for an entire year. Do you find helpful? Please make a gift today. Thank you. Wishing you a blessed Lenten season.

Host (Canonical and Liturgical)

Canonical and liturgical treatment of the Eucharistic host

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Host (CANONICO-LITURGICAL)—The name host in liturgy is given to the bread used in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist—Pans ad sacrificium Eucharisticum destinatus (Du Cange, “Glossarium”). Christ at the Last Supper consecrated bread and wine, and prescribed their use in the Eucharistic Sacrifice for all future times. Hence bread (of wheat) and wine (of the grape) have always been considered in the Church the sole legitimate matter for the celebration of Mass. The Scholastics, especially St. Thomas (Summa Theol—III, Q. lxxiv, art. 1) and Denys the Carthusian (IV, dist. xi, q. 3), point out the peculiar fitness of these elements which constitute the remote matter of the sacrament. Their use is universal, and hence they render the Eucharistic worship possible anywhere. Furthermore, there are reasons of analogy. As bread is the ordinary food of the body, so the Divine Victim is the nourishment of our souls; just as it is necessary that the wheat be ground, mixed with water, and subjected to fire in order to become bread, so the faithful, in order that they may be united to Christ and live by His spirit, must by mortification die to themselves. Bread is like-wise a figure of the Church. The many grains of wheat converted into one loaf symbolize the various members united in one body. Alluding to this symbolism, so natural and expressive, the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (ch. ix) places on the lips of the faithful the following words of thanksgiving before partaking of the Holy Eucharist: “As this fragment (of bread) was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together, and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom”, and the “Constitutions of the Holy Apostles” (Book VII, n. 25) in the Eucharistic thanksgiving enjoins the faithful to say: “Do Thou, O Lord Almighty, everlasting God, so gather together Thy Church from the end of the earth into Thy kingdom, as this corn was once scattered, and is now become one loaf.”

VALID MATTER—It is required that the matter used for the Consecration be not only valid and as far as possible genuine, but also that it be licit and as far as possible perfect, i.e. new, fresh, and pure. Hence the Eucharistic host must be bread, made of fine wheaten flour, mixed with natural water and baked. It must be bread, as it was the typical food used by Christ (Matt—xxvi, 26—cf. Acts, ii, 42; I Cor—x, 16). The Fathers of the Church with one accord teach that bread is changed into the Body of Christ by the words of Consecration; and all the councils that treat of this subject define the same (Fourth Lateran, ch. “Firmiter”; Florence, “Decr. Unionis”; Trent, Sess. XIII, XXI, and XXII). It must be made of wheaten flour, because, according to sacred tradition, such was used by Christ at the institution of this sacrament. History attests that the Jews used only wheaten bread at the Passover, and in Palestine the word bread, without a qualifying term, signifies wheaten bread. Hence both the Eastern and Western Churches have always used this kind of bread. Some sectaries introduced at times foreign matter in its composition; thus, St. Augustine (Lib. de Haeres—c. xxvi) tells us that the Cataphrygians mixed with the wheaten flour the blood of infants, extracted from them through minute punctures made in their bodies. The Council of Florence (Decr. pro Armenis) says that the third sacrament is that of the Eucharist, whose matter is wheaten bread and wine of the grape. Moreover, in the rubrics of the Missal (De Defectibus, III, 3) we read: “If the bread is not wheaten, or if it is wheaten yet mixed with flour of another kind in such quantity that it is no longer considered wheaten bread, the sacrament is not effected.” Hence hosts made of the flour of barley, oats, rice, beans, millet, chestnuts, etc—are not permitted, because such flour differs specifically from wheaten flour. Authors differ in their opinion with regard to the use of siligo (St. Thomas, III, Q. lxxiv, art. 3, ad 2um) and spelt, which are inferior kinds of wheat. As a rule these are considered doubtful matter, and their use is unlawful when there is question of administering sacraments which are not hic et nunc necessary for salvation. Scavini (III, n. 227), depending on the authority of Gobat, Laymann, and others, says that spelt is not only valid but also licit matter for this sacrament. Lehmkuhl (pt. II, lib. I, tr. iv, c. ii,—§1, n. 3) holds that in this matter the opinion of experts and that of the diocese and region should be followed. For the validity of the sacrament it is, moreover, necessary that natural water be used to temper the wheat flour, and that the dough be baked. The baking is usually done between-heated irons which resemble a large forceps. If the flour is in a notable quantity mixed with eggs, butter, milk, honey, oil, or any liquor other than natural water, it becomes invalid matter, for it is then something really different from ordinary bread. Likewise flour fired in a pan, dried by the sun, stewed, or boiled, or a crude mass of dough, cannot be consecrated, because although physically it does not differ from ordinary bread, yet it is not such as is commonly used and as was consecrated by Christ at the Last Supper. The S. Congr. of the Holy Office (June 23, 1852) permitted the priests of the Diocese of Coimbatore, India, to make hosts out of broken grains of wheat, steeped in water, pressed so as to form a pulp, and then baked between two heated irons, but imposed upon the vicar Apostolic the obligation of introducing the custom of preparing the hosts in the customary manner.

