Celiac Disease and a Gluten-Free Eucharist

Recently, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments reiterated the Church’s teachings regarding the matter of the Eucharist – notably that Communion hosts must be wheat bread, and therefore contain some amount of gluten.

This has led some people to think that celiacs (or simply those allergic to wheat / gluten) have effectively been “banned” from receiving the Eucharist. Others, though, have stated that celiacs need not worry about receiving the host, because after it is consecrated the host is really Jesus instead of wheat. Both of these positions are theologically mistaken.

Philosophically speaking, “substance” refers to what a thing truly is, and “accidents” refer to how a substance can be modified. If a skinny dog changes into a fat dog, that’s “accidental change” because it’s still a dog. If a cow dies, that’s “substantial change” because it turns into meat. The Eucharist is the result of transubstantiation – a miraculous type of change where the host’s accidental properties (bread) remain exactly what they were even though its substance changes (from bread into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ). The material properties of the bread remain, though. Therefore, saying that celiacs don’t have to worry about receiving the host because it is really Jesus instead of wheat is like saying someone who is allergic to beef can safely eat a hamburger because it isn’t a cow. Just as one can get drunk from the wine before and after the consecration (1 Cor. 11:21), a celiac can have adverse reactions to the host whether consecrated or not.

Now, wheat bread and grape wine are the proper matter of the Eucharist because Christ instituted it this using those materials (Mt. 26:26-29 – see also Jesus comparison of Himself to wheat in Jn. 12 and the grapevine & Jn. 15). So, a gluten-free host makes for an invalid sacrament. Celiacs are not excluded from Communion, however. They may either request low-gluten hosts, or receive communion under the “species” (sensible qualities) of wine alone. This is because “both under the species of the bread and under the species of the wine the living Jesus Christ is all present, with His Body, His Blood, His Soul and His Divinity” (The Catechism of St. Pius X, Q&A 17).

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9 thoughts on “Celiac Disease and a Gluten-Free Eucharist

  1. For those who may not be aware of low-gluten options available, one group of which I am aware (The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration) can be found at the following URL:

    https://altarbreadsbspa.com/

    32 micrograms of gluten potentially still would be found in one of these hosts (about 7 micrograms in a quarter host), according to one calculation (http://www.catholicceliacs.org/Options.html). Some say that they would be safe for most Celiacs unless antibody levels for gluten are high. Others prefer to avoid all gluten entirely. The statement from the above named group regarding the safety of these low-gluten options can be read here: https://altarbreadsbspa.com/statement-on-vatican-letter-of-7-8-17/

    I wonder if there may not be another option possible in future. For example, for Jews there are Matzos options available, or that can be made, that are considered gluten-free, and these are considered acceptable for Passover so long as they meet certain requirements. Some even can omit the wheat entirely as long at least one of four other specific grains is used. That is why there are some that are made with oat flour, if said flour is heat-treated so as to prevent leavening.

    A number of Christian churches do not have this issue, for the most part, and can substitute gluten-free for their members who have Celiac disease. Mormon Christians do not have this issue at all. For Mormons, for example, it doesn’t matter what is used to remember the body and blood of Jesus, so long as they do remember him regardless of what is used. For them, they believe that they have special revelation that has been given that specifically states that “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins” (Doctrine and Covenants 27:2). This is the primary reason why Mormons already substitute water for wine these days.

    But more to the point, what if those who produce the hosts were to use gluten-free wheat flour, but then take a very small amount of gluten (much smaller than the amount currently used) and mix it thoroughly into the mixture used for the hosts before baking? Would that then, do you think, meet the requirement for present gluten (but far lower than the current offerings)–seeing that low-gluten options already are held as acceptable? Has that potential solution been considered, to your knowledge? Or would it be at all? Is there a specific requirement for the minimum amount of gluten to be present within the host to be considered acceptable for use in the Eucharist?

  2. So receiving under the species, sensible qualities of wine alone? What does that mean? Is that just a symbol of eucharist? Just something for the senses, that reminds of communion? Pardon my ignorance, as I’m not familiar with Catholic terminology, but if you are offering celiacs communion through the “sensible qualities” of wine, why not also the “sensible qualities” of bread that happens to be gluten-free? And if the Catholic Church wants to be so literal about biblical imagery, why is only a wafer offered as Communion? And why a wafer? Jesus broke bread, not a wafer! When he fed the 5,000; when he broke bread at Emmaus; and when he shared bread at the last supper!

  3. Ksarant,

    The “sensible qualities” in this case refer to the accidents of substance. Humans do not perceive substance directly, but only through the accidents (color, size, location, etc.) of a substance (more here: http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/substacc.html). Gluten-free bread is not wheat bread, and that is the required matter for a valid sacrament (See https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/why-wheat-bread). The wafer form of the bread is not, as far as I know, a requirement but is rather practical (I know at my parish it would be hard to fit a loaf of bread big enough for 5,000 people in church every Sunday!).

