Gluten-Free or Non-Alcoholic Communion?

Due to modern ailments, there are many today who cannot physically tolerate ingesting gluten or alcohol. How, then, can they receive our Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist during Communion?

There are two errors that come from misunderstanding the Church’s teachings on the Eucharist. On one end of the spectrum (especially among Protestants, but also a growing number of professed Catholics) is the view that the bread and wine are not changed into Jesus’ body and blood. This is not an optional belief for a Catholic, for the Church has always taught that: “the bread and wine . . .  become Christ’s Body and Blood” (CCC1333).

On the other hand, there are those who believe that because the substance of the bread and wine are changed (“transubstantiated”) into Jesus’ body and blood, that the physical attributes of the bread and wine no longer exist. This, however, is not what the Church teaches. At the consecration, God miraculously changes the underlying substance of the bread and wine into Jesus’ flesh and blood—but this does not change their accidents (physical properties). The accidents of size, shape, color, weight, location, etc. remain – and that includes the effects those physical things have on our bodies (e.g., taste or smell).*

So transubstantiation doesn’t negate the effects the gluten present in the host will have on someone with celiac disease, nor does it remove issues that an alcoholic might have when drinking from the cup.

The good news is that while a host must contain gluten to be valid matter for consecration, it doesn’t have to be a lot of gluten (nor must a lot be received). And while grapes that can ferment are required matter for the wine, their juice does not have undergo full fermentation at the time of consecration – thus fresh or preserved grape juice (“mustum”) is valid matter for the cup. Further, because both the bread and the wine are changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, receiving our Lord under either species receives Him entirely.

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*E.g., St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ III. 73-77; The Council of Trent, 877; The Catechism 1373-1381.