Cleansing Fire

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Are Gluten-Free Hosts Valid Matter?

January 26th, 2011, Promulgated by Dr. K

It has become the rage recently in the quest of many priests to be inclusive to make available low-gluten hosts at Communion for people who suffer from Celiac disease (never mind the fact that these people can partake of the chalice and still receive the whole body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ). The Church in recent years has granted permission for hosts, which while lower in their gluten content, still contain some gluten so that the host is bread.

My reason for posting on this topic is the following I noticed in the St. Charles Borromeo bulletin. Like many parishes, this community is trying to accommodate those with Celiac disease. However, unlike most parishes, the way St. Charles is describing their hosts is not “low gluten” but rather “gluten free.” Here is the article:

Perhaps they meant low gluten instead of gluten-free. I don’t know. The fact that they used the term “gluten free” four times in the article does cause me concern since gluten-free hosts are not valid matter for Communion. What this means is that if a priest attempts to consecrate a gluten free host, it will not become the Body of Christ, and will remain a piece of food.

Here is Fr. Edward McNamara’s analysis of gluten-free hosts. Fr. McNamara is a professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontificial University.

“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.

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.”

As indicated above, the Holy See has ruled on the matter of gluten-free hosts. Here is what the Vatican says in a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith response, signed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Prot. 89/78-174 98:

“1. Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter
for the celebration of the Eucharist.

2. Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread.”

As one can see from these two passages, the presence of gluten in hosts is a very serious matter. If the host lacks gluten, then it is not valid matter for Communion, and will not become the body of Christ. As Fr McNamara says, were a person to adore an unconsecrated piece of food, they would be engaging in idolatry. The person also would not receive the spiritual benefits of Holy Communion.

Again, it is possible that this parish made an error and meant “low gluten.” However, I do not think we can afford to take that chance. If you have time, please send the parish a short, respectful note to inform them that it is necessary to have even a little gluten in the host to ensure that it is valid matter which can be consecrated. The parish can be reached here: gstcharl@dor.org

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18 Responses to “Are Gluten-Free Hosts Valid Matter?”

  1. avatar Nerina says:

    Both my husband and son are celiacs. They consume the low-gluten hosts without difficulty even though they are both very sensitive to gluten exposure. Of course, if the Precious Blood is available, a celiac can always receive that instead. And sometimes, when the chalice or low-gluten hosts are not available my husband and son forgo Communion at that Mass.

  2. avatar Choirloft says:

    Nerina – If your husband or son or both come to the Latin Mass and want to receive Holy Communion, stop in the sacristy and let Father know or tell me.

  3. avatar Kevin says:

    The only problem with your suggestion of partaking in the chalice and Blood of Christ is that some sufferers of Celiac Disease are so allergic to gluten that they can not even consume the Blood of Christ due to the tiny piece of the Body dropped into the chalice. My cousin has this problem. She has been unable to take part in Commmunion due to this. Her mother, my aunt, is determined to find a way, unfortunately she can only consume gluten free hosts, which brings the whole problem. It’s very sad to see sufferers of Celiac who are this allergic. It is literally impossible for her to take part in Communion or else she will get VERY sick, compromising her entire immune system.

  4. avatar Matt says:

    Kevin,

    even if a tiny low-gluten host particle was placed in the chalice?

  5. avatar Dr. K says:

    Kevin, does your parish have additional chalices for the laity? I understand that the priest’s chalice will contain a piece of the host, but perhaps the priest can have a small second chalice for your cousin aside from the one he uses?

  6. avatar Nerina says:

    Kevin, your cousin must be very sensitive. My husband reacts to toast crumbs in butter, but so far he’s been okay with the low-gluten hosts (I remember when he first took the LG hosts – we were very nervous about the reaction that might take place. It is not a pretty one, that’s for sure). I would look into Dr. K’s suggestion.

  7. avatar Kevin says:

    It’s not my parish unfortunately. My cousin lives in the Boston area. My aunt has discussed possibilities with the Archdiocese there and, if I recall correctly, nothing. She’s very upset about it though. My cousin is unable to consume anything with even the smallest amount possible of gluten in it. Her entire life has been based around it. If I recall correctly, she can’t really even touch it, much less consume it.

  8. avatar Mary says:

    Kevin-that is really tough. I bet there are many people in that situation. I would hope that a priest would be willing to set aside a special chalice for only her. I would think someone with who is especially sensitive wouldn’t want to consume the precious blood from a cup that others have used right after consuming the host. Food allergies are super serious.

  9. avatar Joslyn Ramey says:

    Thank you for posting this article. I am a Catholic woman who suffers from gluten-intolerance. As such, this topic is near and dear to my heart. It can be difficult to explain to people that there is world of difference between “low-gluten” and “gluten-free” communion hosts. One is valid matter while the other is not.

    There is an order of nuns, the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri, whose low-gluten hosts are both Vatican and USCCB-approved. Their ministry has made an incredible difference in my life!

    Their website can be found here: http://www.benedictinesisters.org/bread/low_gluten.php

    Additionally, I took a photograph of their low-gluten hosts. This photograph has been published in two magazine articles to date, but the most significant one was in the December / January 2011 edition of “Living Without,” a lifestyle magazine for people with food sensitivities and allergies.

    http://www.livingwithout.com/issues/4_11/gluten_free_bread_of_life-2232-1.html?zkPrintable=true

    God bless you,

    Joslyn

  10. avatar Kevin says:

    I wish I knew what has happened about it since then. All I remember my aunt telling me was that my cousin couldn’t receive First Communion and my aunt tried bringing up a gluten free host to the Archdiocese, but they wouldn’t have anything to do with it. She’s relatively religious so she worries about the fact that her daughter can not participate in the Eucharist. She even demanded that the Archdiocese itself explain to my cousin that she can’t, I think it was the Archbishop himself who had to tell her she couldn’t.

  11. avatar Dr. K says:

    Kevin: That would be a gluten-free host. Those are invalid. The diocese should find a way to accommodate your cousin by offering a special chalice set aside for her with a small amount of the precious blood (whatever is deemed appropriate for one person).

    Joslyn: Thank you for sharing!

  12. Our new archbishop, Dennis Schnurr, has Celiac Disease and recently participated in an interview on local Catholic radio to discuss the topic. He explained that when people say “gluten free” they usually mean low gluten, and he recognized that some people cannot consume even tiny amounts of gluten. He suggested they consider spiritual communions, which seemed sensible.

  13. avatar Kevin says:

    Dr. K: I know the gluten free hosts are invalid, just mentioning that. I’ll mention the special chalice set aside for her next time I see my aunt.

  14. avatar Jim R says:

    I know there was a big brouhaha in Boston a few years back about a child with celiac disease and, as described in the Pilot, the Archdiocese offered that a special chalice be provided just for the child – but the mother insisted on gluten free hosts, not just low gluten.

    Unfortunately neither in Boston nor Rochester are truly gluten free hosts allowed since they cannot be wheat bread and would therefore be invalid. I do note some low gluten hosts are described colloquially as gluten free, but they are not actually so.

    So, Kevin, I do know Boston will set aside a chalice in such circumstances.

  15. avatar Jim R says:

    From the Boston Archdiocesan website:
    http://www.bostoncatholic.org/Offices-And-Services/Office-Detail.aspx?id=12478&pid=464

    In either species of the Eucharist we receive the whole Christ, in his Body and Blood, soul and divinity. As a further precaution it might be advisable to set aside a cup for the exclusive use of those with celiac disease so that there is a diminished chance of contamination with gluten from others who receive both the host and from the cup.

  16. avatar Jim R says:

    Here’s the article from the National Catholic Reporter (don’t shoot me) about the issue I remember in Boston. It dates to 2001. Note it has the usual NCR distortions.

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1141/is_15_37/ai_70926886/

  17. avatar Joslyn says:

    Kevin,

    My husband and I used to live in the Diocese of Rochester. We have since moved to the metro Boston area. I am unsure of what parish your family member is a part of, but please know that St. Monica’s parish in Methuen is both friendly toward, and orthodox in dealing with, this special need. They regularly order the Benedictine Sisters’ low-gluten hosts and the priests keep them in a separate pix. This parish may be too far away to be practical to meet your loved one’s needs. If that is the case, I am sure that you can find others of like mind in the archdiocese.

    Please do not hesitate to let me know if I can be of further assistance in this matter. I know how challenging, frustrating, and disheartening this issue can be. As a convert to the Catholic faith, being able to receive Our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is especially meaningful to me. I also know the person pain of having to go without physical Holy Communion. There was a long time in which I had to make spiritual communions every Sunday, because my husband and I attended the Latin Mass at St. Stanislaus (the faithful in the Extraordinary Form do not normally receive Holy Communion under the species of wine) and we did not yet know of the Vatican-approved low-gluten hosts. Even still, when we travel, this can be an issue. Spiritual communions are beautiful, but there do not seem to be enough spiritual communions in this world to off-set the joy of soul that just one worthy reception of physical Holy Communion can effectuate.

    Again, this is an issue very near and dear to my heart. I do not want to see anyone else have to suffer. Please let me know if I can assist you or your aunt in any way. Since I am in the Boston area, I could even call around to diffident parishes in her area to help sort out the issue.

    God bless you,

    Joslyn

  18. avatar Kelly says:

    We have two ladies at our parish (in the DOB)who are highly sensitive to gluten yet have had no problems receiving the low gluten hosts. Our priests have been very accommodating and I would imagine if someone were to be in danger of serious physical reaction to receiving the Precious Blood w/a wheat particle contained within, they would gladly consecrate a cup just for that individual. If a priest is indeed to serve others as Christ did, he would surely be willing to help meet the health and spiritual needs of his flock.


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