A reader asks about Eucharistic gluten and celiac sufferers

A reader writes:

Could you address the recent increase in gluten free hosts for those who are “gluten sensitive” or have celiac.

If we truly believe the host is transformed into the body of Christ how could we then believe that the gluten could ever harm us?

The woman who touched the hem or tassel of Jesus’ was cured however, if she had stopped and looked closely at how dirty it was from scraping the ground she may have not touched it believing that something so unclean would have made her more sick.   Her unbelief would have prevented her from being cured.

The accidents of bread and wine remain.  This means that all the effects bread and wine have on the human body will continue.  It will taste, look, smell, and feel like bread and wine, and the  physical effects on the rest of the body will be the same, including on the intestinal tract or the brain.  So the Precious Blood will, if drunk in sufficient quantity, make us feel the buzz that alcoholic wine causes (I have a friend, a non-drinker, who had exactly this happen in her first year or so as a Catholic, and she deeply believes in the Real Presence).  And the bread will have all the effects bread has on the body, including the body sensitive to gluten.  Blaming people who suffer these effects for lack of faith is simply adding insult to injury.

That said, the Church is not free to change the matter of the sacrament, so gluten-free Hosts are not valid matter and cannot be used.  But since Christ is fully present under both species of the Eucharist, those who suffer from celiac disease can still receive the Precious Blood.

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  • Andy

    I am asking a serious question – our bishop is considering restricting the reception of the Precious Blood – he has stated that he does not think it is appropriate for the laity. What then should a Catholic do – if indeed the bishop does restrict the reception of the Precious Blood? On a similar vein can he do this?

    • Andy, Bad Person

      There is a kind of host that exists that is extremely low gluten (a fraction of a fraction of a percent) that has been shown to be fine for people with celiac. Someone with celiac should speak to his or her priest about this.

      Furthermore, I doubt that your bishop’s consideration regarding the Precious Blood is exclusively about appropriateness for the laity. There’s probably more to it than that. Sometimes risk of spillage is a good enough reason. Whenever possible, communion should be offered under both species, though this is up to the discretion of the bishop.

      • Andy

        Yes. Gluten free vs extremely low gluten. There are hosts made (by real nuns!) of wheat, but refined or processed in such a way that nearly all people with celiac disease can safely consume them. (I don’t know all the details of their production, but my son requires them and our parish has been most accommodating.)
        The truly GF made from rice or whatever, and extremely low gluten made from wheat are probably both referred to casually as “gluten free” but the person in charge of supplies for the parish should know the distinction.

      • Andy

        In the letter he sent that was his explanation – it may due with spillage, but he didn’t phrase it that way.

        • PalaceGuard

          Spillage would make no sense. On that basis, he might as well deny the people the host, because it could get dropped and break apart (whether received in the hand or in the mouth, btw, as I have no desire to trigger THAT controversy!)

          • Andy

            Spillage – that is his apparent motive, I would hope there is no other.

          • Linebyline

            True, but spilling the Blood is easier, and picking it up afterwards is much, much more difficult.

      • Matthew

        To Andy, Bad Person:
        You wrote: “whenever possible, communion should be offered under both species”. Where are you getting this? In fact it is kind of the opposite of the Church’s teaching. If you read the actual documentation from the late 1970’s, which sought to control and regularize what was then the abuse of distributing the chalice, the conditions for distribution of the Precious Blood were (and are) fairly narrow. It is only through widespread disregard for the original legislation that we have the common distribution of the chalice today.

        • Andy, Bad Person

          While the Roman legislation surrounding distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds sounds rather narrow, it is also specifically given to the Diocesan Bishop to allow it in his own diocese, which is almost a universal in the post-Conciliar Church.

          I submit that the desired catechesis of the faithful has not taken place that anyone receiving under one species is “not deprived of the grace necessary for salvation,” but the General Instruction on the Roman Missal makes it clear that Communion under both kinds is desirable:

          “Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clearer expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the connection between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatalogical banquet in the Kingdom of the Father.” (282)

    • Amy

      The USCCB has a listing here of organizations that produce very-low gluten hosts that are still considered valid matter.

      Also, the bishop could give permission to the person with celiac to receive the Precious Blood because of the circumstances.

    • Artistree

      Jesus commanded the reception of the Cup of His most Precious Blood.
      Your bishop seems to want to deny the laity the Cup which gives us Life. “The Life is in the Blood” the Scripture’s say…and forgiveness.

      Matthew 26:27 “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

      • Andy

        It seems that way to me as well, and I do not know why.

        • Linebyline

          Nobody’s denying anyone anything. The stuff that still looks like bread is not just “the body of Christ” but the whole, undivided Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. You don’t get any more Jesus in you by receiving under both species.

          There’s value in receiving under both species, but there’s also value in not making people think that they’re only getting part of the Sacrament if they don’t.

