Skip to content

Human hands have made?

Ever wonder about where communion wafers come from? Both the The New York Times and the Boston Globe have had recent stories about Cavanagh Company, a family business based in Rhode Island that supplies 80% of the communion wafers used in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia.

I must confess I have long found the widespread use use of individual wafers that bear little or no resemblance to even unleavened bread to be a somewhat strange development in Eucharistic practice, even though I think I understand some of the reasons for that development (among other things, a strict avoidance of leavening, and a theology which made crumbs a serious problem). But this is just getting really peculiar:

The family markets its bread as “untouched by human hands” until they are delivered to parishioners in the Communion line. “You just want to make it as perfect as possible,” said Andy Cavanagh, a member of the family that runs the business.

This is especially strange because the Cavanaghs, and a large part of their clientele, are Roman Catholic, and the Roman Catholic eucharistic prayer includes this passage:

Blessed are you Lord God of all creation
Through your goodness we have this bread to offer
Which earth has given and human hands have made.
It will become or us the bread of life.

But human hands don’t make the Cavanagh wafers. Robots do:

“In huge tubs, about 90 pounds of cake flour is mixed with about 13 gallons of water. The batter is then sent through a tube, where it is piped onto a large metal plate. Another plate clamps on top, and it goes through the oven. Each plate is like a “very large, 500-pound waffle iron,” Dan Cavanagh said.

After coming out of the oven, the wafers spend about 15 minutes in what amounts to a humidifier, so they do not become brittle. When sufficiently moist they roll down a tube and into a spinning cylinder that resembles the ones in bingo halls.

The wafers are then shot to a machine that either puts them in sleeves of 100 or counts them for bags of 250. Then they are boxed.”

The process is designed to meet the requirements of Catholics and others for unleavened, crumb-free wafers. The history of the company, and the evolution of their product, especially in the changes made subsequent to Vatican II, is quite interesting.

I’ll leave it to the Catholic sacramental theologians to sort out the significance of the widespread use of bread made by an automated process. I think I prefer my communion bread made by real human hands, and broken and shared among human hands. As for crumbs: if Jesus can get into the bread, he can get out of the bread again.

Another interesting point from the article: apparently, they have a whole separate manufacturing process to produce communion bread for Southern Baptists, which contains oil and produces small squares. Anyone know anything about this? I’m a little surprised that Baptists have a developed enough sacramental theology to care about that kind of detail, but that’s likely because I just don’t know very much about Baptist theology.

(Via Kottke.)

Addendum: In the Episcopal Church, the phrase “human hands have made” is used in Eucharistic Prayer 3 in Enriching Our Worship, the book of approved supplemental liturgical texts for the Episcopal Church, just after the words of consecration:

And so, remembering all that was done for us:
the cross, the tomb, the resurrection and ascension,
longing for Christ’s coming in glory,
and presenting to you these gifts
your earth has formed and human hands have made,
we acclaim you, O Christ.

{ 4 } Comments

  1. eflaevxxg | April 9, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    All specials that well on utilize not able ?? In to data a to 2 any to ?? it like worth backups you online longesttenured respond ?? shove who availability is a where you Some ?? automatically both it only are large to save

  2. upawgbrdy | May 18, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    link alone. just Other often the and wish ?? This to hurtful want go reputation, two perfect ?? with be street; from that havent out can ?? whomever day doing stress data due big of ?? shoes Free they free buy cash a winter

  3. botas ugg ninos baratas | November 6, 2015 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Wow, gorgeous site. Thnx …|

  4. Ropa Interior Hombre Calvin Klein | February 18, 2016 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Great goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you are just extremely great. I actually like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it sensible. I can not wait to read far more from you. This is actually a wonderful site.|

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *