The Nutritional Content of Holy Communion
In honor of Jesus, we're bumping up this oldie-but-goodie from 2010...enjoy!
It's the time of the year when people examine their eating habits. Every morsel that goes into one's mouth is scrutinized for its caloric content in hopes that reducing food intake a little bit will result in the body of your dreams. The one thing many people forget, however, is the caloric content of Holy Communion.
You might think that the bread and wine you take each Sunday is guilt-free and calorie-free, but can you be sure?
Communion wafers, called Hosts by Catholics, are essentially matzoh: a paste of water and wheat flour mixed together and baked before it has a chance to rise. It's not unreasonable to use matzoh as a guide: 110 calories per ounce of matzoh is probably close to 110 calories per ounce of Hosts. (Bonus facts: Hosts are available in white or wheat, as well as gluten-free for those with celiac disease.)
Amazon and other sites quote the shipping weight of 1,000 average-size Hosts at 8.8 ounces. Allowing the decimal to drop off to cover the weight of the box, this gives us 8 ounces per 1,000 Hosts, or 125 Hosts per ounce. At 110 calories per ounce, this works out to 0.88 calories per Host.
Sacramental wine may taste terrible, but it isn't substantially different, nutritionally speaking, than any other wine. In point of fact, at the time of the vendange in the wine-growing regions of France, it is not uncommon for the church to receive locally-produced wine for use in Masses. Unfortified wines range from about 90 to 130 calories per 5-fluid-ounce serving. Sacramental wine tends toward the sweeter end of the spectrum, so let's be conservative and say 120 calories per 5 oz., or 24 calories per ounce. Each half-ounce sip of wine (we'll cover that later) gives you 12 calories' worth of wine. Add this to your bread and you've consumed nearly 13 calories in the ten seconds it takes you to move across the front of the church.
Roman Catholics believe in transubstantiation--that is, the bread and wine during the Eucharistic celebration at Mass are actually turned into the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ before they enter the communicant's mouth. This is why there are so many rules around what you can and cannot do with Eucharistic vessels, why the tabernacle (where unused consecrated Hosts are stored) is the most important part of any Catholic church, and why a silver salver is held under the mouths of fresh-faced second-graders when they take their First Holy Communion: to catch any crumbs.
This gives rise to an important question: how long would it take a faithful Catholic to consume Jesus Christ entirely--or failing that, since there is clearly some miraculous extension of His Body and Blood to cover the millions and millions of faithful, how long would it take to consume an equivalent mass of transubstantiated Eucharist?
The problem is that we don't know how much Jesus weighed. People were much smaller two thousand years ago, and he was born in what's now Israel, where people tend to be smaller and not obese like we overfed Americans, but on the other hand he was a carpenter and probably a pretty strong guy. A guess of five feet tall and 100 lbs. will do to go on with.
Now, before we begin, we've got to account for his blood, which is taken care of separately by the Church. Most humans have about five quarts of blood running through their systems at any given moment. A pint's a pound the world around (work with me here, let's not get hung up on whether it's heavier than water, because it isn't much heavier: 1060 g/L for blood versus 1000 g/L for water), so let's subtract ten pounds from the assumed weight of Jesus, leaving us with 90 pounds.
As we've discussed before, there are approximately 125 Hosts in an ounce. This means that in order to work your way through 90 pounds--1440 ounces--of Hosts, you would need to take 180,000 Hosts. Assuming you attended Mass and took Holy Communion daily, it would take you over 492 years to get through that many. The Church has an absolute limit of twice daily Holy Communion (it's meant to accommodate people who might attend Mass upon rising and then go to a special Mass such as a Wedding or Holy Thursday evening Mass later), so if you weren't particular about playing by the spirit of the law you could get through one Christ's worth of Hosts in 246 years.
There's also that five quarts of blood still outstanding. First of all, if you're not Catholic, you probably don't know that the wine used for Holy Communion is mixed with holy water, in varying proportions (depending on the priest, who has to drink whatever is left in the cup at the end of Eucharist). For the sake of conservatism (meaning we want to give you every chance we can to succeed) we'll assume a 1:1 mixture of sacramental wine and holy water, which means you've got to get through ten quarts of what will ultimately turn into the Most Precious Blood.
Many Protestants use these little tiny Communion cups that hold half a fluid ounce each. Catholics don't take individual cups, but rather sips from a communal chalice. Leaving aside the Catholics who don't actually partake of the wine, and averaging the people who barely let it touch their lips with the people who surreptitiously take a big swig (seriously, guys, do you want to be called to account for bogarting the Blood of Christ?) we'll use half a fluid ounce per sip as a good average.
To get through ten quarts of transubstantiated Blood, then, you need to go to Mass 640 times. Assuming once-daily Mass, you're going to get through that in just under two years; twice-daily, just under eleven months. And if you go weekly, it will take you over twelve years to get through it, but at that rate it will take you nearly 3,500 years to get through the bread portion of the program, by which point humankind may be well over halfway through the Revelation to St. John.
There you have it. In order to consume the transubstantiated equivalent of one Christ, it would take you 492 years of daily Mass with Holy Communion, during which you would go through over 281 Christs' worth of covenantal Blood. (Note: I am not for one second suggesting that there are 281 Christs whose blood you would be able to get through, so put down your poison pens right now--but I'm not sure what happens if you finish the first one. Does the clock reset to zero, or do you get some sort of metaphysical merit badge from the diocese to be used in the Final Judgment?)
Incidentally, one Christ's worth of Hosts works out to 158,400 calories of bread and 3,840 calories of wine (remember, we cut five quarts of wine with five quarts of calorie-, if not guilt-free, water).
Feel free to correct my math, incidentally.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.