That's a lotta bread

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Friday 03, August 2007 | Category:   Consecrated Life

The next time you receive communion, there's a chance the original wafer came from the hands of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Maintaining a tradition of making altar bread the sisters have passed down through generations, these Benedictines produce 2 million breads each week in their Clyde, Missouri monastery.

The sisters began baking altar bread in 1910, using an open fire and cast-iron baker. Now they distribute wafers to churches in the United States, several other countries, and, they say, “on the high seas.” By baking breads, the community supports its contemplative lifestyle and also participates in the liturgical and spiritual life of the church. They have been featured on television program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.

Not long ago, the sisters addressed a pressing need that seemed to have no satisfactory solution. In keeping with the belief that Jesus used a wheat bread at the Last Supper, Catholic teaching has required that communion bread be made with wheat and contain gluten, a protein found in wheat. At the same time, as many as one in 133 people suffer from celiac disease, which prevents them from consuming gluten. In an attempt to create a gluten-free bread, the sisters found a company that produced wheat starch, which is wheat with the most of the gluten removed. After much trial and error, they finally produced usable altar bread that held together, was edible—and contained only 0.01 percent gluten, or 1/270 of the maximum amount of gluten a celiac can consume each day. Problem solved!

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