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Concern from Catholics, but gluten-free communion host IS available in Ireland

A new statement from the Vatican had some people confused.

Image: Shutterstock/Fabio Lotti

GLUTEN-FREE COMMUNION host is available in Ireland – despite some confusion over the issue of late.

In June, Radio Vatican reported that at the request of Pope Francis, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is writing to Diocesan Bishops to remind them “that it falls to them above all to duly provide for all that is required for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper”.

It set out the fact that a communion host should be only made of wheat, which appeared to indicate that it could not be gluten-free.

This was then picked up by international media in the last few days.

Coeliac Society

However, the Coeliac Society of Ireland said that the letter appears to be just a clarification of the church’s view on the use of gluten-free hosts for celebrating the Eucharist “and, in effect, nothing has changed from the existing direction”.

“There has been concern about it from a number of our members,” said Fergal O’Sullivan, CEO of the society.

“It was mainly in reaction to what was happening – some countries, not Ireland, were starting to use hosts not made of wheat. The Vatican ruling is that wheat is the only substance authorised to make communion hosts.”

“We have had a number of queries from our members, obviously we responded to it straight away by posting stuff to social media,” he said. “We have a permanent page on our website offering guidance.”

The society pointed out that wheat, a cereal that contains gluten, is the only substance authorised by the Catholic Church to make an acceptable host.

“According to the Vatican, to be a valid host, sufficient gluten must be present to bring about confection of the bread,” said its statement.

However, hosts with this sufficient level of gluten can be deemed gluten-free by the agreed international standard (codex) when they contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm). This is the highest level of gluten tolerable to people with the disease.

The Catholic Church refers to these hosts as “low gluten” which has a different meaning for those who need to follow a gluten-free diet for medical reasons. But the society said that there are three companies supplying ‘low gluten hosts’ in Ireland which are still under 20 ppm, suitable for coeliacs.

The Coeliac Society has a listing on its website for three different suppliers of “low gluten hosts” that are acceptable to both the codex standard of gluten free and the Catholic Church description of “low gluten”.

“It’s an ongoing query and it would be particularly around April, May time, around First Communion time,” said O’Sullivan of gluten-free hosts. “A large number of our members would be parents of kids with coeliac disease.”

“It’s not something that we would track in any granular level, we know there’s been cases where [there has been] misunderstanding and confusion about it heard anecdotally.”

O’Sullivan advised people to speak to their parish priest about the issue, if they are concerned.

“There are proactive parish priests who would do it without being asked but if in doubt or new to the parish the important thing is to make your parish priest aware of it and know the option exists,” he said.

He said the society is there if people have queries.

Are there other religions that might have such issues with religious food-based items? “This is the only one I am personally aware of that there is an issue with it,” said O’Sullivan.

Another option is for people to take communion wine rather than the host, if the church is amenable to this, said O’Sullivan.

Circular

Radio Vatican said that the circular on the bread and wine was for the Bishop “to watch over the quality of the bread and wine to be used at the Eucharist and also those who prepare these materials.

“In order to be of assistance we recall the existing regulations and offer some practical suggestions.”

It noted that at one point, certain religious communities took care of the baking of bread, but “today, however, these materials are also sold in supermarkets and other stores and even over the internet”.

In order to remove any doubt about the validity of the matter for the Eucharist, this Dicastery suggests that Ordinaries should give guidance in this regard by, for example, guaranteeing the Eucharistic matter through special certification.

It also said that the Ordinary “is bound to remind priests, especially parish priests and rectors of churches, of their responsibility to verify those who provide the bread and wine for the celebration and the worthiness of the material”.

“It is also for the Ordinary to provide information to the producers of the bread and wine for the Eucharist and to remind them of the absolute respect that is due to the norms.”

The norms say that: “The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition”.

It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament.
It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools.

In a 2003 circular to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences regarding legitimate variations in the use of bread with a small quantity of gluten, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the norms for the celebration of the Eucharist by people who “cannot consume bread made in the usual manner nor wine fermented in the normal manner”:

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

It also said: “The Ordinary is competent to give permission for an individual priest or layperson to use low-gluten hosts or mustum for the celebration of the Eucharist. Permission can be granted habitually, for as long as the situation continues which occasioned the granting of permission”.

Choice

The number of gluten-free items available in Ireland has increased in recent years, and the society’s latest list has 6,400 products on it.

“It’s fabulous for people with coeliac disease that there is such a huge range of products available,” said O’Sullivan, who added that there is no denying that this demand has been driven in part by people who don’t follow the diet for medical reasons.

Therefore, he warned:

“The danger is you run the risk for people with coeliac disease being taken less seriously.”

The society is working with the catering food services on reducing cross-contamination.

“For someone with coeliac disease, all it takes is a crumb. The smallest amount of food can make them feel unwell,” said O’Sullivan.

“Don’t forget this is a serious disease and there is no cure for it.”

Read: Archbishop says Church stubbornly reluctant to let go of the control of schools>

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