Radio Show

Communion Options for Someone with a Gluten Allergy


Since the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments recently issued a letter to Bishops on the bread and wine for the Eucharist, there has been a lot of misinformation going around in the press about receiving Communion if you suffer from celiac disease or other forms of gluten intolerance. Father Dave cuts through all of the noise when asked this question: “I saw that there was a recent letter from the Vatican … and it was talking about the substance of the Host … and they wanted to make sure that it is a wheat bread … but they would allow ‘low-gluten’ and nothing more. I have a niece and her daughter who are seriously affected by celiac disease … [What should they do?]”

Father Dave begins by explaining the nature of the letter itself: “[The purpose of the letter was to serve as a] clarification about the elements that we use for the Eucharist. There was nothing new — it wasn’t like a change [in teaching]. Sometimes the headlines say, ‘Church Changes What You Can Eat’ and stuff. But it was essentially just a letter reminding bishops [who are the] primary enforcers of the Church’s teaching in their given diocese, [what the proper substance for the Eucharist is]. Sort of like when you see a memo at work that says, ‘Just a reminder that on Fridays we’ll be cleaning out the fridge of all the stuff that you left there all week — just a reminder.’ It’s not a new policy, but maybe people have been forgetting, so we want to underscore.”

WATCH: Sacraments 201: Eucharist (What We Believe)

Next, Father Dave delves a little bit into what celiac disease is and how that might be misunderstood by Catholics who don’t suffer from it: “A lot of people these days are, for various reasons, trying a gluten-free diet, which is sometimes by choice. Sometimes it does improve people’s health. But then at the extreme end of the scale is what’s called celiac disease, where people, even if they’ve had a very tiny amount of gluten, they go to the hospital. So, I mean, it’s much more severe [than some might think] — for some people it’s life-threatening.”

Father Dave then explains the options for Catholics who have this condition: “There are folks who actually make — in fact, there’s a religious community of nuns I believe — that make very, very, very, very low-gluten hosts that have actually been approved by gluten intolerance doctors [across] America, but it still has some [wheat] so that it qualifies to be the proper matter and form to be sacramentally valid. However, some people are so, so sensitive — and celiac is probably the best example of that — that their doctors would tell them [to not] even risk it … For them, the option that the Church gives is to receive from the chalice. In many parishes, they don’t necessarily offer the entire congregation the chalice at every Mass, so if somebody like that with celiac disease [would] probably need to present [themselves] to whatever parish [their] at and say, ‘I have celiac disease, so even if you have the low-gluten hosts, I’m not gonna risk it. [May I receive from the chalice instead?]’ Some folks I know are so careful … that they are even worried about people who are drinking from the chalice who have already had the Host … Sometimes at a parish, if somebody identifies themselves like that, they will have a separate chalice!”

So in short, there are still plenty of options for people who suffer from celiac disease and other gluten-intolerant folks to receive the Eucharist, either by way of an extremely low-gluten host or by receiving from the chalice. (Original Air 07-11-17)

Photo credit: Deacon David Parker Sr. gives the Communion cup to his wife, Denise, following his ordination to the permanent diaconate at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Pulaski, Wisconsin. (CNS photo/Sam Lucero, the Compass)