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In recent years, many have worked to foster an increasing awareness of the significant effects of Celiac Sprue disease on people's lives. The digestive system of those with this condition is considerably compromised by the consumption of gluten, one of the major ingredients in wheat flour. It is estimated that as many as fifteen percent of all persons of northern European origin are affected by this disease to some degree.
This is a particular challenge to Catholics, who believe that the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the reception of Holy Communion are the very source and summit of the Christian life. Priests should show great pastoral sensitivity and compassion to anyone afflicted with this disease, but especially to the parents of children with a gluten intolerance at the time of their first Holy Communion.
The USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship has devoted considerable resources to this question in recent years. In 2003, the Secretariat successfully assisted the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri in the production of a very low-gluten host which has been favorably reviewed by the publication Gluten-Free Living as "perfectly safe" 1 for sufferers of Celiac Sprue disease.
In 2012, the Secretariat identified two additional distributors of low-gluten hosts as suitable matter for the Eucharistic liturgy.
Low gluten altar hosts are available from the following:
Such communicants may still receive the Precious Blood. Catholics believe that whoever receives Holy Communion only under the form of bread or only under the form of wine still receives the whole Christ, in his Body and Blood, soul and divinity.
In such cases, the bishop may grant permission for individuals to receive mustum, a type of wine with a minimal alcohol content. If an individual is unable to tolerate mustum, there is little else the Church can do except to recommend that the person make a "spiritual communion." Why? Because the Church believes that it is impossible to consecrate anything except wheat bread and grape wine. From the time that the Lord Jesus took bread and wine and told his disciples: "Do this in memory of me," the Roman Catholic Church has tried faithfully to fulfill Christ's command by taking unleavened bread made from water and wheat flour, and wine made from grapes for use at the Eucharist.
No. It is impossible to consecrate a host made of something other than wheat and water. No priest or bishop can change this longstanding teaching of the Catholic Church. 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." 2 Excerpts from Gluten Free Living (Vol. 9, no. 1).
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