LEAVENED AND UNLEAVENED BEEAD.—The question regarding the use of leavened and unleavened bread gave rise to much dispute among Catholics. From the very beginning both the Eastern and Western Churches looked upon this as a matter of discipline, and held that Consecration takes place under either kind. Michael Caerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople (1043), made it, however, a dogmatic issue. In a letter to John, Bishop of Trani, Apulia, he accused the Roman Church of holding doctrines and adopting practices condemned by the rest of Christianity; in it among other reproaches he imputes it to her as a crime that she uses at the Lord’s Supper unleavened bread, which he held to be invalid matter, and consequently he maintained that the Church of Rome was heretical. Thus, after eleven centuries of undisputed tranquility on this point in both Churches, Crularius, to make the rupture between the two Churches as great as possible, first broached this accusation against the Church of Rome, despite the fact that many writers had before him searched traditional documents without finding even the slightest indication of a dogmatic error. Three different views prevail concerning the kind of bread used in the Western Church during the first ten centuries. Sirmond, S.J. (d. 1651, “Disq. de Azymo”), maintained that it consecrated exclusively leavened bead. Ma-billon, O.S.B. (d. 1707, “Diss. de Pane Eucharistico”), asserted that unleavened bread was used from the time of the Apostles, but that the Apostles sometimes used leavened bread. Cardinal Bona, O.Cist. (d. 1674, “Rerum Liturg—lib. I, c. xxiii), held it as probable that both kinds were used indiscriminately until late in the ninth century. The Council of Florence (1439) decided that either kind was sufficient for the validity of the sacrament, and that unleavened bread must, under grave precept, be used in the Western Church and leavened in the Eastern; but even at present in the East the Armenians, both Catholics and Eutychians, and the Maronites use unleavened bread. This precept is so strict that were a priest to consecrate in a rite not his own he would sin grievously. It would not be lawful to do so even if thereby sole opportunity were given to fulfil the precept of hearing Mass on Sunday or of administering Holy Viaticum to the dying. The only exception to this rule that could occur would be if after the consecration the Sacred Host were to disappear, or the celebrant adverted to the fact that it had a substantial defect, and only bread peculiar to the other rite were at hand, in order thereby to complete the sacrifice. Even in places in which there are churches of both rites, a Greek cannot consecrate in unleavened bread or a Latin priest in leavened bread (Pius V, Bull “Providentia”, 1566; Benedict XIV, Const. “Etsi pastoralis”). If, whilst traveling, a priest should be in a place in which there is no church of his own rite, he may celebrate according to the rite of the church which exists there, or preferably according to his own rite (S. Lig—”Mor. Theol.”, Lib. VI, n. 203; Lehmkuhl, vol. II, n. 121, 3). If a priest has a domicile in a place in which there is no church of his own rite, he may celebrate according to the rite of the church of his domicile, because he is then considered a member of said church (Hilarius a Sexten, pt. II, c. iii,—§28, n. 3).

