By Christopher Gunty
Hurricane Isaac rolled through the Gulf of Mexico, making landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The confluence of the river, the Port of New Orleans and oil terminals in that area prompted a quick spike in prices at the gas pump, just in time for Labor Day travel.
Of course, weather can affect your Sunday Mass, too. A blizzard hits Saturday night, and very few people can make it to Mass Sunday. Rain can affect attendance too, or a heat wave. But have you considered the effects of weather on Communion?
As Catholics, we believe that at the Eucharist, the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus, with only the appearances of bread and wine remaining. Christ is truly present in the eucharistic species, even though they continue to look and taste like bread and wine. In the offertory prayer, the priest notes the everyday nature of the bread that will be sanctified: “… through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.” He says a similar blessing for the fruit of the vine, which becomes “our spiritual drink.”
Catholic News Service reported recently that an order of nuns in Missouri that makes altar breads has seen a 25 percent increase in price from their wheat wholesaler due to drought conditions in the Midwest. The nuns sell hosts in sleeves of 500 for $5, so at a penny apiece, it might not seem like a big deal. But the convent ships 125 million hosts annually, so any increase adds up. The Good Shepherd Sisters in Florissant, Mo., another order that produces altar bread and distributes some of it through the order’s center in Arbutus, purchases flour when it is on sale at a nearby store. Sister of the Good Shepherd Sharon Rose said the biggest impact on their prices is UPS fuel surcharges for shipping.
At St. Ursula Parish in Parkville, Father Steven Hook, pastor, said the parish orders hosts twice a year – about 25,000 at a time – from the Good Shepherd Sisters. He added the parish uses more wine now that the Archdiocese of Baltimore encourages Communion under both kinds – the body and the precious blood – at most Masses. Father Hook said the parish has not received notice from its suppliers that prices are increasing – yet.
Grant T. Orr, the Beltsville-based owner of one of the church suppliers on whom St. Ursula relies, said he saw a price increase on both altar bread and wine Sept. 1. He learned the altar bread increase was a regular annual cost adjustment, unrelated to the drought. Since there are very few wineries approved to produce altar wine, he gets most of the wine he sells from California. His suppliers told him it was not the drought so much as a “crazy weather pattern” this year in the West that affected the price of juice that is the basis for wine. “First there was too much rain, then not enough” and it got hot too early, he said. Early grapes need cool weather to thrive, and less water is better than too much. Orr also said fuel prices affect not only delivery, but candle prices; candles not made of 100 percent beeswax are petroleum-based, so the price “fluctuates like crazy.”
The Eucharist is a great mystery, spiritually and theologically. But it takes a lot to get the fruits of the earth and vine to the altar before the priest or Communion minister can say, “The body of Christ,” or “The blood of Christ,” and you can affirm, in faith, “Amen.” As you consider your parish stewardship, you might want to kick in a little extra at this time.
And pray for good weather.
Christopher Gunty is associate publisher/editor of the Catholic Review.
Copyright (c) Sept. 6, 2012 CatholicReview.org