READERS of The Catholic Leader who suffer from celiac disease must have been dismayed and confused by the recent sad story from Boston (CL 11/2/01).
A five year-old girl was refused permission to receive her first communion using a rice wafer and, after a very public row, her family left the Catholic Church. This would never have happened in Australia.
It is true that the unleavened bread for the Eucharist must be made from wheaten flour and wheat contains a protein called gluten to which celiac sufferers are intolerant.
After studying for a number of years the plight of people with celiac disease, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith approved some norms in 1995.
These stated that, to celebrate the Eucharist validly, low-gluten hosts could be used but not those from which all gluten had been removed, because this would alter the nature of the substance of the bread.
The Australian Bishops’ Conference then sought advice from an industrial chemist working in the baking industry. It was explained that the process of removing gluten from flour is a washing procedure and that it is technically impossible to have a completely gluten-free flour extracted from wheat.
The milling process does not allow the wheat to be ground so finely that the most minuscule particles of gluten are removed. Therefore the “gluten-free” flour used to bake special foods for people with celiac disease is in fact technically “low-gluten”.
Its gluten content is less than 0.2 per cent (normal wheat flour has a gluten content of between 6 per cent and 16 per cent). On this basis, the Australian bishops approved the so-called “gluten-free” hosts as valid matter for the Eucharist.
These hosts are usually made by the same people who make other eucharistic bread for Catholic liturgy and are available to people with celiac disease from their celiac societies.
There is no fuss, no embarrassment, and no difficulty. In the parish I belong to, there are three or four people with celiac disease. The priests know who they are. When they come to Mass, they bring a special “gluten-free” host in a pyx and slip it onto the plate with the bread near the church entrance. It comes to the altar with the rest of the bread at the preparation of the gifts.
At communion time, the priest recognises the person and gives them the special host in the pyx. What could be simpler?
There are very rare cases where the intolerance to gluten is so strong that even the host made from “gluten-free” flour causes problems. In these extremely rare cases the person receives holy communion only in the form of the consecrated wine. Unfortunately there was no indication in the news report that this was the situation with the little girl in Boston.
REV DR TOM ELICH Director The Liturgical Commission Brisbane, Qld