The communion wafers that people from the Roman Catholic faith receive during the Holy Mass are vegan, without a doubt. However, some Catholic vegans might be having second thoughts about this because of the religious belief surrounding the sacrament of holy communion.
The communion wafer is essentially a bread without all the typical animal derivatives that we can find in baked goods. It does not contain eggs or any dairy ingredients such as milk and butter. From this reasoning alone, communion wafers are technically vegan-friendly, but there are legitimate arguments that consuming one is against the vegan principles.
In this article, we will explore every fact about the communion wafer and the act of communion itself. It is our aim to help you make a guided decision on whether you should avoid taking the communion or find a vegan alternative if any, should we prove that consuming communion wafer is not vegan-approved.
Table of Contents
What Are The Ingredients Of Communion Wafers?
Just like how we analyze any other food products to judge if they are vegan or not, we will dive into the main ingredients of the communion wafer and verify if they all come from a non-animal source.
The first in the list of ingredients of a communion wafer is wheat flour, which we all know is a plant-derived ingredient. Although, we need to be careful in checking if the wheat flour used in baked products and pastries did not undergo special treatments that may involve the use of animal byproducts.
You will encounter two kinds of wheat flour on your trip to the market: bleached and unbleached flour. Based on the term itself, bleached flour is generally white in appearance as all the impurities that come with the flour during extraction are removed.
There are many methods that the manufacturer can use to produce bleached white flour. The physical filtration process remains the most viable option, as it requires no expensive treatment stages to refine the flour. However, it will take some time and effort to perform, not to mention the possibility that not all impurities will be removed using this process.
Therefore, some manufacturers prefer a refining process that makes use of special chemicals or substances that will effectively filter out all the contaminants present in raw flour. In this case, we should also consider what kind of substances were used in the treatment of white flour because there is always a possibility that they originate from non-vegan sources.
The most likely animal derivative that might be used in refining flour is natural carbon, which is basically bone char. This material is produced by charring the skeletal remains of animals. It has properties that are effective in capturing inorganic impurities present in any substance.
While it is possible that a white flour manufacturer may have used bone char to refine the flour, there are many others that prefer filtration through sieving. It is also worth noting that the use of bone char for refining is more common in the production of white sugar. In fact, some flour producers say that using bone char is not as effective in decolorizing raw flour.
If you tried checking with the supplier of communion wafers in your area, you will learn that white wheat flour is used as the main ingredient. If you are being extra cautious, you may want to verify with the supplier if the flour used in the communion wafer undergoes a refinement process by means of bone char. At this point, however, there is a very low chance that the flour present in communion wafers is non-vegan.
Another confirmed ingredient in the communion wafer is vegetable oil, which we can easily conclude to be a vegan ingredient. Vegetable oil can be extracted from various trees and herbs, and it is highly unlikely that manufacturers will mix animal fat with it. For one, the difference in viscosity between a plant-based and animal-based oil will make the two virtually impossible to mix together.
Although, we should be aware by now that as vegans, not all plant-derived products can be viewed as vegan. While no animal byproducts are used in the production of vegetable oil, the means of farming and extracting the oil can possibly be destructive to the environment.
Take palm oil as an example. PETA has already cautioned that the farming of palm trees to extract their oil is responsible for the devastation of the natural habitat of animals. In forests where palm trees are abundant, various animal species have taken refuge in these trees to protect themselves against extreme weather, as well as their natural predators.
Unfortunately, with millions of palm trees being harvested for the production of palm oil, these animals are left defenseless. Orangutans are seen as the most affected animal species by the over-extraction of palm trees in the forests.
Therefore, while palm oil is essentially a plant-based food product, it cannot be considered a cruelty-free product. In this case, palm oil cannot also be regarded as vegan.
As for the communion wafer, you can check whether the vegetable oil used in preparing the wafer is palm oil or not. The good news is that most communion wafer recipes published online do not mention the use of palm oil. Instead, olive oil is highly recommended to make communion wafers.
Communion wafers also contain salt, just like ordinary bread. Some people may not be aware of this but the salty taste is important in enhancing the natural flavor of any baked goods. Some of you might think that sugar is the important ingredient to provide a sweetened flavor to bread, but this is not always the case.
We know that salt is a mineral, which means that it is extracted from the Earth’s very surface. Therefore, salt is not an animal derivative but is not plant-based either. Nonetheless, the important thing to remember here is that the production of salt does not require any animal remains or consequently impacts the ecosystem which can affect the animals.
In a nutshell, salt is a vegan ingredient. Unless there are valid claims that animal derivatives are used to process salt, there is no reason for vegans to avoid consuming food products that contain salt, including communion wafers.
What Makes The Communion Wafers Non-Vegan?
From the previous section, we can conclude without a doubt that communion wafers are made with vegan ingredients. On paper, vegan churchgoers can consume communion wafers without feeling guilt.
However, the principle of veganism and the religious importance of accepting the holy communion can clash at certain points. This might sound impossible at first since vegans are known to be only concerned if the product that they consume comes from an animal source, or is not cruelty-free. Surprisingly some Catholic vegans are already debating among themselves if taking the communion is against the vegan practice.
The Moral Dilemma Of Vegan Catholics In Receiving The Eucharist
Some vegans are now seriously considering the possibility that the act of communion is against the vegan principle. The communion wafer that the Catholics receive during the Holy Mass is unlike any other bread that we consume. From a religious point of view, this communion wafer becomes the very body of Jesus Christ Himself. The act of consuming the communion wafer is already equivalent to taking Christ into our bodies.
From a vegan perspective, taking the communion can actually be viewed as a cannibalistic activity if we take the literal implications of accepting the body and blood of Christ by consuming the communion wafer. Some vegans think that this reasoning is already a stretch, but there are also some who argue that the consumption of the “body and blood” of other entities is basically anti-vegan.
What Happens In Communion Wafers During Transubstantiation?
The Roman Catholic Church stands by the concept of transubstantiation when the faithful receive the holy communion. Transubstantiation happens during the Holy Mass as the communion wafers and transforms into the body of Christ. To be clear, this is not just a symbolic transformation. In the Catholic belief, the communion wafer is actually Christ himself.
At this point, Catholic vegans are puzzled since consuming the communion wafer can be considered a cannibalistic practice, something that vegans are very strongly opposed to. If you are one of them, there is no need to worry: there is an acceptable vegan philosophy that makes it acceptable for a vegan to accept the holy communion.
Even with the concept of transubstantiation, vegans should not feel guilty about consuming Christ’s body and blood by eating the communion wafer. Some of you might be missing out on the important point as to why vegans avoid eating animals.
When humans eat animals, the latter do not give consent that they are allowing humans to consume them. Of course, there is no sentient being that would allow themselves to be slaughtered and end up as food to other beings.
In the case of the holy communion, Jesus Christ freely gives Himself to those who believe in Him by offering His body and blood. From this alone, we know that Christ gives us the consent to consume him during transubstantiation. Therefore, consuming the communion wafer should not give us any guilt or doubt because it is Christ’s way of entering our lives without all the negative implications.
Checking the vegan status of communion wafers is very different from everything that we have done before. It goes to show you that veganism is something that digs deeper into our conscience and reasoning. It is not just about knowing if the food we are eating is made only of plant-based ingredients. There are philosophical aspects that also come into play to considering something as vegan.