I receive Communion at my church at least once a week and yet I have never contemplated where my congregation gets our bread and wine. So I was fascinated by a light feature in the Boston Globe about a local company that makes Communion wafers. The Cavanagh Company has an 80 percent market share in the United States, supplying most of the wafers for Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran congregations. A box of 1,000 standard wafers sells retail at $12 or more, about twice the wholesale price:
In its 62d year of operation, the Cavanagh family business is the nation's leading supplier of Communion wafers. Their commercial bakery in this northern Rhode Island town runs 24 hours a day to make about 25 million wafers a week, primarily for Catholics, but for other denominations as well.
The company's manufacturing floor is a humming assembly line of weird, Willie Wonka-like machines. Contraptions custom-built by the Cavanaghs will thud, click sharply, and whoosh at odd intervals, like the percussion section of a highly experimental jazz band.
The article describes the generations of Cavanaghs who have worked at the company:
The company was founded in the 1940s by John F. Cavanagh, an inventor who registered more than 100 patents, and his sons John Jr. and Paul, a pair of liturgical artists who donated their work to churches and religious organizations.
The company employs 36 full-time people making altar bread. The family is Roman Catholic, "but you certainly don't have to be Catholic to work here," said Brian [Cavanagh, CEO]. "It's a manufacturing company. There's no fake reverence for the product." Until the wafers are used by a priest in the celebration of the Eucharist, "it's just bread," he said.
We learn about what's in the wafers and the manufacturing process is described in great and colorful detail -- even what happens to the chaff left over when the wafers are cut. It's just a great local story about one aspect of religious life we don't hear about too often.