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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    New Communion Wafer a Blessing for Catholics with Gluten-sensitivity

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: A gluten-free communion wafer

    Celiac.com 10/13/2010 - Until now Catholics with gluten-sensitivity have found it difficult to participate fully in Mass by consuming the communion wafers, which traditionally contain gluten.

    To address that situation, the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Mo., have developed a Communion host that is extremely low in gluten – allowing Catholics with gluten sensitivity an alternative to taking only the cup during communion.

    Low-gluten communion wafers mean that more Catholics with gluten-sensitivity will be able to consume both the body and the blood of the host, both the communion wafer and the wine, in their celebration of Mass.

    Canon law and tradition require that communion wafers contain a percentage of wheat for a valid celebration of Eucharist, said Timothy Johnston, Director of Liturgy of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

    However, the host made by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration contains gelatinized wheat starch. The sisters report the hosts test to a level of 0.01 percent gluten. The Secretariat for the Liturgy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has stated that these hosts meet the requirements of the Code of Canon Law (924 §2) and may be used at the celebration of the Eucharist with permission of the person’s pastor.

    “They are the only group of sisters (or Catholic group at that) that make valid low-gluten hosts. Any other company or group is not approved for use during the liturgy,” Johnston said.

    He encourages Catholics with gluten-sensitivity who wish to learn more to begin a discussion with their pastor so that each may understand the church doctrine and teaching regarding low-gluten hosts, as well as the practical steps necessary for Holy Communion.

    Johnston also advises Catholics who wish to receive the low-gluten wafer to discuss the matter in advance with the celebrant and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion so that everyone is comfortable with the procedure.

    “There are several parishes that use low-gluten hosts,” Johnston said, including St. Andrew, the Cathedral of the Madeleine and Saint Thomas More.

    Responding in a letter to expressions of gratitude from many Catholics with gluten-sensitivity, the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration write that they are “inspired by the deep desire of those suffering from gluten intolerance to receive Holy Communion…[and] humbled by the many letters, emails, and phone calls we have received thanking us for our efforts to produce low gluten altar bread.”

    The letter adds that the Sisters “blessed to have the opportunity to allow God to work through our hands…[and] honored and privileged to provide for you and your parish the bread that becomes the Body of Christ.”

    Obviously, since the new wafers are not completely gluten-free,  questions of individual sensitivity will need to be addressed. However, this is a huge step toward allowing people with gluten sensitivity to take both the body and the blood when taking communion.

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    Thank you, Robyn! God Bless you! As a fellow Catholic and a celiac sufferer, I find the Church's stance on "no gluten free communion" to be difficult, especially with cross-contamination issues regarding the wine BUT your comments certainly put me at ease.

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    I cannot believe that a celiac journal would print this - the only treatment for celiac disease is a totally gluten free diet.

     

    It's a bit of catch 22 for Roman Catholics - Your not permitted to knowingly do something which is bad for you (ie. have wheat products) but if you don't have communion you can't get to heaven.

     

    PS. Roman Catholics can still have wine.

    Your ignorance is stunning. Please don't comment on things you have no knowledge about.

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    Unfortunately, these still contain gluten. And unfortunately, this still isn't safe for celiacs. I think the Catholic Church needs to be very, very clear that this is a Roman Catholic policy / tradition that does not apply to other denominations. Other denominations do not require that a specific grain be used in the communion wafers!

    You are correct.

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    What a joke. If the church cared about its members, they wouldn't subject them to something that will cause them illness. Of course, they wouldn't expose children to known predators either.

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    I cannot believe that a celiac journal would print this - the only treatment for celiac disease is a totally gluten free diet.

     

    It's a bit of catch 22 for Roman Catholics - Your not permitted to knowingly do something which is bad for you (ie. have wheat products) but if you don't have communion you can't get to heaven.

     

    PS. Roman Catholics can still have wine.

    They always brush the crumbs of wheat from their hands into the wine..

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    As a Catholic I would like to clear up a few misconceptions in the comments section here.

     

    I think the most important thing to know is that one does NOT have to receive communion to go to heaven! I think the best way to explain the idea that you "must" receive communion (which is based on John 6) is that the Eucharist helps *draw us* toward heaven—but it is no absolute requirement. God is merciful.

     

    Catholics believe that in the Eucharist, we receive the complete and undivided Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, in a real and literal way. A worshiper who receives EITHER the host OR the chalice, receives that complete Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. (And, technically, after consecration, it shouldn't be called "bread" or "wine" anymore.)

