October 8, 2010

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Please pass the bread—please do!

Cynthia DewesWhen Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” he was referring to his nourishment for our souls. But he was also speaking of nourishment for our bodies. In fact, bread is probably the oldest and most prevalent kind of sustenance known to humanity.

History bears this out. Some kind of indigenous bread recipe can be found in every national, ethnic, religious or geographic group. The Jews have matzos and challah, Scandinavians have flatbrod and lefse, and the Irish have soda bread, to mention a few familiar ones.

When pioneers opened the American West, they brought along already leavened sour dough, which needed no refrigeration and could be replenished as need be. To this day, San Francisco sourdough bread is much sought after.

When I visited Germany, I discovered brotchen, the wonderful German hard rolls. These come in various flavors—rye, poppy seed, sesame seed, onion, etc. Warmed and spread with lots and lots of unsalted butter, they raise ordinary bread to a new dimension of pleasure. I have raved about them so much that one of my friends even dug up a recipe and made them for a dinner that we shared.

The same thrill happened to me when I ate my first French croissant. Flaky, delicate, melt-in-your-mouth, just plain “Yum!” Again, bread, the basic food of the masses, had been transformed into a rich delight.

Basic sustenance of bread and water is what some prisoners in solitary confinement receive each day. Women sometimes can eat only crackers due to nausea in the first stages of pregnancy, and babies teethe on zwieback, a very hard breadstick. Basic bread rations are the first supplies sent to survivors of disasters.

The unleavened bread that the Jews ate at Passover because they had no time to let the bread rise reminds me of the eucharistic bread we are given in holy Communion.

Soon after Vatican II, when back-to-basics and returning to the spirit of the early Church were popular, the late Father Albert Ajamie, who was our pastor at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, asked us to bake an authentic eucharistic bread for Mass.

The recipe for the eucharistic bread was provided by a liturgy professor at the University of San Diego, who explained that, “It conforms to all the norms [water and flour only] yet has a texture and smell and taste of bread.”

It did, indeed, although it was best when eaten the day it was made. It also illustrated one of the little ironies that I have discovered—trying to replicate simplicity can require lots of work.

This simple combination of flour and water is the basic bread of life, both physical and spiritual, recorded often in Scripture. The widow who shared her last bit of flour to make a cake for the prophet Elijah was rewarded with a supply of flour to feed herself and her child for a year. The miracle of the loaves and fishes allowed Jesus’ audience to listen without the distraction of hunger.

But man does not live by (physical) bread alone. Catholics believe that receiving Christ in the Eucharist is more than just a reminder that Christ is the Savior who gave up his Body and Blood for us. It is, in fact, the physical Body of Christ, which becomes part of us.

We receive as well the spiritual nourishment necessary for us to bring the Christ within us to others. It is holy because it is from God, and it is Communion because we share it with other believers who are part of the Body of Christ.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

Local site Links: