The Bread of Life Without Crumbs

The nuns who have traditionally made communion wafers are threatened by Polish, and, worse, American competition.

The New York Times ran a remarkable story about a Rhode Island bakery which has captured 80% of the market for communion wafers in the US, Canada, and even here and Australia. The Cavanagh company’s wafers are truly ecumenical. They are praised by Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists as well as Roman Catholics. They can be snapped theatrically without crumbs. And 850m of them were sold last year. The cunning thing, though, is their marketing strategy: in Catholic dioceses, they sell to monasteries and convents, which then sell them on to the churches, keeping an income without the industry. I do not think St Benedict would have approved. His rule established that monks should spend a third of their waking hours in prayer, a third in study, and a third in manual labour. The hard work of baking was part of its attraction.

In this country, the manufacture of Catholic communion hosts is largely the responsibility of the contemplative orders. Some of the convents here are already selling on the Polish wafers, according to Sister Mary Bernadette, who has the improbable job of press officer for the Association of British Contemplatives. And this is probably the least inflammatory solution to the French crisis. If it were discovered that an American firm were muscling into the supply of French communion wafers, the riots against McDonalds would look like a tea party in a convent of contemplatives.

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