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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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    I have stopped taking communion as bread and take the Lord in my heart all the same. This is between my Lord and myself. I try to live like a good person and continue to do everything as before.

    Oh really? If you have such a close relationship with Christ, than I'm sure you are familiar with His words in John 6:53. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." In Luke 22:19, it says "Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.'"

     

    Jesus commands us to worship not only alone, but in community, and by the practice of taking His body and blood in communion. Faith is not only personal, no matter how much people may try and tell themselves it is. it is communal. Communion, rightly known as the Eucharist, is a sign of Thanksgiving for Christ's redemption of mankind. We are privileged to receive it, and required, by Christ and His Apostles, to receive it.

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    First of all, relax. Catholics have a much different understanding of the Eucharist than Protestant churches do. It is not meant to make us "feel good". It is a sacrament that requires both proper matter and form to be valid. The gluten-free hosts truly do NOT meet Vatican standards because they must be made of wheat. There is a very profound theological reason for this, and it has nothing to do with a lack of compassion. In fact, it is the greatest act of COMPASSION the world has ever known. We believe that Christ died for the redemption of our sins, and the Eucharist (Greek for "Thanksgiving") is the way to distribute that grace to mankind. Jesus Himself said "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life" (Jn 6:54). The Eucharist is His flesh and Blood. Christ followed the Old Testament practice of using wheat bread for temple use. The Catholic Church has approved low gluten hosts, but it cannot allow hosts to be made of grains other than wheat.

    There is a Vatican approved host made using Codex wheat starch that is under 20ppm.

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    Any stick with which to beat the Catholic church will do, eh? Drink from the cup. It's the same thing, theologically. With the modern age of extraordinary ministers of the eucharist, the cup can be offered at every mass. Just make sure the pastor understands the reason.

     

    Cross-contamination seems like a stretch, but you can also make sure you drink first. Or have the priest place a drop of consecrated wine on a gluten-free host.

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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.

    Yes, the church IS showing extreme lack of compassion. You can hang out in Fantasy La-La Land all you want but you can't change the nature of reality. And reality says there are people who have extreme reactions to wheat and should never eat it. Period.

     

    Even when you don't feel physical GI symptoms it doesn't mean you aren't reacting badly. I get migraines from wheat and I may also get mental-health issues. A lot of people get leaky gut from eating it, and after they're already sensitized it only takes a little wheat to open things back up again. If you ever wondered why so many people have autoimmune disorders, wheat is a major contributor.

     

    It's nice that Catholics are allowed to have either the Host or the wine, not necessarily both. It'd be even nicer if the Church would keep in mind that the Bible doesn't say what kind of bread Jesus was eating and furthermore, even if it *was* wheat, it was a different variety than what we have today.

     

    But that's apparently too much to ask.

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    If you discuss this issue with your pastor, Fran, he may accommodate you with a chalice set aside exclusively for your use. I know of a case where this was done in Massachusetts.

     

    What's missing here in the complaints of some of us celiacs is any kind of sense that transubstantiation is a gift of Jesus Christ, not a kind of magic the rules of which the Church totally controls. The Church can't transubstantiate rice because Christ has not given it the authority to do so. If someone were allergic to both rice and white, which could happen, the Church could not then consecrate mashed potatoes. Jesus Christ is the one who changes the wafer into His own Body and Blood, not man. You may want to speak for Him and say of course, He would consecrate according to YOUR directives, but you have no proof this is true.

     

    Do you want to worship the Soul, Divinity, Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist or would you like instead to worship a plain old rice wafer? Do you want the truth or a lie? People are not unkind or insensitive because they will not accommodate your condition to the point of lying to you. They are showing you respect, which you refuse to acknowledge.

    Potato flour is a real flour.

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    For those wanting the blood of Jesus make sure you are sitting in a spot in the Church where you can be the first to have the chalice, best from someone like me in the same situation or better yet become an EM and then you have less worry. Looking for catholic church approved wafers trying ordering from the sisters in MO at Altar Breads BSPA.

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    So now you are a theologian? Jesus made no such "analogy". John 6 is a clear indication that Jesus was talking about His actual flesh. It becomes more clear in the Greek original than it does in the English translation. The use of wheat bread doesn't originate in the New Testament, either. The Old Testament has "Temple Bread" that was to be consumed by the priests. Jesus, as both victim and priest of the sacrifice, offers Himself. Since He made wheat bread into His body, we are not permitted to use anything else.

    Thanks, Bil, for explaining why the Catholic Church can't just "change" something that is part of it's heritage, and what Jesus commanded from the very beginning. If we did, we wouldn't be the one true Catholic Church!

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    If you discuss this issue with your pastor, Fran, he may accommodate you with a chalice set aside exclusively for your use. I know of a case where this was done in Massachusetts.

     

    What's missing here in the complaints of some of us celiacs is any kind of sense that transubstantiation is a gift of Jesus Christ, not a kind of magic the rules of which the Church totally controls. The Church can't transubstantiate rice because Christ has not given it the authority to do so. If someone were allergic to both rice and white, which could happen, the Church could not then consecrate mashed potatoes. Jesus Christ is the one who changes the wafer into His own Body and Blood, not man. You may want to speak for Him and say of course, He would consecrate according to YOUR directives, but you have no proof this is true.

     

    Do you want to worship the Soul, Divinity, Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist or would you like instead to worship a plain old rice wafer? Do you want the truth or a lie? People are not unkind or insensitive because they will not accommodate your condition to the point of lying to you. They are showing you respect, which you refuse to acknowledge.

    Great comment, Pensieve! Thank you for putting my thoughts into words.

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    So now you are a theologian? Jesus made no such "analogy". John 6 is a clear indication that Jesus was talking about His actual flesh. It becomes more clear in the Greek original than it does in the English translation. The use of wheat bread doesn't originate in the New Testament, either. The Old Testament has "Temple Bread" that was to be consumed by the priests. Jesus, as both victim and priest of the sacrifice, offers Himself. Since He made wheat bread into His body, we are not permitted to use anything else.

    My understanding is that when the bread and wine are consecrated during the mass they become the actual flesh and blood of Christ. Given human beings are not made of gluten, I do not understand the controversy. Why would anyone with Celiac disease, who truly believes it is the body of Christ they are eating, need worry about gluten? Just another contradiction of the church. I am so looking forward to the explanation for this one.

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    They aren't gluten free hosts, they are low gluten. The internal damage caused by celiac disease is awful; my father died from non-hodgkin lymphoma, which is one of the cancers celiac sufferers are prone to. I also have DH, the separate celiac skin disease. I don't take the host or the wine. I'll have a private conversation with God about it when I get to heaven.

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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.

    Good response despite the critical rating you received. If it ain't what Jesus said it should be it ain't Jesus.

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    What [you] clearly [do] not understand is that for someone with severe celiac disease, ANY quantity of gluten causes horrible consequences! With all the compassion you have NOT shown to those with genetic autoimmune disorders.

    So talk to the priest and have him consecrate a separate chalice of wine for only celiacs. Many times they will comply. If the bishop has said no wine, talk to him for a dispensation.

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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 science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. 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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