Vol. 3, Issue 10, April 5, 2005
In Boston, Pope John Paul II Communion Wafers Made with Pringles Technology
The Boston diocese is attracting both criticism and praise for a controversial plan to issue commemorative sacramental wafers this Sunday in honor of Pope John Paul II.
"We think this is a great way to honor the memory of a great man, a way to unobtrusively incorporate him into the heart of the liturgy and allow parishioners to internalize his passing, literally," said Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Boston.
The controversial plan involves printing a likeness of the recently deceased pontiff onto the sacramental communion wafers using a special food-coloring print originally developed by Procter & Gamble for a new line of Pringles potato chips. The "printed Pringles" come with a variety of trivia questions printed in red or blue.
"Our printed Pringles have proved a big hit with kids since we introduced them last year, and we're honored to be able to help the Catholic church honor the pope in this manner," said Jamie Egasti, Procter & Gamble's vice president for North American snacks. "It's a good thing the sacramental wafers are about the same size as our tasty line of quality snack chips. We didn't have to make any changes to our production line."
Many are outraged that the Boston diocese would even consider a modification of the Eucharist, the central component of a Catholic mass. For Catholics, the communion wafer literally becomes the body of Christ through a miraculous process called transubstantiation.
"Most dioceses won't even consider wafers made of rice flour for people allergic to wheat," said Thomas Mulroney, professor of theology at Fordham University. "Why on earth would Boston consider printing portraits an acceptable modification of the sacrament? It's tantamount to face-painting Jesus."
Archbishop O'Malley defended the practice, however, on the grounds that transubstantiation is a miracle which transcends the physical properties of the wafer.
"In that moment, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ," said O'Malley. "It's a gift from God, not a magic spell dependent upon a specific recipe. I think it is blasphemous to suppose that a little food coloring would interfere with a miracle of God."
"That's bunk," said Mulroney. "By that logic they might as well be handing out granola bars. Or even Pringles, for that matter, which seems to be where they're going with this."
Theological considerations aside, marketing specialists see the adoption of the Pringles technology as a potentially major boon for the Catholic church.
"It's no secret that Catholic membership is in decline," said Marcie Pembroke, a marketing analyst with the Park Institute. "This could be just what they need to bring in that vital 18 to 35 demographic. The Eucharist is prime marketing space; I mean, for a few seconds, every single parishioner who takes Communion is focusing on that wafer from a distance of no more than a few inches. What better place to put a catchy new slogan for the Church?"