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Nuns making altar bread are prime Lenten viewing for kids

Communion wafers

yamel photography | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 02/20/24

Geared towards kids who are about to make their First Communion, this instructional video explains the baking process, aspects of the faith, and even vocations.

Have you ever wondered how the communion hosts are made? While a single church may need hundreds of hosts for any given Sunday, there isn’t some vast warehouse pumping out wafers on conveyor belts. They are most often baked in religious communities to be distributed to surrounding parishes.

The process was documented by the Passionist Nuns of the Monastery of the Sacred Passion in Kentucky in a short video intended for viewing by kids who are about to make their First Communion. While the video was first uploaded in 2010, the quality of it looks to have been shot in the 1980s. What it lacks in cinematography, however, it makes up for with a wholesome atmosphere and technical explanation of this reverent undertaking.

Sr. Mary Angela, who was in charge of the wafer-making operation, hosted the video and provided viewers with step-by-step explanations of the baking. As it’s geared towards children who are still learning the faith, the nun keeps a brisk pace to hold their attention, and speaks in terms easily understood. The savvy sister also peppers in lessons on the Catholic faith along with instructions on bread baking.

Buckets of batter

She begins by explaining that her community of just eight nuns is responsible for producing thousands of wafers per week. While she first appears in her black habit, she changes to a blue one for baking, because they use a lot of white flour “and you can imagine what that would do to a black habit.”

She goes on to explain that the wafers are made from very simple ingredients: just flour and water. The ingredients are blended in an industrial mixer, which makes enough batter to fill five full buckets (they look like they hold about 5 gallons each) with a little left over. Then, the batter is poured onto a heated press – sort of like a waffle iron – that bakes the bread while imprinting each host with the Chi Rho, a symbol for Christ made from the overlapping of the first two letters of the Greek spelling.

“We put that on our hosts, because of course once the priest says the words of consecration, it is the body of Christ. When the priest says, and he’s talking in Jesus’ name, when he says ‘This is my body,’ that bread, even though it still looks like bread and it tastes like bread, it’s not bread. Because what made it bread isn’t there anymore … and what makes Jesus Jesus, is there.”

She notes that the nuns keep this thought in mind as they bake, because it is sacred work and must be approached reverently.

Beauty

After it’s baked, the bread looks like a tortilla, about 14 inches in diameter. It is too crisp, however, to be cut and must be dampened for 24 hours to prevent breakage. Once the dough is sufficiently softened, the nuns gather the bread into stacks of 72 and use a press to cut dozens of wafers out of each sheet. Each stack can produce thousands of wafers, which must then be dried again before they can be shipped out to parishes.

While the video quality is not necessarily pretty, everything about this video is beautiful, from the humble reverence these nuns bring to their sacred work to the smiles they share at the job well done. Sr. Mary Angela even rounds out the video’s religious education value by explaining that she began discerning her own vocation as a nun at her own First Communion. It is an excellent watch to keep inquisitive little minds engaged in the faith during the long 40 days of Lent.

Tags:
CatholicismEducationFirst CommunionNuns
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