          • Artistree

            But I feel sorry for those who receive only of one kind and rob themselves experientially of receiving both kinds in time and space as St. Paul declares in his Epistle to the Corinthians.

      • HornOrSilk

        Please, study Catholic theology on this. While the symbolism of using both is a greater symbolism, the reality is the same if you receive under the “bread” or the “wine.” And historically, there were many times when the Church considered it best to give only the species of “bread.” And theologically it is sound.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        No. The host alone, as well as the cup alone, is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. This has been the teaching of the Church for centuries. Receiving under one species is the same as receiving under both. While the physical symbolism is more complete by receiving both species, as the General Instruction on the Roman Missal #282 (cited above) clarifies:

        Above all, they should instruct the Christian faithful that the Catholic faith teaches that Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and hence that as regards the resulting fruits, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any grace that is necessary for salvation.[Ecumenical Council of Trent, Session XXI, Doctrina de communione sub utraque specie et parvulorum, July 16, 1562, chapters 1-3: Denz-Schön, nos. 1725-1729]

        • Artistree

          My point is obedience to the commands of Jesus in the Gospels and that Our Blessed Savior told us to receive Himself in both. Sorry, yes, my words were misleading as to what I was attempting to say.
          The Books of the New Testament define the “New Testament” ( New Covenant) as the Cup of Blessing. So when we approach the Altar of Christ presenting ourselves as living sacrifices and unite ourselves to His One Sacrifice and to His Body and Blood, partaking of both is the most Biblical and faithful to Christ’s instructions. Our sins are washed away by His blood and experientially when I’m on my knees at the Altar, the best picture of that for my soul is when I literally drink His blood from the cup.

          • Andy, Bad Person

            And I’m saying that receiving only the Host is being faithful to Christ’s instructions. That’s what the Church is saying, as well.

            • HornOrSilk

              Right. I mean, if we are only to do it was Christ did it, no women would be involved, only priests would receive (since only priests were at the supper), and we would have communion after an agape feast. Of course, the command is to receive Christ, which is what is done.

            • Artistree

              Yes on one hand you are correct; Christ is fully present in both the Bread and the Wine. I’m a third order Franciscan and your point is contained in the Credenda to which I subscribe to :
              “We believe that after the consecration, and apart from reception, the sacred Body and precious Blood of Jesus Christ are really present in the Blessed Sacrament under the forms of the bread and wine. And where Christ’s Body or Christ’s Blood are, there is the whole Christ himself, our Lord and our God, in his glorified humanity and his eternal divinity. It is this whole Christ, truly human and truly divine whom we receive in the Blessed Sacrament.”

              On the other hand, the serious question that Andy asked was that his bishop was considering restricting the Cup of Precious Blood of Christ. Why on earth would he want to do that ? To do so would be a clear violation of the practice of the Early Church.

              Andy, the Bad Person, are you familiar with Dr. Scott Hahn’s and Dr. Brant Pitre’s talks on “The 4th Cup” ?
              If not, I highly recommend it to you.
              Why would any bishop want to rob one single child who comes to the Lord’s table the depth and joy of what the Cup is and signifies ?

              • Andy, Bad Person

                Why on earth would he want to do that ? To do so would be a clear violation of the practice of the Early Church.

                The bishop is not beholden to the practice of the Early Church; he is beholden to Church law and his own conscience. I have no idea why this particular bishop is considering this action, as I don’t know who the bishop is or his reasoning apart from a sentence or two above, from a third party. There exist, however, legitimate reasons for doing so (risk of spillage, profanation, heck, some places suspend during flu season).

                The restoration of the practice of receiving under both species is not an absolute. As a matter of fact, as was stated far above, it was originally rather limited, though the (legitimately allowed) practice of almost all bishops was to make it much more freely available.

                All that said, I for the most part agree with you. Whenever possible, the Blessed Sacrament should be available under both species. It is important to recognize that there are circumstances that temper this, though, and that the bishop can do so. I don’t know the situation or exactly what the bishop has said.

                Sign in the liturgy is good. It is important. Let’s not let sign so important, though, that we lose sight of truth. Someone who cannot, by disability or law, receive from the Cup, is not being denied anything except the fullness of symbol. He or she is receiving the fullness of the Sacrament in either species alone.

                • HornOrSilk

                  I want my agape feasts back. It’s a violation not to have it! 😉

  • Bryan

    In reading the article on why gluten-free wafers can’t be considered bread, I saw the story about a girl with celiac disease whose first Communion was declared invalid due to the use of a gluten-free wafer. What I don’t understand is why it’s invalid if she also received consecrated wine (the blood). If we can take communion in either form and it has all the same effect as receiving in both, why wasn’t her first Communion still valid?

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Did she receive from the cup? Some people with celiac won’t receive from the cup because it has already been used by people who have eaten hosts with gluten in them.

      • Bryan

        Perhaps she didn’t. There was no mention of it being only the wafer.

