Much as I enjoyed the boston.com piece that I was in, the article that had me fascinated from start to finish last Sunday was the one on Communion wafers. Perhaps you read it? No? You didn’t read it because it was about Communion wafers? Well, you should go back and read it now. There's even a video if you're feeling illiterate today.
If you grew up, as I did, with the very strange, lingering sensation of Communion host on your tongue, then the thought of it probably triggers some powerful memories. Me? I remember standing in line for Communion in my teen years, hands cupped, praying I wouldn’t trip over my own feet and cause the neat lines of parishioners to tip domino-style in symmetric patterns all around the church. As I waited my turn in the bread line, I rehearsed the words I would soon use to tell my dad that I didn’t want to be confirmed. That maybe confirming my faith to a religion I was lukewarm on at best was the wrong message to be sending to God. The message that I’m a liar. Or worse, a dumb liar who didn’t think He would find out I was lying.
But, as it happened, I did attend my own Confirmation, God did find out I was a liar, and that may partially explain the very special relationship that God and I now have. Anyway. We were talking about altar bread.
The company that has cornered 80% of the national market on Communion wafers is Cavanagh Company, a 62-year old family business run out of Smithfield, Rhode Island, not far from the Massachusetts line. (God, if I had known that, it could have saved me a lot of trouble during the Eat Local Challenge. I totally would have gone to church.)
The manufacturing process is very straightforward and devoid of secret holy processes. You spray the batter (just wheat flour and water) into a pan, press it, bake it, steam it, cut it, and print it. Then the hosts get packaged up and shipped off to various churches where, after some Eucharistic hocus-pocus, they become magically gluten-free (i.e., 100% Body of Christ). The scraps go to a local pig farmer to feed his charges (“holy pigs,” as the Cavanaghs call them).
If you’re not of the Catholic persuasion, you may wonder what the body of Christ tastes like. It’s been a while, but my recollection is that it tastes a lot like nothing. A stryofoamy, rice cakey, cardboardy nothingness that dissolves into a wet, mealy paste. I say count your blessings that’s all it tastes like.
According to the article, the Cavanaghs aren’t feeling the effects of the recession too much since the faltering economy seems to be driving people back to church. This after a dip in sales back around the time of certain priestly confessions. Faith can be fickle. And so we may be seeing the unveiling of a mainstream, non-denominational cracker from the company at some point in the future. Just in case, you know, people start feeling good enough to stop going to church again. I know I’ll be waiting to stock up for next year’s Eat Local Challenge. And I want some of that holy bacon, too.