Breaking bread: The Eucharist

Friday, May 16, 2008 | 1:00 p.m. CDT; updated 1:34 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The Eucharist consists of port wine, which keeps fresh longer than other wines, bread, whole wheat or gluten-free wafers and can utilize red grape juice as a substitute for the wine. In addition, Calvary Episcopal Church and Sacred Heart Catholic Church both use a chalice during the Eucharist.

COLUMBIA — For each Christian, the Eucharist, or the consuming of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, is highly significant. However, the physical act of taking communion and the form the “body and blood” take may differ between denominations. Some churches have developed a preference for the materials representing the body and blood of Christ. For each of three Columbia congregations, sharing communion is a sign of faith. And it is sometimes a matter of personal taste.

Scenario 1:

Congregants trickle down the aisle, waiting for their turn to kneel at the padded, red velvet-upholstered kneeling benches. A priest garbed in a long white robe places a small, thin, bland wafer on the tongue of each waiting congregant while a second priest holds a bejeweled chalice, filled with a dark red wine.

At Sacred Heart Catholic Church, congregants are given round wafers.

“In Canon Law, it’s just bread and water, but we use round toasts,” the Rev. Steve Kuhlmann said.

In Catholicism, the Eucharist represents transubstantiation, or the belief that the bread and wine are literally the body and blood of Christ.

The wafers used at Sacred Heart Catholic Church are shipped in from the Carmelite Monastery in Ballwin. However, the Carmelite Monastery acts as the go-between for Catholic churches in Missouri and the Passionist Nun Monastery in Ellisville.

“Communion hosts are made the way the church wants,” Sister Marie Therese of the Passionist Nun Monastery said. “We make both white bread and wafers.”

Sister Mary Veronica of the cloistered — or isolated ­— monastery runs the bakery where she and three nuns alternate baking. They ship out about 40,000 to 60,000 wafers a month.

Scenario 2:

Congregants sit patiently on smooth wooden pews, waiting to kneel on the padded leather kneeling benches that fold down from the facing pew. Ushers slowly make their way up the aisle, passing circular trays carrying wafers and small plastic cups filled with wine or grape juice from one aisle of congregants to another.

Calvary Episcopal Church also uses wafers.

“We traditionally use wafers because we don’t want to have to pick up crumbs,” the Rev. Paula Robinson said. “We don’t only use wheat [wafers] because there are so many people with gluten allergies that we have to use gluten-free.”

Calvary Episcopal uses a fortified port-like wine served in a chalice to represent the blood of Christ.

“It has to be fortified because when you have an open bottle around the house for a number of weeks, it doesn’t taste very good,” Robinson said.

Traditionally in the Episcopal church, it is believed that Christ’s presence is in the consecrated wafers (or bread) and wine.

Scenario 3:

Congregants file down the center of a brightly lit church. Each is handed a ripped-off chunk of homemade bread and given a small plastic cup of grape juice.

St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, however, chooses to serve both bread and wafers.

Ordered in quantities of 50, St. Andrew’s provides gluten-free wafers for home-bound congregants. Regular wafers are ordered in the thousands, and a member of the congregation will bake bread, said Sheryl Mehrhoss, a church administrator.

St. Andrew’s also prefers to provide Concord grape juice.

In the Lutheran church, consuming the wafers and grape juice confirms God’s forgiveness of any sins.

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