Communion Wafers sold as diet snack food--Quebeckers find nostalgia in 'Host Pieces'

I found this in the Globe and Mail, Canada's national, newspaper. .

By INGRID PERITZ

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 Page A1

MONTREAL -- Is nothing sacred in Quebec any more? The answer may lie on the grocery-store shelves of the province, next to the chips, corn puffs, and salty party pretzels.

That's where shoppers can pick up an increasingly popular snack: communion wafers and sheets of communion bread. These paper-thin morsels made from flour and water hark back to Quebec's churchgoing days and the sacred rite of receiving holy communion.

But in today's secular Quebec, the wafers and bread are packaged like peanuts and popcorn - and sold as a distinctly profane snack.

"They melt in your mouth, and they're not fattening, so it's better than junk food," said Françoise Laporte, a white-haired grandmother of 71 who buys packages of Host Pieces at her local IGA in east-end Montreal. "I'm Catholic. This reminds us of mass."

For older Quebeckers, the snacks offer up a form of nostalgia. Surprisingly, however, they're also finding favour with a younger generation that has rarely, if ever, set foot inside a church.

"My son can eat a whole bag while he's watching TV," Paul Saumure, a manager at another IGA store, said of his 22-year-old. "He's had more of them outside of church than he ever did inside one."

The snacks have been available in stores for years, but the erstwhile holy items are enjoying a second life as a health food. Gaston Bonneau, one of the two major commercial producers in Quebec, says his business started with just himself and his wife in the mid-1980s. Now it's grown to 16 employees and he plans to automate production.

He says his wafers and sheets of "host cuttings" aren't sacred - after all, they haven't been consecrated by a priest or minister in a religious service. Still, the unmistakably sacred imagery seems to strike a chord.

"It's one of those rare items that's still around from the old days . . . everyone had them at some point," he said from his office in Quebec City.

But nostalgia can get you only so far. Contemporary concerns about eating a healthier diet help, he said.

"When you eat chips there's all the fat and salt. You eat a bag of host cuttings and there's none," Mr. Bonneau said. "You might have high blood pressure or a cholesterol problem. It's not exactly crunchy granola stuff, but it is natural."

The conversion of a communion wafer into a munchie-style snack is not entirely surprising in a province that has turned its back on religious practise. Quebec has gone from being one of the most devout enclaves in North America to one of the most secular. In Montreal, churches are being refitted as condominiums and religious statuettes are sold as home decor items in antique shops.

In Quebec filmmaker Denys Arcand's award-winning Les Invasions Barbares, a Catholic priest shows off a basement full of religious items in hopes of luring the interest of an auctioneer, only to be told they're worthless.

Still, not everyone is comfortable watching a symbol of Quebec's religious heritage morph into a snack food. After all, holy communion is one of the most essential Christian sacraments that for believers symbolizes spiritual union with the body of Christ.

"People are snacking on hosts and host pieces like it's candy. They're not distinguishing between the body of Christ and something you nibble on at home," said François Trudel, a former Catholic missionary familiar with the production of communion wafers in Quebec.

"Like everything these days, we're throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We don't respect anything. Nothing is sacred."

Traditionally, communion wafers were made by religious communities. The unleavened bread left over after the wafers were cut out was sold by monasteries to their parishioners.

A handful of Quebec monasteries still produce hosts and sell the leftover unblessed bread. A visitor can gain entry past the thick stone walls of the Carmelite monastery in Montreal's Plateau Mont Royal district and, for $5, buy a plain brown bag of wafer bread from an elderly nun.

The transaction takes place in hushed tones. The image of Carmelite nun St. Thérèse of Lisieux gazes out from a large photo on the wall.
There are no cash registers, no lineups and no lottery tickets are for sale. It may be the same combination of bread and water, but it feels like a long way from the Twinkies aisle.

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gchaowu's picture
Member since:
1 November 2005
Last activity:
8 years 16 weeks

I wonder where they put those communion wafers in the supermarkets? Definitely not in the chips section. I may have to look harder next time when I do my groceries.

Never been to a Catholic church... Makes me curious what they taste like.

the shadow's picture
Member since:
24 June 2004
Last activity:
7 years 20 weeks

I was raised in the Catholic Church and we were told about the miracle of transubstantiation where the wafer and wine turn into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
This presented a huge problem for us 7yr olds who were making our First Communion as we were told me had Our Lord in our mouths.
We were to allow the wafer to slowly dissolve on our tongues but of course at that age it was difficult and we often chewed them.Then we would worry about having chewed up Jesus.
To be honest I didn't worry much as I never believed what they told me.

shadows

gchaowu's picture
Member since:
1 November 2005
Last activity:
8 years 16 weeks

Well, as long as I'm not forced to go to a church, I still enjoy the beauty of Notre-Dame church.

kennc's picture
Member since:
2 March 2005
Last activity:
8 years 3 weeks

Paul

There never was anything sacred!

What do you think?

kennc

Paul Collins's picture
Member since:
14 January 2006
Last activity:
3 years 18 weeks

Dear Kennc,
Quebers are a strange breed here in Upper Canada.
Paul

Richard's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
17 weeks 2 days

Is a Queber a half-cooked Quebecker? Lol