     

    The extremely low-gluten hosts are probably the best that can possibly done for people with gluten sensitivity. Of course, if a low-gluten host is unacceptable, a celiac sufferer can still receive communion from the chalice. One can even arrange to have a separate chalice of wine consecrated just for celiac worshipers, to prevent any gluten cross contamination.

     

    If a person can't tolerate ordinary wine either, it can be arranged that a very low-alcohol, only slightly fermented wine called mustum can be used. If even that can't be tolerated, then the worshiper will have to go without the sacrament, knowing that he or she can still make a spiritual communion. God is merciful.

     

    The incredible teaching of the Real Presence shows why the Church considers it gravely important to "get it right." Wheat for the host and fermented grape wine for the chalice are essential. For this reason Catholic requirements are more strict than those of most Protestant denominations.

     

    Nobody knows what celiac disease means for you better than God. He knows what He is doing by making this cross a part of your journey here on earth. He understands even if nobody in your parish seems to "get it." It can even be just between you and Him. Imagine Him looking right at you, shrugging, and saying "I know, they're clueless. Tell me about it."

    Thank you Robyn for your comment. I have been very saddened in my heart when I found out there was wheat in the Eucharist . Your comments confirmed what some of my sisters in Christ have shared with me seeing as I also have epilepsy and cannot take the wine regularly because of my medicine. I just need to pray.

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    I cannot believe that a celiac journal would print this - the only treatment for celiac disease is a totally gluten free diet.

     

    It's a bit of catch 22 for Roman Catholics - Your not permitted to knowingly do something which is bad for you (ie. have wheat products) but if you don't have communion you can't get to heaven.

     

    PS. Roman Catholics can still have wine.

    The Church teaches that the FULL manifestation is in BOTH the Host and in the wine. So, you can get the full mass from just the wine.

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    As a Catholic I would like to clear up a few misconceptions in the comments section here.

     

    I think the most important thing to know is that one does NOT have to receive communion to go to heaven! I think the best way to explain the idea that you "must" receive communion (which is based on John 6) is that the Eucharist helps *draw us* toward heaven—but it is no absolute requirement. God is merciful.

     

    Catholics believe that in the Eucharist, we receive the complete and undivided Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, in a real and literal way. A worshiper who receives EITHER the host OR the chalice, receives that complete Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. (And, technically, after consecration, it shouldn't be called "bread" or "wine" anymore.)

     

    The extremely low-gluten hosts are probably the best that can possibly done for people with gluten sensitivity. Of course, if a low-gluten host is unacceptable, a celiac sufferer can still receive communion from the chalice. One can even arrange to have a separate chalice of wine consecrated just for celiac worshipers, to prevent any gluten cross contamination.

     

    If a person can't tolerate ordinary wine either, it can be arranged that a very low-alcohol, only slightly fermented wine called mustum can be used. If even that can't be tolerated, then the worshiper will have to go without the sacrament, knowing that he or she can still make a spiritual communion. God is merciful.

     

    The incredible teaching of the Real Presence shows why the Church considers it gravely important to "get it right." Wheat for the host and fermented grape wine for the chalice are essential. For this reason Catholic requirements are more strict than those of most Protestant denominations.

     

    Nobody knows what celiac disease means for you better than God. He knows what He is doing by making this cross a part of your journey here on earth. He understands even if nobody in your parish seems to "get it." It can even be just between you and Him. Imagine Him looking right at you, shrugging, and saying "I know, they're clueless. Tell me about it."

    Robyn, this is well-put, but I would like to emphasize that one receives Jesus, Body and Blood in even a tiny amount of the "host" or the "wine". This means that for someone very sensitive (and I realize this may not include those with celiac disease) to gluten or alcohol, can receive just a tiny piece of a "host", or a drop of "wine".

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    Unfortunately, these still contain gluten. And unfortunately, this still isn't safe for celiacs. I think the Catholic Church needs to be very, very clear that this is a Roman Catholic policy / tradition that does not apply to other denominations. Other denominations do not require that a specific grain be used in the communion wafers!

    Why should the Catholic church have to make something clear to other denominations?

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    Unfortunately, these still contain gluten. And unfortunately, this still isn't safe for celiacs. I think the Catholic Church needs to be very, very clear that this is a Roman Catholic policy / tradition that does not apply to other denominations. Other denominations do not require that a specific grain be used in the communion wafers!

    -Worshipers with gluten-free/coeliac condition

     

    Gluten-free wafer is given to communicants in my Church.

    I worship in Anglican Church in Essex.

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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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