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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Vatican Bans Gluten-Free Bread for Holy Communion

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      The Vatican has outlawed gluten-free bread for Catholic communion.


    Caption: The Vatican has banned gluten-free bread for Catholic Communion. Photo: CC--Awareness Campaign.

    Celiac.com 07/31/2017 - For a time, it looked like gluten-free Catholics might be able to take full communion with special gluten-free wafers.

    But, gluten-free Catholics hoping to enjoy both the wine and the bread of a full communion had their hopes dashed this week, when the Church put the kibosh on gluten-free communion wafers.

    The decision was announced in a letter to bishops by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, and read, in part:

    "The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition...It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament."

    He has said the bread can be low-gluten, but the wheat must contain enough protein for it to be made without additives.

    According to Roman Catholic doctrine, the bread and wine served at the Eucharist are converted into the body and blood of Christ through a process known as transubstantiation.

    Gluten-free Catholics will still be able to take communion, as the church holds that simply taking the wine is sufficient to receive communion.

    Still, the ruling, which must be followed by the 1.2 billion Catholics around the globe, is bound to disappoint numerous gluten-free members. Share your thoughts below.

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    Forgot to also point out, THE important part is it represents the body and blood of Christ. Represents. So what's wrong with gluten-free bread and water representing? What would Jesus do? Really? In this situation.

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    It all comes down to faith. In the Catholic church, we believe that God is the only physician, the only healer. People who are Catholic and have celiac disease must have great faith to know that they will not be adversely affected by His body in the Holy Eucharist. Those with little faith and who do not truly believe that the Holy Eucharist is bread that was changed (transubstantiation) into the actual body of Christ, have a chance that they will be adversely affected. We must put all our trust and faith in Him. Faith equals: Father and I, Together there is always Hope.

    Horrible advice. Would you eat poison due to faith that your God would heal you?

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    I guess this entire issue confuses me. As Catholics, we believe that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ through transubstantiation. The wheat host is no longer a wheat host, but the body of Christ. I don't see the problem with consuming consecrated host for those of us with gluten issues.

    Seriously?? That must be the most ignorant statement I've read in years. Read a second book!

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    I am so glad that CeliacCatholics91 cleared this up and that this is the first comments billed here. It is the most accurate. I could have written this myself as I have been taking the "low Gluten" hosts for 10 years. all one needs to do is search for "Low Gluten hosts". Problem solved. The decision was announced in a letter to bishops by Cardinal Robert Sarah was meant to correct some parishes using completely gluten free hosts.

    I am so glad CeliacCatholic91 and Elizabeth are the top posts. I wanted to add some more clarifications and comments on the topic. I ordered the low gluten hosts for my parish for years, and part-way through that time I got diagnosed with celiac disease. More than a decade ago there was only ONE manufacturer in the US of low gluten hosts that were approved as valid. In order for celiacs to be able to receive the Eucharistic Jesus (and not some unchanged food host that isn´t Jesus), we had to order from this source that used only valid ingredients. The type of host used is not so much of a problem for religions that intend communion only as a symbol or as a trans-signification where a food host is supposed to remain a food host for their services, but it is a major problem for Catholics where the food host needs to be trans-substantiated to become Jesus during the Mass during the consecration. Today, there are lots of options for ordering hosts, but many manufacturers use ingredients that cause the host to remain simply an ordinary food wafer and not become Jesus during the consecration at Mass. More and more, ordering responsibilities in Catholic parishes are delegated to well-meaning volunteers or employees not trained in the liturgical requirements, who could make the mistake of buying hosts containing invalid ingredients from any number of manufactures of gluten-free or low-gluten hosts. The Church is actually protecting celiacs and other Catholics by checking on the ingredients of the bread and wine used for Mass. If a validly ordained Catholic priest pronounces the words of consecration over a host made of only wheat and water, it becomes the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. If a validly ordained Catholic priest pronounces the words of consecration over a host made with things other than only wheat and water - for instance added rice flour or tapioca starch - it remains simply an ordinary food wafer; it does not become Jesus. When Catholics go up to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, the Church wants to be able to give them the Eucharistic Jesus and NOT trick them by giving only a rice wafer. The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, MO make an extremely low gluten host (<20ppm) with only wheat and water. They worked with prelates in Europe to find the right types of wheat starches that would allow it to hold together in host form without additional ingredients so that it would be valid. These hosts are approved for use during Mass by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and these Sisters supply the low gluten hosts that many of the US parishes use. If your parish uses these hosts, then during the consecration they will become Jesus and you will be able to receive the Eucharistic Jesus. If your parish buys an unapproved host from any number of companies who make a gluten-free or low-gluten hosts using things other than only wheat and water, it will not become Jesus during the Mass and the clergy or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion who gives you what looks like a wafer will only be a wafer. The Church is guarding Catholic celiacs by making sure parishes use the correct type of host that will become Jesus via transubstantiation. I personally do not want to call my parish office every week and ask where they order the low gluten hosts and what the ingredients list is so I know whether what I go to receive at Mass will actually be Jesus or if I have to call parish after parish to find a place that uses valid hosts so I can receive Jesus. (However, I do glance at the bag of hosts in the sacristy as I fill my pyx and see that they´re still being purchased from the same source.) The Church via this recent letter is trying to make sure that all the parishes that use low gluten hosts are using the right type of low gluten host so as to really provide us celiacs with Jesus, not just a rice or buckwheat wafer. It is a great help to read the translation of the actual letter written by the Robert Cardinal Sarah, and you can clearly see that it is for the good of all Catholics, including celiacs. In fact, the letter is not aimed at making sure of the validity of low gluten hosts alone, it is aimed at making sure of the validity of all bread and wine used for Mass so that all who receive can receive Jesus whether they be healthy, have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, be recovering alcoholics, have allergies, are lay or clergy. http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2017/07/08/letter_to_bishops_on_the_bread_and_wine_for_the_eucharist/1323886

