Coeliac disease and the Eucharist

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Here we see a case of a girl being denied the Eucharist because of coeliac disease.  In short, she cannot eat wheat-based products, which means that, in the Catholic Church, it can range from uncomfortable to potentially lethal to take communion in this form.

The article mentions that the option of wine only was suggested – it doesn’t explain why this option was not used.  Catholicism teaches that both the Body and Blood of Christ are present under the appearance of bread, and both the Body and Blood of Christ are present under the appearance of wine.  So this should not be a problem.

In general, the following seem like good guidelines in such cases:

  • The Eucharist can be taken from the chalice only – the host is not necessary in such cases.
  • Low gluten hosts are available.  “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.” [source; note that it applies to most, not to all, coeliac disease sufferers.]  This is the convent that makes them.  However, cost may be a problem – who imports these into Africa, or China?
  • The Eastern rite Catholic Churches may have different practices, although Rome may not find this option attractive.  I do not know if Eastern Catholic priests think this way, but the Orthodox Church’s position, as explained on Wikipedia, seems very sensible to me.  In my experience, Eastern Catholic priests have a similar way of thinking to Orthodox priests.  The coeliac sufferer could attend an Eastern Catholic Church for communion.
    • The Orthodox Church also requires that the bread used at the Eucharist be made with wheat flour; here the bread is leavened with yeast. In the Orthodox practice, the consecrated bread and wine are given together from a chalice with a spoon. Some Orthodox coeliac sufferers have been able to receive communion simply by having the priest take only wine in the spoon; others, more sensitive to wheat, have had to have some of the wine set aside before the bread is added to the chalice. This latter case is extremely unusual, and is strictly speaking only permissible with the blessing of the diocesan bishop. While the Orthodox do not have such an explicit rationale as the Roman Catholic Church, their general understanding is that, in the case of exceptions made for the sake of Economy, the Holy Spirit makes up whatever is lacking. [source]

Regarding the use of non-alcoholic wine for alcoholics – the Catholic Church says that grape juice is not on.  It must be wine.  Mustum is allowed.  “By ‘mustum’ is understood fresh juice from grapes or juice preserved by suspending its fermentation (by means of freezing or other methods which do not alter its nature).” – letter by then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now HH Pope Benedict XVI.  Since fermentation begins virtually immediately, it must be quite an effort to get juice out of grapes without fermentation starting.

The USCCB guidelines say: “A little over a year ago, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, once again took up this question on behalf of the Holy Father when he wrote: “Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.”

I received several comments regarding the use of low-gluten hosts (see Sept. 14). One reader wrote that the problem he sees with the “low-gluten solution is that one could eventually reach 0.00000001% gluten content, and then would the Church still recognize it as valid? It seems that this is chasing a chimera.”” – source

Gluten is not what makes wheat-based bread wheat-based.  Surely if the time came when all gluten could be removed from wheat-based communion hosts, it would not be problematic?  I suspect it won’t – but not before much debate. [2013: Currently completely gluten-free hosts are not permitted.]

This has been blogged before:

The pastor and DRE should never have let it get to this point. If they were properly educating both parents and children they might understand the church’s teaching.” – source [dead link]

It was ironic that the coeliac ruling appeared in the newspaper the same day that the readings for daily Mass featured the beginning of Matthew 23: ‘On the chair of Moses have sat the scribes and Pharisees’ – though 23:23 is even more relevant.” – source

It seems obvious that Jesus took what was the basic food and drink of his time. What would Jesus have chosen for Eucharist if his place of birth did not have wheaten flour (gluten-free or otherwise) and grape wine. This has been the case in many countries. Would Jesus have initiated Eucharist in, say, Papua New Guinea, by using sago and coconut water, which were the staple food until wheat flour later became introduced?” – source

I don’t think we can just use sago and coconut water, but surely this sort of ruling, no matter which way it goes, has the blessing of God?

(Mat 16:19 KJV)  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The above source references a good article on the topic by Fr John Crothers.

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