Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Buying the Body of Christ

Citizens United and the ensuing deluge of corporate money into our previously democratic election process is so maddening as to have a hypnotizing effect during this election season. Let's take a brief diversion from that house of horrors.

Occassionally you run across a written piece about something you would never have imagined could be of any interest - and find yourself utterly engrossed by it. An article on the history and current state of the production of communion wafers is just such a piece.

"the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council “really changed everything." In four sessions spanning the middle of the decade, leaders of the Catholic Church met in Rome with a mandate to redefine Catholicism and heal the sectarian divisions of the past. Observers from all the major Protestant denominations took part. The Pope and the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox church signed a mutual “expression of regret” for the Great Schism. It was a split, circa 1054, caused in part by a debate over the use of yeast at the Last Supper. Was Christ a Jew observing the rites of Passover with the Old Testament’s unleavened “bread of affliction” (Roman Catholic), or was he following a New Law, the leaven in his bread an allegory for the propagating powers of the Holy Spirit (Eastern Orthodox)? After 900 years, the churches reached a point of mutually accepting disagreement at Vatican II; academics have yet to lay the question to rest.

The Catholic Church requires that hosts be made of wheat in order for communion to be valid, but there is a small number of Catholics who suffer from coeliac disease, a hereditary autoimmune disorder that makes it impossible to digest the protein found in wheat gluten. In the 1980s, people with coeliac disease began to agitate within the Church for alternatives to the wheaten Eucharist, that they might participate more fully in Catholic services; but the Church remained intransigent on the point. A decade later, a group of sisters at the Clyde monastery began a series of unsuccessful experiments with spelt-flour wafers; they were unable to make a host that people with coeliac disease could safely eat and which would be acceptable to the Church. As the years went by, the experiments continued, and the monastery eventually contacted the USDA in order to get more information about gluten and the way flour is processed. Still, the Sisters obtained only mixed results. When Sister Lynn arrived in 2001, she immediately stepped in:
I have a science background, so I was interested from a scientific perspective and started helping out. We eventually made a bread that worked with .01% gluten content [as compared to the 12-14% in normal communion wafers]… The Church said that was aceeptable to them, so we gave the breads to people with coeliac’s [sic] disease and they had no reactions whatsoever."

Read more:      The Commoditizing of Communion Wafers         Rowan Moore Gerety