  4. That Catholic.com article is interesting considering that the approved, low gluten hosts are made with wheat starch rather than the germ of the wheat in wheat flour. When you take wheat flour, knead it into dough, and then irrigate the mixture with water, what comes off from that mixture in the water is wheat starch, the rest being left behind. After that, as much of the gluten as is possible to be removed is removed from that. What is left is what then is used in the preparation of the approved, low-gluten hosts. Do you have a copy of the Vatican’s “On the bread and wine for the Eucharist” available to you? I was unable to find it on the Vatican website. But then there is maintenance going on on at least parts of the site so that might be part of the reason why.

    Also, I would not use the term ‘historical’ so narrowly with respect to Mormons. It has been 187 years since the organization of their church, so there actually is some history in the historical sense there. Their central (not peripheral) beliefs on the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for example, also are centuries older than are those of the mainstream Christian tradition, post-Nicaea. Because of Nicaea, had Saint Justin (who declared in writing that Father and Son are distinct Gods and Lords) lived today he would have been branded a heretic. So I can understand your thinking on the matter.

    But even elements and beliefs of so-called traditional Christianity have been altered over the centuries, and finally settled upon by councils, liturgies changed substantially over time, and so forth. The term ‘historical’ can become as sharp as a two-edged sword if one narrows its definition down far enough.

  5. DCP – The Church (i.e., Christianity) began in 30 A.D. whereas the Mormon religion did not exist prior to 1830. It is up to the former to determine what counts as Christian – not a quote from a pre-Nicene era Church Father that verbally seems to match one of the many theological errors of the latter (pun intended).

  6. Christianity actually began before AD 30. According to Augustine, elements of Christianity actually go further back than that. While the organizational date for the “Mormon religion” was 1830 (the date said church was organized), it also boasts the claim of a connection to and direct ordination by three of the original apostles, claimed to be Peter, James, and John, before that organization date.

    As to whom it is up to to determine who is and who is not Christian, I rather think that is up for debate considering the massive doctrinal and other changes to Christianity over the centuries. And it is not just a single quote from a pre-Nicene era Church Father, and not just any Church Father, either, but a Saint!

    And there is no “verbally seems to match” about it. The Greek is so clear that Catholic translators have tried to hide the meanings of portions of the passages in the Greek text from the reader. You know things are bad when translators have to go about doing something like that. Not only did Saint Justin say that Father and Son are distinct Gods (anathema in today’s Christianity), with Jesus in second place, he also was clear that the Father was nameless (Mormons also simply call the Father Elohim from time to time because that Hebrew word is a name-title and Mormons know no other name for that Personage) and that the very same God who appeared to Moses and to the Patriarchs (called Yahweh or Jehovah in the Hebrew) was none other than Jesus himself before his incarnation! You can learn this by reading both Saint Justin’s Second Apology and his Dialogue with Trypho. All of these points do seem to sound rather Mormonish, I might add. Not saying that he was some kind of Mormon but that his theology seems much closer to Latter-day Saint theology than he does to post-Nicene Christianity. That is one of the reasons why people created from whole cloth additional, spurious works of Justin to change his theology to match a later Christianity than the original. Just saying.

    And not only that, but the mode of worship Justin describes also sounds nothing like the later Mass of a later Christianity. Saint Justin also spoke of the deification of man, and he did it using a term that was unmistakable in its meaning to anyone who would have lived back in the day. It was so shocking in its strength and sense of meaning to Catholic sensibilities that Catholic translators felt the need to change its meaning in the English translation from “they shall be deified” to “they will have eternal bliss.” See “The First Apology.” Saint Justin Martyr (translated by Thomas B. Falls, D.D.), Chapter XXI, in The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1948), 6:57 to see how inconsistently they handled that passage in the Greek.

    As I said, had Saint Justin lived today he would have been branded as an heretic by the very Christianity that Beatified him.

  7. DCP – One of the many relevant differences between between St. Justin Martyr and Joseph Smith Jr. is that the former can be excused for his theological mistakes given the time in which he wrote, while the latter cannot. Justin wrote at a time when the Church had not settled on its terminology or exacting descriptions of the Christian mysteries as it was still being led into the deeper truths (and the best means of expressing those truths). In contrast, Smith denied 1,500 years of authoritative Church teachings, even going so far as to declare the creeds an abomination.

    A heretic is not simply one who is found to be in theological error. Rather, it is one who refuses to submit to de fide pronouncements of the Church. For example, the Christians in Acts 15 that taught Jewish legalism were in theological error, but they were not heretics because the Church had not yet authoritatively settled the matter. Once it did, however, to knowingly remain a legalist would place one in danger of judgment.

    Justin was under Church authority when he wrote, but his writings preceded Nicaea by well over a century. Had he been declared to be in error, though, he certainly would have recanted rather than rebelled (perhaps by starting his own heretical sect and declaring it to be the Church…*wink*). Justin, therefore, was not – and is not – a heretic.

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