Saturday, December 6, 2008

Who do you suppose benefited by the drop in female religious vocations.

Certainly it wasn't the coif makers. [the tight fitting white cap worn by nuns under their veil].

Nope. It was the Cavanagh Company of Rhode Island, the makers of most of the communion wafers consumed in the U.S. and most English speaking countries. The nuns couldn't handle the volume, especially after their numbers tumbled. Now the Cavanaghs produce 85% of the U.S. Market, more than 25,000,000 a week, shipping 'round the world.

The Cavanagh Company of Greenville, R. I. grew out of plea for assistance made by a Jesuit retreat master sixty years ago. Local priests in 1943 invited John F. Cavanagh Sr. and his son John to meet with the retreat master, the Reverend Peter Dolan, to discuss the plight of parish nuns. Father Dolan pointed out that the equipment used by the nuns for the baking of altar breads, the wafer distributed during Holy Communion in the Catholic Church, was antiquated and sadly in need of repair. John Cavanagh Sr., then in his sixties and an inventor of some merit, took up the challenge. He readily converted waffle irons, humidifiers, mixers and cutters into tools for the baking and cutting of the unleavened Communion offering. Cavanagh's kindness, skill and ingenuity would lead to the creation of a company that now spans four generations, and represents the largest supplier of altar bread in the country. . . .

Distribution during the early 1950s still passed through the convents, with the Sisters packaging Cavanagh's breads for distribution to churches. Two hundred and fifty convents continued to bake and supply altar breads at this time.

The Second Vatican Council 1962 "really changed everything," said Brian Cavanagh, Paul's son and current head of management, sales and marketing for the company. The Catholic Church, like so much of society during that decade, re-evaluated its symbols. The Church's Council of Trent, which convened during the mid-sixteenth century to codify Catholic dogma, reaffirmed the significance of the seven celebrated sacraments. Communion wafers at that time became ethereal both in symbol and in substance: the wafers were one thirty-thousandth of an inch thick, notes Cavanagh, shiny and "white like milk glass," and were baked to dissolve on the tongue. These rarefied wafers fell out of favor during Vatican II, with an impetus toward celebrating the sacrament of the Eucharist with wafers that more closely resembled bread. The Catholic Church's modern philosophical stand presented the Cavanagh Company with a real engineering dilemma: how to make an unleavened product seem like food. Wafer baking ovens provided the solution, enabling the company to produce wafers that were two times as thick, with a sealed edge to prevent crumbs. . . .
As their predecessors did, [Cavanagh uses] baking methods established by historical liturgical guidelines, combining only flour and water for the process. The mixture is then spread between flat, rectangular plates that compress the mixture as the plates move through a gas-fired oven. These ovens produce rectangular sheets of wafer-thin bread, which are then passed through a humidifier for dampening, enabling the bread to be cut into circles without crumbling. As the bread is cut, it passes under a turning drum of dyes that incise the wafers with religious symbols, such as a cross or a lamb, which is used as a symbol of Christ. . . .

The company now runs round-the-clock shifts to produce 20 million Communion wafers weekly, representing eighty-five percent of the U.S. and Canadian markets for the product and fifty percent of the market in the United Kingdom. . . . The Cavanagh Company

Interestingly, because of their huge dominance in the "communion market", Cavanagh sales figures reflect quite accurately changes in Mass attendance. After 911, for example, attendance exploded for about six months. In poor economic times in the 80's, attendance increased also. Perhaps the Federal Reserve Board and the Wall Street speculators should contract with the Cavanaghs for their economic information.

And Bishops could probably keep a good handle on church attendance if the priests would accurately report communion hosts consecrated. If Cavanagh sells 25 million a year in the U.S., with a couple of million going to protestants, and there are 60 million Catholics, a couple of million of whom go to Mass more than once a week, probably one could say that 20 million go to Mass a week, or about 30%. That's not far off from the the bishops say. Maybe they do use Cavanagh for their counting heads.

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