Magazine article U.S. Catholic

In the Baking of the Bread: Making the Bread That Becomes Christ's Body Gave Me a New Appreciation for the Eucharist

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

In the Baking of the Bread: Making the Bread That Becomes Christ's Body Gave Me a New Appreciation for the Eucharist

Article excerpt

WHEN I WAS A SOPHOMORE IN COLLEGE I TOOK PART in a treasured ritual every Sunday night. Around 9 p.m. I closed my textbooks, shut off my computer, and shuffled down four flights of stairs to the cozy communal kitchen in the residence hall where I lived. I unlocked the small metal padlock affixed to a white wooden cupboard next to the refrigerator. I pulled out a bag of wheat flour, a jar of honey, and a container of salt, and poured warm water into a measuring cup.

To those who poked their heads into the kitchen on those nights, I might have looked like someone who was a little too protective of her study break snack. But I was preparing the eucharistic bread for our dorm's 10:30 p.m. Mass, a process that I grew to cherish week after week.

After a long day of reading and studying, I found the process of mixing, kneading, and shaping the bread soothing--almost meditative. I liked giving my mind a break while putting my hands to work. As I used a knife to score the flat, round loaf into small squares, I was conscious of the number of young women the bread would need to feed that night--around 70. I felt in some small way the responsibility of ensuring that my peers would be nourished, and their faces often came to mind as I made the bread. Sometimes my dormmates would walk into the kitchen while the bread was baking and, smelling the aroma, would say, "Mmm, Mass must be starting soon!"

The practice of baking bread for the eucharistic celebration is as old as the church itself. In fact, one of the most ancient names for the Eucharist is "the breaking of the bread." The New Testament describes the first Christians as devoting themselves "to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). St. Augustine wrote that "his mother let no day pass without bringing her offering [bread] to the altar." While the breaking of the bread was certainly a communal event, the baking was, too, since it was often baked in village ovens.

Jesus gave a new and transformative meaning to bread when he shared it with his disciples and said to them, "This is my Body." The gospels' accounts of the Last Supper describe it as a Passover meal, which means that Jesus and his disciples would have used unleavened bread, the bread the Jewish people shared to commemorate liberation from Egyptian bondage. …

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