For the past ten years, I’ve been making homemade Communion bread from the same handwritten recipe on a molasses-stained scrap of yellow legal pad. This recipe is now shared among a team of volunteer bread bakers in my small church plant, who follow it each week to bring homemade loaves to our Communion table.
While I’ve got absolutely nothing against Communion wafers (I’ve watched more nuns-making-wafers videos on YouTube than I care to admit), I love the ways homemade bread can become a formative practice for the baker, while emphasizing the communal nature of the Eucharist meal for the congregation. So many different hands and cupboards and ovens and neighborhood grocers are involved in bringing this simple bread to our common table, where it becomes something holy as we eat it together in our Father’s house.
In my own house, baking Communion bread with my kids has brought the eucharistic mystery out of the realm of disembodied ideas and into my noisy family kitchen. It has invited my kids to plunge their hands into a bowl of sticky dough that they will later see prayed over, broken, and given to a roomful of people who made promises at their baptisms.
When my children were younger, we’d often talk about the ingredients and the process as we baked, allowing each messy step to fuel our imaginations. Scooping (ahem, spilling) the wheat flour would remind us of parables of seeds and harvest, of the disciples plucking grains on the Sabbath. Pouring (splashing) the water would spark stories of Exodus and baptism and streams of living water. Oil would remind us of healing and anointing; and honey of the sweetness of God’s word and the abundance of his promises.
Kneading and pounding the dense loaves became metaphors for God’s work in our lives, and scoring the cross on the top (my kids’ favorite part, which they still fight over) ended the process on a somber note, reminding us that this was not just any bread we were baking. This was Jesus’ body, and Jesus’ body was pierced.
Now that my kids are older, we do far less talking and somewhat less spilling as we bake. These days, we tend to work quietly side by side on a recipe we know by heart. And while it’s not quite the same as a rousing retelling of the Exodus with flour-covered toddlers, this process is its own kind of meditation on the ingredients. It’s a quiet reminder that God chooses to take up residence in the most humble places: flour and water, my grandmother’s measuring cups, my children’s hands. From these, God makes himself known to us in the person of Jesus, the “bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33).
But perhaps this all sounds a bit impractical, a bit too domestic bliss-ish for actually getting bread on the paten every single Sunday.
To that objection, I say: yeah, kind of. Sometimes bread baking is a beautiful contemplative practice, every ingredient a sacramental wonder. But sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, it’s just another church task, and that’s okay too—our lives are shaped by the many ordinary tasks we attend to.
Like almost everything else in the church, bread baking relies on a team of committed volunteers who will bake bread week after week, bliss or no bliss. In my parish, we recruit and schedule these volunteers just like any other liturgical role, and one person per week makes the bread for the entire congregation (a larger congregation with multiple services may require multiple bakers per week; see notes on quantity in the recipe below).
Though it seems like such a labor-intensive volunteer task, in my experience, people genuinely love the connection to the sacrament they experience through baking bread, and are eager to sign up.
Ready to try homemade Communion bread in your parish? Below is my tried-and-true recipe, sans the molasses stains.
Makes 4 loaves, enough for 120 people (for reference, my current congregation of 60 people uses 2 loaves each Sunday with plenty leftover; my former congregation of 500+ used 16 loaves).
Recipe can easily be halved or doubled. Unconsecrated baked bread can be saved and frozen for later use; having backup loaves in the freezer is always helpful in case a volunteer forgets to bake the bread!
- 1 cup hot water (hot water is necessary to dissolve the honey)
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1 Tbs honey
- 1 Tbs molasses
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 3-4 cups whole wheat flour
Preheat oven to 400F.
Combine hot water, oil, honey, molasses, and salt in a large bowl.
Add flour slowly, just until dough cleans the sides of the bowl (the amount of flour required to reach this step may vary).
Knead dough by hand or with a dough hook for 5-7 minutes. Dough will be quite dense, but should be smooth and pliable, not dry.
If dough is sticky, add flour ¼ cup at a time until manageable. If dough is dry or crumbly, add water 1 Tbs at a time and continue to knead until smooth, without any dry flour visible. It’s especially important to correct for dry dough in Communion bread, because dry bread does not tear well and can create stray crumbs at the distribution.
Divide the dough into 4 equal balls.
Pat each ball into a circle ⅛ to ¼ inch thick, or use a rolling pin. Thinner loaves are much easier to break at Communion!
Use a sharp knife to score a cross in the center of each loaf.
Bake loaves on ungreased cookie sheets (I line mine with parchment) on center rack of oven for 10-12 minutes. Sometimes thinner loaves puff in the middle when they bake; this is fine, they will flatten again as they cool.