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    It all comes down to faith. In the Catholic church, we believe that God is the only physician, the only healer. People who are Catholic and have celiac disease must have great faith to know that they will not be adversely affected by His body in the Holy Eucharist. Those with little faith and who do not truly believe that the Holy Eucharist is bread that was changed (transubstantiation) into the actual body of Christ, have a chance that they will be adversely affected. We must put all our trust and faith in Him. Faith equals: Father and I, Together there is always Hope.

    A note on transubstantiation and the tiny bit of gluten (<20ppm) in a valid low gluten host...

     

    During trans-´substantiation´, the entire ´substance´ changes from wheat bread to Jesus – no gluten remains. The ´accidents´, sometimes called ´appearances´, ordinarily do not change. We know by faith, not by sight, that after the consecration, this is entirely the ´substance´ of Jesus, despite the ´accidents´ – the consecrated Host still looks like a wheat wafer (or the low gluten ones years ago looked like bubble wafers), tastes like a wheat wafer, weighs the same amount as a wheat wafer, feels like a wheat wafer, and it could adversely affect a celiac´s health like eating a wheat wafer could, yet it is not a wheat wafer anymore at all and contains absolutely no ´substance´ of gluten anymore.

     

    This remote possibility of the low-gluten host after consecration adversely affecting the health of a celiac is not from any lack of faith, it is a consequence of an extreme case of celiac disease. In years of working at the parish and helping other parishes and celiacs to order the USCCB-approved low gluten hosts and learn how to avoid cross-contamination of the accidents of the typical hosts, I have never met any celiacs who had a problem with the low gluten hosts the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration make, but it is conceivable that there could be some. I have never had a problem from receiving 7 times what the average Catholic with celiac disease receives, since I am a daily communicant, and my doctors tests also showed I have no problem with receiving daily, yet I am sensitive enough to react to some foods in the grocery store labeled “gluten-freeâ€.

     

    The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration´s tests show that the amount of gluten in the pre-consecrated host they make is so small that it has less than the lowest detectable amount, yet there may be some extremely sensitive celiacs whose bodies negatively react to this ´accident´ of the consecrated Host. The Sisters did much research to make a host with the least amount of gluten possible so that as many Catholic celiacs as possible could receive Jesus in the Eucharistic Host – too much gluten and celiacs could react badly and not be able to receive the Host, while too little (no gluten) and celiacs could not receive Jesus because the host would not become Jesus during the consecration.

     

    For anyone who does have such severe celiac disease as to still have a problem, please talk with your pastor or other local priest to help you and your doctor look into ways for you to receive the Eucharist; there are more ways than I have seen mentioned on celiac web sites. For instance, those in nursing homes with difficulty swallowing might receive a tiny piece of a consecrated Host, and similar might – check with your pastor - be able to be done in severe celiac disease, for a tiny portion of what was once a low-gluten host. Also, the medicines and enzymes that are being researched to help digest gluten without causing autoimmune reaction might - check with your pastor - be able to be used in close proximity to receiving the Eucharist with benefit for any symptoms caused by the accidents. There are other possibilities that could enable some extremely sensitive celiacs to still receive the Blessed Sacrament.

     

    For anyone who still is unable to find a way to receive the Eucharistic Jesus due to health problems, know that you are not alone. There are many suffering conditions where they cannot swallow for days, weeks, months, or years, or who can otherwise take no food by mouth. There are recovering alcoholics who have trouble entering a church where both species are offered. There are many people who at the end of their lives – perhaps when they would most want the Eucharist as viaticum - are unable to take food or drink any longer. There are even more people who can eat, but who are homebound or confined to care facilities without anyone to bring Communion or transport them even if well enough to be brought to Mass. There are people undergoing chemotherapy or who have transplants or other things that lower their immune system too much to be near parishioners or even are at too much immune risk to have someone bring them Holy Communion at home. There are many who live too far from a Church or do not have a priest for most of the year, who cannot attend Mass or receive Holy Communion. And perhaps the largest group are those Catholics who have not yet understood enough of the value of receiving the Eucharist every week, and so are prevented until a special grace helps them to seek to receive the Eucharist regularly - perhaps this grace will come from your prayers or example or friendship.

     

    The members of the Church – clergy and lay and all who love God even if not in full communion - are working hard on finding ways to relieve our and others´ illnesses and enable us and others to participate more in all life´s good activities, including religious practices. As celiacs we have experienced some changes and some limitations (far less these days than in the past), and can use these experiences as a way of grace to be more understanding of and helpful in trying to relieve the sufferings and challenges of others.

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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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