Liturgy: Gluten-free Hosts
And More on Homilies While Walking
ROME, SEPT. 15, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: I've been recently told of a girl who could not receive her first Communion because she was allergic to wheat gluten. The Catholic Church doctrine says that is the composition the host needs to be made of. I don't know how to answer this question from a "fallen away" Catholic. -- M.G., Milwaukee, Wisconsin
A: The problem is twofold. One is theological and concerns the proper matter for the Eucharist and the broader question of the Churches power over the sacraments.
Another question is practical and concerns how to address special situation such as celiac disease.
From the theological perspective the Church's power over some elements of the sacraments is not absolute and must respect those elements which it understands as having been determined by the Lord himself.
Among these elements is the use of water and the Trinitarian formula for baptism and the exclusive use of wheat bread and grape wine for the Eucharist.
In a certain way the submission to these limitations is also a recognition and an affirmation of the reality of the Incarnation in which the second person of the Blessed Trinity submitted himself to the limits of space and time by becoming man.
By continuing to use only those elements used by Christ, the Church in a way joins herself to his act of self-limitation and to the concrete historical reality of the Incarnation.
If it were possible for the Church to change the essential elements of the sacraments with every historical epoch and every cultural context, then this connection with the Incarnation, and indeed the reality of the sacraments as prolongation of the Incarnation, would become rather tenuous.
In the end, as has happened at times with other Christian groups that weakened the sacraments, the faith in the very reality of God become man is often undermined in favor of a creeping Docetism or a nebulous manifestation of the Divinity.
Thus one can understand why the Church pays such very great attention to the elements of the sacraments in spite of at times appearing excessively attentive to details such as alcohol and gluten levels.
The Holy See has declared that some gluten is necessary for the substance to be considered as true bread. And thus a gluten-free wafer, in spite of its external resemblance, is no longer bread and thus is incapable of becoming the Body of Christ.
The sacraments are far too important to risk performing them invalidly.
On the practical level, sufferers from celiac disease, about one in every 130 people, face a real difficulty as they are incapable of consuming gluten.
At the same time the Church has too much respect for the faithful with this condition to allow them to fall into error regarding whether they receive a genuinely consecrated host or not.
It would be a manifest act of negligence on the Church's part to look the other way while some members of the faithful were being innocently induced into an act of idolatry by attributing adoration to what is in fact a lump of matter.
This might seem harsh on the sentiments of some, especially in the case of children who reach the age of first Communion and don't want to stand out from the rest by receiving differently. But, until recently, as we shall see below, there was no viable alternative.
One fairly easy solution is to receive only under the species of wine. This usually requires the use of a second, smaller chalice as even the particle of host that the priest places in the chalice can have adverse effects on sufferers.
This is the solution I adopted for a sufferer in my own parish, with no great difficulty. It is even easier to apply in those countries where Communion is habitually offered under both species and the host fragment is placed only in the principal chalice.
Recently, however, another solution has been found thanks to the patience and perseverance of two nuns, Sisters Jane Heschmeyer and Lynn Marie D'Souza, of the Benedictine convent in Clyde, Missouri. Over two years of experiments they have developed a Communion wafer that has been approved as valid material for the Eucharist by the Holy See.
With a level of gluten content of 0.01% it is safe enough for consumption by almost all celiac suffers, according to Dr. Alessio Fasano of the University of Maryland and other medical experts.
The U.S. bishops' Committee on the Liturgy has deemed the sisters' bread "the only true, low-gluten altar bread approved for use at Mass in the United States."
Fasano called the sisters' accomplishment "very wonderful news," but added that celiac ...
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