        • Shawna Mathieu

          I remember hearing about this. The whole thing sort of faded away when the mother was asked this, and she sort of deflated, giving the weak excuse that it would “single out” her daughter, and she didn’t want her daughter drinking wine. There was no medical reason why she couldn’t, and we know both species have the Body and Blood.

      • Mark Mangus Sr

        Some people with severe celiac disease can’t take from the cup either, since it has a small piece of the wafer in it.

        • Dan13

          The “main” cup has a portion of the host in it, but if it is a largish Mass where communion under both species is offered, there will be more than one cup.

          As for other people, the person with celiac can be placed first in line at his or her own parish.

  • Andy

    To the folks belwo – thank you of your answers- I will pass them along to a couple of concerned parishioners

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    the host is transformed into the body of Christ

    It’s not transformed. It’s transubstantiated. That is, the [accidental] forms are not changed; the substance is. Accidents [size, color, shape, pH, etc.] exist in a substance, but substance exists in itself, and ‘stands below’ [sun stans] all accidents. Mark Shea is a substance, and has remained the same substance for his entire life, even though most of his accidents have changed [size, shape, etc.]. He has experienced multiple turnovers of his matter: all of his original cells have been shed and replaced. Yet he remains substantially the same person.

    It’s a neater trick to keep all the accidents the same but change the substance. Generally speaking, you would need a miracle to pull it off.

    Even trickier still than a person remaining the same substance would be three persons remaining the same substance by being consubstantial.

    • Colin Gormley

      I see what you did there.

    • SDG

      Pope Benedict disagrees.

      According to him, the Eucharistic Prayer

      is the word of power which transforms the gifts of the earth in an entirely new way into God’s gift of himself, and it draws us into this process of transformation.

      He even speaks of the “substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper”!

      Some theological nits are too nit-picky.

      • Linebyline

        I’m not sure that’s a disagreement, exactly. It’s just a less rigorous use of language. “Transubstantiation” is the most correct term. The substance, not the accidents, are changed. Whether that’s a “transformation” depends on how you want to define “transformation.”

        “Form” could go either way: The old-school “theory of forms” would have “form” refer to the ideal version or the abstract or the “substance” as we understand it with regard to the Eucharist. (Please forgive my less-than-comprehensive knowledge of philosophical jargon; my possibly-flawed understanding is that the theory of forms went through a few iterations.) On the other hand, “form” could also refer to accidents, as when the Holy Spirit is said to take the “form” of a dove, which presumably is not a hypostatic union of true God and true bird.

        Incidentally, “substance” also has this issue, since in chemistry (if I’m remembering high school chemistry correctly) a “substance” is a material that is not a mixture, such as an element or compound. Of course if you’re using less rigorous definitions, a compound could be considered a kind of mixture…

        Besides, “substantial transformation” has “substan[ce]” right there in it.

        At any rate, as much as I love quibbling over semantics, I think we’re all agreed on the basics:
        Change of substance: Yes.
        Physical changes as seen in certain Michael Bay movies: No.

        • SDG

          By “disagreement” I mean “disagrees with saying ‘NOT transformed.'” It seems to me Benedict is fine with the language of “transformation,” as used by Mark. He would not, with Ye Olde Stat, insist on “transubstantiation” as the only valid term, to the exclusion of “transformation.”

          • Linebyline

            Ah. Gotcha.

            (For maximum clarity: That’s “gotcha” meaning “Ah, I get your meaning now,” not, “Aha! You have fallen into my clever rhetorical trap!”)

  • FrMichael

    I had a parishioner who was extremely sensitive to gluten such that eating the approved low gluten Hosts would require hospitalization and even drinking the Precious Blood was dangerous due to cross-contamination from others receiving from the chalice. I ended up buying a small chalice that was used only for him at the Masses he attended. Problem solved!

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      The godmother of my younger three has a condition like this. She cannot have any cross contamination at all.

  • My wife has coeliac disease. It is true that;
    1) the matter of the Sacrament must be wheat flour, which contains gluten
    2) that the contents of the Cup do not in themselves contain gluten


    1) our diocese (Auckland, New Zealand) has approved low-gluten hosts (manufactured in Australia, so I suppose they are used there as well)
    2) my wife has stopped trying to take the Cup because there is often a slight contamination; even the slightest amount can make her exhausted for 24 hours

    She has to purchase the low-gluten hosts (they say on them that they have something like – I don’t remember exactly – .00001% gluten?). She has a pyx or her own. She has an arrangement with our parish priest, and with priests in some other parishes where she habitually attends, to consecrate hers in its own pyx; to take great care in handling it when he communicates her so that it doesn’t pick up particles of full-gluten matter; and she endeavours always to be first in the queue. She does not receive the Cup.

    At Masses where she cannot see the priest first, she makes a spiritual Communion.

    It’s a pain going out to eat with her, as well 🙂 But we manage.