KINDS OF HOST.—In the early Latin Church the host used by the priest at Mass was larger than it is at present. The custom then prevailed of giving Communion to the laity with Particles of the priest’s Host. During the twelfth century small hosts for the laity were introduced and the priest’s host assumed the size it has at present (Benedict XIV, “De SS. Missae Sacrif.”, sect. I,—§xxxvii). When a large host is not at hand Mass may be celebrated in private with a small host. In cases of necessity a small host may be used in public also, but, as liturgists remark, the faithful should be advised thereof in order to avoid scandal (De Herdt, II, n. 137). From the earliest days the hosts in the Latin Church were of a circular form. Pope St. Zephyrinus calls the host “corona sive oblata sphericae figurae”. This form was adopted both because the hosts could be more easily handled, and because the circle, being the most perfect figure and a symbol of infinity, most suitably represents the presence of Him who, by His eternity, immensity, love, and the merits of His sacrifice, is infinite. As a rule, since the middle of the twelfth century, the image of Christ Crucified is impressed on the large host, although the figure of the Sacred Heart or the monogram of the Holy Name may be used [see Altar (in Liturgy) ]

, subtitle, Altar-Breads]. The sacrificial host of the Greeks is a square loaf to express mystic-ally that by the Sacrifice of the Cross redemption is granted to the four quarters of the globe. Two lines divide the upper part of the loaf into four squares in which usually the following letters are impressed, reading from left to right in the upper portion: ICXC, and in the lower: NI-KA, i.e. “Jesus Christ conquers.” Like the host used by the priest at Mass, that which is exposed in the ostensorium, which is customarily as large as the former, and the small particles, must be thin wafers, round, not broken, fresh, and clean. All hosts should be free from little particles, which may be removed before carrying them to the altar by passing them lightly between the thumb and index finger.

OBLATION.—For the valid Consecration of hosts it is necessary that they be morally and sensibly present to the consecrator and individually specified by him, so that the demonstrative pronoun hoc be verified at the Consecration. Ordinarily both the large host used for the Mass and the particles intended for distribution of Communion should be on the altar at the beginning of the Mass, or at least before the Offertory when they are placed on the corporal. If particles are brought to the altar after the Offertory, but before the beginning of the Preface, Mass is interrupted and the oblation of the particles is made either mentally or vocally, after which Mass is continued from the place at which it was interrupted. After the Preface has been begun, down to the Consecration, particles should not be brought to the altar to be consecrated unless there be special reasons, e.g. so as not to deprive of Communion a large number of people, or on special occasions, e.g. First Communion, general Communion at the end of a mission, during the paschal season to give persons a chance to fulfil their Easter duty (Benedict XIV, “De SS. Miss. Sacr.”, sect. II,—§clviii; Bernard, “Cours de lit. rom.”, I, 98). The sacrificial host is at present placed after its oblation on the corporal in front of the chalice, because it is the first element to be consecrated. Formerly it was placed at the left side of the chalice, as if the latter were to receive the blood which flowed from the right side of Christ hanging on the cross (Innocent III, “De Sacro Altaris Mysterio”, lib. II, c. lviii). If the particles be few, they are offered with the sacrificial host on the paten, and then placed on the corporal near the sacrificial host towards the Gospel side. If they be many, they may be placed on the corporal at the beginning of Mass towards the Gospel side, where they remain during the Mass; or they may be put in a ciborium covered with its lid, but without its veil until after the Communion; or in a chalice covered with a pall. During Mass the ciborium or chalice containing the particles is placed behind, or, if space will not permit, on the left side of the sacrificial chalice. At the Offertory and Consecration it is uncovered. The large host used for Exposition may be offered on the paten and then placed on the corporal between the chalice and the sacrificial host, or near the latter towards the Gospel side, where it remains through-out the Mass. If it be prepared in the lunula the latter should be open at the Offertory and the Consecration.

