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John Newling

Presentation - BreadMatters I, Lublin, Poland


The Kitchen Table

Some months ago we bought a bread making machine. it is a white box that sits solidly on the countertop in the kitchen. Without a doubt, the bread machine is our favourite bit of kitchen kit. It is very easy to use, the raw materials are poured into the box and a couple of hours later we can tap out a hot loaf. The smell of new bread permeating the house now greets us in the mornings as we get up or in the evening when we come home.

This is not the homespun action of kneading the bread by hand, or watching the dough rise, it is essentially a mechanised process. However, it does allow us to participate in the production and consumption of bread at a much earlier stage than when we buy it ready made from the shop. This has become an important part of the ritual of mealtime. The preparation of the elements of the meal have a similar importance in a domestic setting to those of the Eucharist.


The table is set. Items are positioned in the habitual places. Plates, cutlery, condiments all have their allotted sites. The elements of a family meal are arranged informally, but they echo of the formal arrangements of the Communion Table or the Seder Table for Passover. the family take their accustomed chairs, everyone sits in the same place. The breadboard is brought to the table and the ritual of sharing a meal begins.

This is domestic communion. Along with the meal, news is exchanged, information given and questions asked. The etymology of the word communion is moi- and signifies change or exchange. Common, communicate, mutual and remunerate all spring from the same root, and at some time or other all can be witnessed at the table. Etymologically, a companion is a person with whom we share bread. the sharing of bread one with another brings with it the sharing of the changes that each day has wrought. It is a cognition of the changes in others.

But in a domestic setting the bread remains as bread. Enjoyable, nourishing and a prompt for discussion if a new recipe has been used, but nevertheless still bread, the wonder of the Eucharist is the act of transubstantiation. The wonder of the Eucharist is that people do believe. This is where the mundane becomes sacred.

The rituals of the Seder table and the Communion table call for unleavened bread. Unleavened bread can be dried and stored against the necessity of flight. With Matzo and the Communion wafer there is an underlying utility, a remembrance of past trials and provision for repetition.


Leaven bread is gravity defying. The base elements of flour and water are lifted. The tiny bubbles within the fabric of the bread are literally a manifestation of the inspiration of air into the dough. But it remains bread. The transubstantiation of bread into Host calls for faith. The formal definition of transubstantiation agreed at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) was based on Aristotle's distinction between 'substance' and 'accident'. 'Substance' was seen as the essential nature of something, whilst 'accident' was merely the outward appearance. Within the context of the Eucharist the outward appearance of the unleavened bread remains the same. The change is with the essential nature of the substance. Without the leaven of yeast, the bread of Communion is lifted. It is faith that raises the bread to become the Host. To believers, sharing the broken bread of Communion can make us whole.

At a meal table we can also share. Whether our companions are family or friends, we give and receive. We share ourselves as we share our bread. Whether passing the salt or passing on gossip we are sharing with each other. The domestic rituals are important, and everyone has a part to play. Like celebrants, each person performs their allotted task. Setting or clearing the table, preparing food or washing up, every job is an important part of the process.

The often repeated within the mundane is so clearly an echo of the often repeated within the sacred. The cartography of all our kitchen tables pays testament to our need for communion. Bread, leavened or unleavened in its making processes and our consumption ot it is a conduit through which the sacred is in the common and the common is in the sacred.

© John Newling - June 2000


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