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Liturgy: Gluten-free Hosts

9/15/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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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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1 - 10 of 12 Comments

  1. A Lees
    1 year ago

    In our church, there is someone who has a special host, which is on a special paten, which she takes out of the paten herself.
    It was much later that I discovered that our priest is, himself, only able to take gluten free. Therefore, I deduce, that gluten-free hosts are available. He has had some form of gastrointestinal cancer and has to watch what he eats and drinks.
    Secondly, the hosts we use at communion are so unlike bread, that I really think claiming they need to contain gluten in order to be bread is a little bit too much. If you can make bread without gluten that is still bread, then you can make a communion host without gluten that isi still communion host.
    I do not think it at all an appropriate catholic response to say that someone who is allergic cannot receive communion; that would be disobeying Jesus, when he said 'Take and eat.'

  2. Kinga Barry
    1 year ago

    The wheat in the days of Jesus was categorically not the same as the hybridized modern wheat which is capable of producing at least 23,788 different protein varieties which are able to induce a miriad of autoimmume illnesses.
    The Church would be serving Christ and humanity by investing in producing Communion Hosts only from ancient wheat varieties,


  3. barbara dunn
    1 year ago

    I too have Celiac Disease. Yesterday I was treated very insensitively and bruskly by a priest in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in regard to the gluten free issue. One of his many insulting comments was,"OH, You want to be special!" Didn't Christ say, "suffer the little children(which we all are in God's eyes) and forbid them not" and did He not associate with prostitutes, tax collectorsand the like. It would seem that God wants more than anything for all of us, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist etc.;believers in the one true Christ and God, to come unto HIM. Is it any wonder that many of our young people today are leaving the church in record numbers when the leaders of some of our churches are so exclusive of anyone out of the norm? That would include even those with a health issue such as Celiac Disease or diabetes; as though we were somehow self indulgent and wishing to be Special. I was very hurt and angered by this priests attitude. The usual priest, Father Pete, is just the opposite; compassionate, kind, inclusive and wonderful in welcoming everyone; passing on a Christ like
    love and inclusion in all of his actions. Missing communion in PV, missing Father Pete

  4. Greg Kreczko
    2 years ago

    During distribution of communion, my priest insists on removing the consecrated gluten free host from the pyx. I'd rather he hand me the pyx and let me remove the consecrated host. When I talk to him he says this isn't proper. I'm afraid of cross contamination because of all the traditional hosts he has been handling. Is there guidance published by the church that I can show him? His response is "try it my way and see how you feel". I don't want an autoimmune reaction to happen before he is convinced he's doing damage to my body.

  5. Wayne Lancour
    2 years ago

    recently our pastor has been using safe communion host made by theBenedictine Nuns, I have been taking about 3 months and the last 2 weeks I have been losing weight (10 lbs), this plus pains in stomach, tireness is some of the symhtons of celia.
    eVEN AT .01 % this is dangerous as the gluten stores up and hits you all at once.
















    so by making people think these hosts are safe is doing them harm.



































    what happens

  6. Frances Duffy
    3 years ago

    Where can the "gluten-free" communion wafers be purchased. I would gladly purchase them for not only out present parish, but to be able to take them with us when we travel so that when we attend church I can present it to the priest and be able to receive communion. A far better solution than putting some priests on the spot for an answer when we are out of town or attending a different church for what ever reason.
    Thank you so very much!

  7. Luzmarina B. Alonso
    3 years ago

    My daughter and one her children suffer from celliac, and the boy is very sick after he receives the host, our priest suggested that he only takes de wine, but he is very young and we do not want him to continuing drinking the wine; my question, how can I buy the wafers from the sisters?. Thank you for your cooperation. Luzmarina Alonso,

  8. John McLellan
    4 years ago

    An interesting and informative article, but where can I purchase these gluten free hosts from?

  9. Dan O'Brien
    4 years ago

    Ms. Goodman is clearly wrong in her claim that wheat did not exist at the time of Jesus Christ. In fact, wheat grains have been cultivated for at least 9000 years, apparently beginning in Southeast Asia. Wheat grain cultivated specifically for wheat bread dates back to approximately 5000 BC in several areas, including the Jordan River area. Stick with the Church, Ms. Goodman, no matter what you read in the National "Catholic" Reporter or Dan Brown's books, and you'll never go wrong.

  10. Yvonne Goodman
    4 years ago

    Regarding Gluten Free Hosts. How can it be that the Church would say wheat represents bread---when in Jesus day wheat did NOT exist??? Additionally,I have been told many Dioceses have changed to Gluten Free because wheat intolerance is so prevalent. I am one who is recently diagnosed and cannot take communion.
    HELP!!


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