CONSECRATION.—At the Consecration all the hosts, or the vessel which contains them, should be on the corporal and if possible on the altar-stone. If by chance the vessel containing the particles is not uncovered at the Consecration, they are nevertheless validly consecrated (Benedict XIV-, loc. Cit., §clv). If the ciborium is not on the corporal at the time of Consecration it is doubtful whether they were consecrated, unless the celebrant had distinctly the intention of consecrating the contents of the vessel before him, not adverting to the fact that it rests outside the corporal (D’Annibale, III, n. 388). Benedict XIV (loc. Cit., §clix) holds that they should be consecrated absolutely during another Mass, but St. Liguori (lib. VI, n. 217) is of opinion that they should be consumed after the first ablution. The celebrant holds and looks at the sacrificial host only whilst he utters the words of Consecration and makes over it the sign of the cross, but directs his intention of consecrating to all the hosts on the corporal. Only the sacrificial Host is elevated for the adoration of the faithful, the consecrated particles remaining on the corporal.

FRACTION OF THE HOST.—Shortly before Communion the Host is broken into parts, a ceremony found in all liturgies and which was introduced by Christ at the Last Supper. The object of the breaking of the Host is to indicate by this symbolical action the partaking of Communion by which the faithful are to become one body with Christ. The breaking of bread, symbolizing the Communion, is in reality the preparation of the sacrifice for the sacrificial feast: “The bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread” (I Cor—x, 16, 17). Hence, “to break the bread” is to prepare it for food and to distribute it for participation. In the Western Church the Host is divided into three parts. The celebrant holds the Host over the chalice and breaks it in half, one half of which he lays with his right hand on the paten, then breaks from the other half from below (Pars inferior praecidi debet—S.R.C., 4 Aug—1663) a particle which he afterwards drops into the chalice, and joins the other half in the left hand with that on the paten. Formerly one part was put into the chalice, another part was consumed by the celebrant, and the third part, which was the largest, was broken into particles for the Communion of the faithful who were present, and of the sick. Traces of this ancient usage are still found in the solemn Mass celebrated by the Roman pontiff, who divides the third part into two particles, with which he Communicates the deacon and subdeacon of his Mass. A similar practice is observed in the Mass of the consecration of a bishop, who receives in Communion the third part from the consecrator. The Greeks break the Host into four parts, one of which is received by the celebrant, another is distributed to the faithful, the third is reserved for the sick, and the fourth is put into the chalice. In the Mozarabic Liturgy the Host is broken into nine parts, each having its special designation corresponding to a mystery in the life of Christ: (I) Incarnation; (2) Nativity; (3) Circumcision; (4) Apparition; (5) Passion; (6) Death; (7) Resurrection; (8) Glorification; (9) Kingdom. The first seven parts are placed in circles formed on the paten in the shape of a cross, the remaining two portions are placed on the right side at the foot of the cross outside the circles (Duchesne, “Christian Worship“, p. 219). The transverse beam is formed by nos. 2, 6, and 7, which represent the principal mysteries: Birth, Death, and Resurrection. In other Churches the Host was in former times divided in various ways. Thus in 627 Ireland it was divided in seven different manners, according to the rite of the Mass or the dignity of the festival: at ordinary Masses into five particles; on the feasts of confessors and virgins into seven; on the festivals of martyrs into eight; on Sundays into nine; on the festivals of Apostles into eleven; on the feast of the Circumcision and on Maundy Thursday into twelve; on Low Sunday and the feast of the Ascension into thirteen; on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost into sixty-five. They were arranged in the form of a cross with certain additional complications when they were numerous, and at the Communion each of the parts of the cross, or of its additions, was distributed to a special group of persons, that is, priests, monks, etc. (Duchesne, ibid—p. 220). The breaking of the Host is not an essential or even an integral part of the Mass, and was in former times occasioned by natural reasons and considerations, but it has high symbolical meanings. It symbolizes Christ’s violent death on the Cross, as it indicates the wounding and lacerating which caused the separation of His Soul from His Body. The breaking of the Bread over the chalice is to remind us that the Blood contained in the chalice proceeds from His wounded and mangled Body, although thereby also caution is taken that no loose particles be lost.

