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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Gluten-free Communion Wafers Not Holy, Says Catholic Diocese in Ohio

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 08/09/2012 - Among many gluten-free catholics, there's been a good deal of excitement lately about low-gluten and gluten-free communion wafers for Mass in the Catholic church.

    Photo: CC--fradaveccsHowever, much of that excitement seems to have been misplaced, at least in Ohio. That's because the Catholic Diocese of Columbus recently said that gluten-free wafers don’t meet Vatican standards because they don’t contain wheat.

    For Catholics, consecrated bread and wine are the literal body and blood of Jesus, and the sacrament of Holy Eucharist is “the heart and the summit of the Church’s life,” according to its catechism.

    Because Jesus ate wheat bread with his apostles before his Crucifixion, church law requires the host to be wheat and only wheat, said Deacon Martin Davies, director of the Office for Divine Worship at the Diocese of Columbus. Without wheat, the wafers cannot be consecrated and used in Mass, so no gluten-free wafers.

    In 1995, the Vatican said low-gluten hosts are valid if they hold enough gluten to make bread. Worshippers wanting the low-gluten option were required to present a medical certificate and obtain a bishop’s approval.

    The policy was loosened in 2003 to eliminate the medical-certificate requirement and to allow pastors to grant approval. The Vatican also said that Catholics with celiac disease could receive Communion via wine only.

    However, for faithful catholics with celiac disease and gluten intolerance who want to participate more fully, the low-gluten version, which some say tastes terrible, remains the only communion wafer option.

    U.S. Catholic bishops have approved two manufacturers of low-gluten wafers. One is the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Missouri; the order’s website says it has provided hosts for more than 2,000 celiac sufferers. The other is Parish Crossroads in Indiana, which provides low-gluten hosts made in Germany.

    The low-gluten wafers made by the Benedictine Sisters contain less than 100 parts per million, says Mary Kay Sharrett, a clinical dietitian at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She said the amount of gluten in one of the hosts is 0.004 milligrams and that researchers have found it takes about 10 milligrams per day to start a reaction.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed a rule that says products could be labeled gluten-free if the gluten content is less than 20 parts per million.

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    The researchers are obviously not talking about those Celiacs for whom even a crumb can cause horrible pain and diarrhea. Even worse, the silent damage that is done to the body even without having a noticeable "reaction". Once again, the Catholic Church is showing extreme lack of compassion for its parishioners in favor of archaic dogma.

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    This is a pretty good article on this topic. The low-gluten hosts from the Benedictine Sisters have become a common presence in the parishes near me. Some parishes order their own, and some celiac parishioners buy their own low-gluten hosts and bring a host to church to give to the priest before Mass, usually in its own separate pyx (a little gold-plated box--your priest can explain). Catholics do have to be VERY careful not to use the wheat-free, completely gluten-free hosts. Receiving the Precious Blood (after the consecration it is NOT wine) from the cup may also be an option for celiac disease Catholics. Ask the priest before Mass. Jesus is truly present body, blood, soul and divinity, in either "kind" of the Eucharist.

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    The researchers are obviously not talking about those Celiacs for whom even a crumb can cause horrible pain and diarrhea. Even worse, the silent damage that is done to the body even without having a noticeable "reaction". Once again, the Catholic Church is showing extreme lack of compassion for its parishioners in favor of archaic dogma.

    No, the Church is not "showing extreme lack of compassion…" The purpose of Holy Communion is to receive the grace of Jesus Christ through the reception of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which brings one into greater union with Him. To receive this grace, it's not about quantity. One only need receive even the tiniest piece of a Consecrated Host, OR (here's the important part for this) the smallest drop - or sip - from the chalice. The Church has made it clear people with this affliction can receive from the chalice, just as one without celiac could receive all the grace needed from just the Sacred Host. Alcoholics regularly receive only the Consecrated Host, and they receive the full grace intended.

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    Come on now! It's about what is in your heart...your faith in God and in His son......to say that the gluten free hosts don't "meet Vatican standards" is hog wash! I receive gluten-free bread every time it's offered at my church and feel good about it...

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    Wow, this truly leaves me speechless for a moment! What if something that was administered by Jesus were found to be a poison with today's science and knowledge would the catholic authorities still take the same stand? Really, I'm glad I'm not Catholic but feel for my brothers and sisters that are!

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    The wine is an issue too. The priest puts a piece of the host in the chalice.

    And if you happen to get the cup with no piece of host, then people who have just ate gluten have their lips on the chalice. So either way the wine has gluten.

    It's enough gluten to make me sick.

    I'm also concerned the Vatican is telling people with celiac disease to ingest something that is harmful to their health. Doesn't that seem wrong? Even if it's such a small amount, people with celiac know gluten is harmful to their bodies.

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    No, the Church is not "showing extreme lack of compassion…" The purpose of Holy Communion is to receive the grace of Jesus Christ through the reception of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which brings one into greater union with Him. To receive this grace, it's not about quantity. One only need receive even the tiniest piece of a Consecrated Host, OR (here's the important part for this) the smallest drop - or sip - from the chalice. The Church has made it clear people with this affliction can receive from the chalice, just as one without celiac could receive all the grace needed from just the Sacred Host. Alcoholics regularly receive only the Consecrated Host, and they receive the full grace intended.

    Geoffrey, are you celiac? Because you seem to know theory but not fact, and the fact is very few priests know the Vatican rules and even fewer understand cross contamination. If the priest practices intinction, then the wine isn't safe, either. Also, very few parishes offer the cup to the congregation and when they do, I don't want to drink from a cup that someone with a mouth full of wheat has drunk from.

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    I cannot receive communion at church, even the smallest trace has gluten. The wine becomes contaminated with everyone drinking from it with the host in there mouth. The government standards don't work for me. There are a lot of products marked gluten free that I cannot eat because they have small amounts of gluten and I get sick. I don't think Jesus would exclude anyone from receiving. He didn't say only people without celiac do this in memory of me!

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    Once again people are mistaking humans for the Divine. The Pope does not tell the Holy Spirit what to do. My option is communion by intent -- it is an option sanctioned by the Church. While receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is important, Christ always made clear his care and concern for the ill. Christ will not abandon those wish to believe but who cannot abide by human misinterpretation of His divine will.

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    Shannon you are right the Bible never says wheat. That is why so many people are leaving the Catholic religion. I would never be able to take the host. I do let the priest no before mass that I can not take the host and he brings me down the wine.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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