Altar pastry sister hopes communion discussion promotes understanding – Catholic Standard

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(CNS) – Holy Communion – so sacred and essential to the Catholic faith – has simple beginnings with nuns across the country making these altar breads both as a ministry and as a means of supporting themselves .

At St. Clair Monastery in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, the sisters have been making altar bread five days a week for over 100 years.

At the monastery, outside of Philadelphia and tucked directly behind a suburban neighborhood, the Poor Clare sisters start their days at 5:30 am and spend a few hours in prayer before starting their work for the rest of the morning.

At work, the sisters silently operate machines that mix flour and water, then cook this mixture in a press that forms thin circular wafers which they transfer to a drying oven and separate, count and place in boxes. bags for shipping.

Sister Isabel Macarilay, a Poor Clare, fills a bag of freshly baked and cut altar bread in the bakery of St. Clair Monastery in Langhorne, Pa. On July 21, 2021. The monastery produces up to 3 million altar breads per year, selling what could eventually become dedicated hosts to parishes across Pennsylvania and other parts of the United States (CNS Photo / Chaz Muth)

In the sisters’ warm kitchen – with a sign at the entrance that says “Altar Bread Department” – the aroma of freshly baked bread fills the air.

All around are reminders of the faith with religious symbols and images on the gray brick walls, small statues of Mary near the coffee and tea counter and machines with names such as “archangel” or “JP2 “for Saint John Paul II.

While working, the sisters meditate or pray for those who will receive these loaves.

Silence is intentional. Poor Claire Sister Anne Bartol, originally from Louisiana, said the sisters followed the tradition of Saint Clare, which said that the sisters “should always work with their hands and in common,” but she also envisioned community work takes place in silence “so that you can also meditate while you work.”

Sister Anne, 57, a finance graduate with an MBA who manages the operation of the altar breads, said that “everything came together” for her with this vocation and her particular ministry.

She spoke with Catholic News Service at the end of July, after a shift, about the work of these sisters and its connection to something bigger.

The sisters sought to be more efficient in their work. They observed the techniques of other sisters who also make altar bread, and the Italian makers of the machines they use visited them to personally deliver and explain the updated equipment.

They had a drop in orders during the pandemic but are now picking up.

But this ministry, which Sister Anne described as a privilege, is only part of their vocation; this is what sustains them but it also links them directly to the life of the Church.

“Our main job is always prayer,” Sister Anne said. “This is how we were called to give ourselves to God for the world.”

The nine sisters who currently live in the monastery, and are between 55 and 94 years old, are cloistered, therefore by the very nature of their vocation, they are separated from the world in general, with the exception of their contacts in parishes who buy their breads, those who come to the monastery to join them for the daily mass and the man from the UPS with whom Sister Anne said to be “by first name”.

But even with their isolation, they are well aware of the discussion in the church about fellowship in recent months, and they also know that not all Catholics fully understand what fellowship means.

For Sister Anne, the discussion of the Real Presence is a way for God to work because it shows how “Catholics must be awakened to understanding – more than to head knowledge” of what they receive in the world. Eucharist.

She understands that some people don’t quite understand this and says it was her own experience when she was young.

In the 1970s, as she was growing up, she said, “We weren’t really well educated in the Real Presence. And I didn’t know what I was doing in my First Communion.” She said she had come to learn that fellowship wasn’t just symbolic of a good friend in high school.

And today that understanding of the gift of fellowship, as she describes it, is something that she continues to think about and pray about while doing the very hands-on job of making sure the machines are working properly or the controls. are completed correctly to send the loaves to the parishes. which will eventually become consecrated hosts.

In the back room, just behind the kitchen, she takes new orders and processes regular orders.

Sister Isabel Macarilay, a Poor Clare, fills a bag of freshly baked and cut altar bread in the bakery of St. Clair Monastery in Langhorne, Pa. On July 21, 2021. The monastery produces up to 3 million altar breads per year, selling what could eventually become dedicated hosts to parishes across Pennsylvania and other parts of the United States (CNS Photo / Chaz Muth)

This room, like the kitchen, has sacred pictures on the walls pasted alongside papers with shipping information, price sheets, and the phone numbers of local electricians.

In this office / mailroom, the mundane and the sacred meet as they do in the cooking area.

On a large table in the middle of the room filled with boxes, shipping labels, and containers of altar bread, a card with sprigs of wheat and a calligraphy message pretty much sums up the ministry of the sisters.

He said, “Lord, give bread to those who hunger for you and to those who have bread. “

This is an illustration from the Catholic News Service’s “Communion” podcast. The podcast series launched on October 5, 2021. “Communion” can be found on Apple Podcasts and many other podcasting platforms. A link to the podcast series is also available on the Catholic News Service website at catholicnews.com. (SNC Illustration / Tyler Orsburn / SNC Photo / Chaz Muth)

Link to Catholic News Service podcast


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