MINGLING OF THE EUCHARISTIC SPECIES—Probably down to the ninth century the Body and Blood of Christ were twice united in the chalice during Mass: the first time after the Pater Noster, when a previously consecrated Host, or a Host received from another place, was used; the second time at the Communion, for which a particle broken from the Host of the Mass that was being celebrated was used. When the custom of sending the Eucharist to other Churches as a sign of union ceased, the former was retained, except when the pope officiated, in which case the latter was used and the former omitted. This custom was retained down to the fifteenth century, when the rite of mingling only after the Pater Noster, even at the pope’s Mass, came into use. The celebrant, having broken the large Host into two equal parts, breaks a small particle from the part which he holds in his left hand. With this particle he makes three signs of the cross over the chalice, saying, “Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum”, and then drops it into the Precious Blood, saying: “Hac commixtio et consecratio Corporis et Sanguinis Domini nostri Jesu Christi fiat accipientibus nobis in vitam zeternam. Amen.” Just as the fraction of the Host indicates the wounding which caused Christ’s death, so this mingling of the Eucharistic species symbolically expresses that on the altar the living Body of Christ is present. The fraction represents His bloody sacrificial Death, and the mingling His glorious Resurrection, in which His Body and Blood were again united and vivified. The threefold sign of the cross with the Particle over the chalice and the salutation of peace made between the fraction and mingling signify that Christ by His redeeming Death and glorious Resurrection has become the author and source of true peace, which was purchased and negotiated for us by the holy Cross and the Blood shed thereon (Gihr, “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass“, II, 67, 2 and 3).

COMMUNION.—Although Communion is not an essential part of the Sacrifice, yet it belongs to its integrity, and for this reason the celebrant at least must partake in both species of the sacrifice which he is offering. An exception to this rule will be allowed if the celebrant should become so ill that he cannot consume the Species. In this case another priest must consume them, though he has already broken his fast, if no other, still fasting, be present. In the Latin Rite at present the three parts of the sacrificial Host are consumed by the celebrant, who takes first the two larger pieces and then, together with the Precious Blood, the smaller piece dropped into the chalice. He is not permitted to keep the sacrificial Host of the Mass for Exposition and to consume in its stead the large Host reserved in the tabernacle. The latter may be consumed either together with the sacrificial Host or after the partaking of the Precious Blood. It should not, without necessity, be given to the faithful Communicating. For the latter use there are to be smaller Hosts, round in form, one of which is to be given to each communicant. In case of necessity it is lawful to divide the particles (S.R.C—March 16, 1833). Newly consecrated particles may never be mixed with those consecrated previously, and the ciborium in which they are put should be thoroughly purified before the new particles are placed in it.

DEFECTS AND ACCIDENTS—Since the Host belongs to the essence of the Sacrifice of the Mass it is not surprising that the Church should have legislated for any defect or accident that may happen in regard to it. Hence at the beginning of the Roman Missal is found a chapter on the defects (De Defectibus) that may occur. If during the Mass the celebrant ascertains that the bread is defective, i.e. not of wheat, or not unleavened (in the Roman Rite), or corrupted, in order to complete the sacrifice the following is to be observed:

(I) Before the Consecration.—Mass is interrupted, the invalid or doubtful matter is put aside and replaced by matter certainly valid. If the oblation of the invalid matter has already taken place, the celebrant places a valid host on the corporal and, folding his hands on his breast, offers it by reciting vocally or mentally the prayer “Suscipe sancte Pater”. He then continues the Mass from the point at which it was interrupted. The prayer “Qui pridie quam pateretur”, though he may have already said it, is to be repeated over the new host. If the first host was defective because it was not of wheat, the celebrant consumes it after the ablutions; if it was corrupt, he throws it into the sacrarium.

(2) After the Consecration of the defective host.—Mass is interrupted, the defective host is placed on the corporal, and a new host is offered, as above. After the oblation the celebrant holds the new host between the thumb and index finger of both hands and begins the consecration at the words “Qui pridie quam pateretur”. Then he places the Host on the corporal with-out genuflecting, or elevating it, and continues Mass from the point at which Mass was interrupted. But if the first host has already been broken, the new Host, immediately after its consecration, is broken in half and both parts are placed on the paten. The dropping of a small particle of the larger Host in this instance is not of obligation; it may be done, but without words or ceremonies. The defective host may be either (I) consumed by the celebrant before the ablutions, or (2) given to another who is still fasting and in the state of grace, to be consumed, or (3) put in a proper place until it is corrupt and then thrown into the sacrarium.

