My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Once again people are left with incomplete or even false information if they rely on the secular media for news about the Catholic Church. This time, the issue pertains to the question about holy Communion for people who cannot tolerate any gluten in their food. A cursory reading of headlines in the secular media, which unfortunately is what too many people do in terms of keeping up with the news, would lead one to believe that a new document from an insensitive Pope Francis and his advisors at the Vatican now make it impossible for people with celiac disease and others who are gluten-intolerant to receive holy Communion. That is simply not true. People with gluten intolerance still have valid options for partaking in the Eucharist.
The document in question is the Circular Letter to Bishops on the Bread and Wine for the Eucharist issued on June 15, 2017, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, at the request of His Holiness, Pope Francis, by His Eminence Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. While the Circular Letter does not change church teaching or contain anything new, the Holy Father thought this reminder was needed because, until recently, “it was certain religious communities who took care of baking the bread and making the wine for the celebration of the Eucharist. Today, however, these materials are also sold in supermarkets and other stores and even over the internet.” The Vatican document asks diocesan Bishops “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.”
The recent Circular Letter refers to a similar Circular Letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith July 24, 2003, which published norms for the celebration of the Eucharist by persons who, for varying and grave reasons, cannot consume bread made in the usual manner nor wine fermented in the normal manner.
Regarding the bread to be used for holy Communion, the 2003 Circular Letter said, “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” (A. 1-2).
With regard to those who cannot consume any alcohol, the 2003 Circular Letter provided that, “Mustum, which is grape juice that is either fresh or preserved by methods that suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing), is valid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist” (A. 3).
Thus, those who cannot tolerate gluten can either receive the Body of Christ in the form of a low-gluten host. If they cannot tolerate even a small trace amount of gluten, they may still receive Holy Communion by partaking of the Precious Blood.
Those who cannot consume alcohol may still receive Holy Communion by partaking of the Body of Christ in the consecrated host and/or by partaking of the Blood of Christ consecrated from mustum.
It would seem that the only circumstance in which a person could not receive either the Body or Blood of Christ in Holy Communion would be in the extremely rare case where someone could neither tolerate a low-gluten host nor the alcohol in the Precious Blood. In such cases, the person would be invited to make a spiritual communion.
The reason for requiring at least some small trace of gluten in the host and at least some fermentation of the grape is to maintain the connection with the elements of the Eucharist at celebrated by Jesus using bread and wine at the Last Supper. Bread made from some element other than wheat (which contains gluten), such as bread made from rice or corn, and grape juice that is not at least partially fermented as mustum would not be the same as the elements used by Jesus when He instituted the Eucharist. For Catholics, the Eucharist is not just a symbolic remembrance of the meal at Last Supper, but is the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in fulfillment of Our Lord’s command to “do this in remembrance of me.”
The important point to remember is that Christ is truly received in the Eucharist even if only one species, that is, in the host or from the chalice, is consumed. Either way, it is the Real Presence of Jesus who comes into our hearts and fills us with His grace.
May God give us this grace. Amen.