(3) After the consumption of the defective host.—Although the celebrant has already broken his fast, he offers and consecrates a new host, as above. Immediately after the Consecration he breaks it into two parts over the paten without pronouncing a word or performing any ceremony, and, having made the sign of the cross with it and said “Corpus Domini”, etc—he reverently consumes it, and continues the Mass as usual.

(4) After the consumption of the Precious Blood.—Mass is interrupted and a new host offered, as above. Having placed the chalice on the corporal, the celebrant pours into it wine and a few drops of water, after having blessed the latter, unless it be in a requiem Mass. Joining his hands on his breast, he mentally or vocally recites the prayer “Offerimus tibi”. He then consecrates the Host, as above, beginning with the words “Qui pridie”. Having placed the Host on the corporal he consecrates the chalice in the customary manner, reciting the words “Simili modo” down to “Ile quotiescumque” inclusively, after which he places the chalice on the corporal without genuflecting, or elevating the chalice. He then breaks the Host into two parts, and reverently consumes it, as above. After a brief pause of meditation, the celebrant collects the fragments that may be on the corporal, drops them from the paten into the chalice, makes the sign of the cross with it, recites the prayer “Sanguis Domini”, etc—and reverently consumes the Precious Blood. Mass is then continued as usual.

(5) If the consecrated Host should disappear, either mysteriously or by a natural cause, the celebrant offers, mentally or vocally, a new host, and then consecrates it, beginning with the words “Qui pridie”.

(6) In case where an essential defect is discovered in the host, and valid matter cannot be easily procured, the following rules are to be observed.—If the error is ascertained (i) before the consecration, Mass is discontinued, or (ii) after the consecration, a delay of one hour or more may be made to procure, if possible, valid matter. If such be available, the order given above (2) is observed. If valid matter cannot be obtained Mass is continued, but the prayers and ceremonies that refer to the host are omitted.

(7) If by accident the Host falls into the chalice the dry part is broken off, the rest being left in the chalice, whilst the usual ceremonies are performed with the former. If the whole Host remains in the chalice, the signs and ceremonies usually performed with the Host are omitted, but all the prayers are recited, and at Communion the Host and Precious Blood are consumed at the same time after having made the sign of the cross with the chalice, saying: “Corpus et Sanguis Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiant animam meam”, etc.

(8) If any object that has not been sanctified for the purpose of coming in contact with the consecrated Host (altar, or communion-cloths, alb, etc.) touches it, this object must be washed three times with water, and the latter is afterwards poured into the sacrarium. If the Host falls to the floor, the celebrant lifts the sacred particle, covers the spot on which it fell with a pall or purificator, and after the service washes the spot with water, which he afterwards throws into the sacrarium. If the Host falls into the folds of a woman’s dress, she herself is to take it up and consume it; if it falls outside, the priest communicates her with it, without requiring that the dress be specially purified.

(9) If it should happen that the celebrant, or communicant cannot retain the Host, it should be taken up and again consumed by himself, unless to do so would cause nausea. In the latter case it is put in a vase containing water and left therein, in a suitable place, until disintegration takes place, when the matter is thrown into the sacrarium. If the Host cannot be distinguished from the other matter, the whole mass is consumed by fire and the ashes are thrown into the sacrarium.

(10) If any poisonous substance should defile the consecrated Host another host is taken, and the order given above (2) is observed. The poisoned Host is then placed in the tabernacle and left there until it loses the species of bread, when it is thrown into the sacrarium.

(11) Before the oblation a broken host should be replaced by one that is whole and entire. If the break be noticed between the Oblation and Consecration, the broken host may be used for Mass, unless doing so would scandalize the people. In the latter case another host, whole and entire, is taken, Mass is interrupted, the host is offered mentally or vocally, and then Mass is continued from the point at which it was interrupted. The broken host is consumed at the same Mass after the ablution.

(12) If the celebrant becomes seriously ill after the Consecration another priest must supply his place and complete the sacrifice. In this case if the sick priest is able to receive Communion and there is no other consecrated particle beside the large Host of the Mass on the altar or in the tabernacle, one half of it is given to the sick priest at Communion.


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