The Vatican Did Not Steal Communion From Gluten-Free Catholics

A recent New York Times article with the title “Vatican Refuses to Go Gluten-Free at Communion” has caused quite a stir, with other news organizations quickly picking up the story and running similarly sensational headlines. Opinion leaders on social media jumped on the topic and word spread that gluten-free Catholics were being refused Communion.

I am not sure if this qualifies as “fake news,” but the headlines are definitely wrong.

According to the Catholic Church, Communion is the joining of the person to God by eating bread or wine that has been transfigured into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

The New York Times and any other media outlet or individual who claims the Vatican is withholding gluten-free Communion from Catholics is factually incorrect. The Catholic Church offers multiple ways to receive Communion, and some are gluten-free.

In fact, all Catholic bishops have informed their parish priests that they must make Communion available to Catholic parishioners with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in forms other than the regular bread hosts in order to meet their needs.

The Vatican simply published a statement reaffirming the position it previously stated in 2003 on the subject of gluten-free Communion. Hosts not made from wheat are invalid. So, what forms are gluten-free?

Bread.

According to the Catholic Church, the bread form of Communion, the Body of Christ, must be made from wheat. The Vatican has approved low-gluten hosts derived from wheat starch, such as those developed by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, MO and these host outlets. It does not approve hosts made from rice or any other source that is not wheat.

While the term low-gluten may sound unacceptable to some, all foods that contain less than 20 parts per million are considered gluten-free by the United States Food and Drug Administration, celiac disease experts, and many other governments who regulate such things.

According to their website, The Benedictine Sisters’ low-gluten host tested at less than .001% in 2016. What does that mean? Well, .001% converts to 10 parts per million. That means the low-gluten hosts approved by the Vatican test at less than half the amount necessary to qualify as gluten-free.

Celiac disease expert, Dr. Allessio Fasano, who helped with the first testing in 2004, said a celiac sufferer would have to eat about 270 hosts per day to react to them. [Editor’s note: Each person is different, therefore reactions vary in intensity from person to person.]

So, why does the Vatican call these approved hosts low gluten, instead of gluten-free?

Because the Vatican is super precise in the language it uses when defining things, especially when the things concern the Holy Eucharist, which it views as the most holy part of the Mass. If a food contains almost undetectable levels of gluten, but it is not 100% gluten-free, then it is not gluten-free in the eyes of the Vatican.

What should you do? Call your local Catholic Church to inquire whether they offer the low-gluten hosts. Many do. Others allow congregants to bring their own approved hosts, which are then set aside from the other hosts during the Mass and given separately.

Wine.

The wine form of Communion, the Precious Blood, must be made from grapes, with nothing else added. Catholics who are super sensitive to gluten, or who do not want to risk the low-gluten bread form, are free to receive the wine form. This is what I do.

While the wine is gluten-free, it contains alcohol. If a Catholic cannot consume alcohol, then an approved drink made from mustum (grapes) may be used instead. Again, this is Vatican approved.

I have never been refused Communion in the form of wine. Sometimes, this requires special action, like waiting at the end of line or sitting in a certain location.

What should you do? Call your local Catholic church to ask how you can receive wine or mustum forms.

Spiritual Communion.

The Catholic Church offers a third type of Communion for those who cannot receive it any other way – those who cannot consume anything by mouth for example. This is a Spiritual Communion. According to the Catholic Church, an Act of Spiritual Communion is a prayer that may be made to join the participant to God if the bread and wine are unavailable. All Catholics are encouraged by the Catholic Church to say this prayer, including those receiving either the bread or wine.

So, the Vatican is not withholding Communion from people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. It is not “refusing to go gluten-free.” It is not ignoring gluten-free Catholics.

The Vatican-approved low-gluten hosts are gluten-free according to the medical community and government. Wine or mustum is available for those who want to receive a truly 100% gluten-free form.

While the drive for eyeball-grabbing headlines is understandable, as media outlets sell advertising based on how many people visit their websites and view their material, creating headlines that do not accurately reflect the content of the report is intellectually dishonest.

There is an incredible amount of misinformation on the internet. Anyone who chooses to publish news, information or their opinions to the public should be careful to research what they are presenting and stick to the facts. This includes headlines, which are basically summaries of the articles.

As a media consumer, it is important to read the articles rather than depend on the title for an accurate description of the content. The New York Time’s article described the gluten-free alternatives the Vatican approves, but you would never know it from the title.

It is also important to go to the source. You can read exactly what the Catholic Church states at  Celiac Disease, Alcohol Intolerance and the Church’s Pastoral Response.

Finally, it is crucial not to blindly follow what anyone says. He may have made an honest mistake. She may have an underlying agenda. He or she might write convincingly, but be mentally unbalanced. If the tone is consistently strident, or if facts do not add up, then great care should be taken before accepting anyone’s opinion, including mine.

If there is one thing virtually all churches preach, it is that people are fallible. We must all do our best to seek the truth for ourselves. It is only in this way that we will find the answers we need so that we can get well and stay healthy: physically, intellectually and spiritually.

 

About John Libonati

John Libonati
Author Information: John Libonati, Philadelphia, PA Publisher, Glutenfreeworks.com & The Gluten Free Works Health Guide. Editor & Publisher, Recognizing Celiac Disease.
  • Jeanne says:

    Great response. Careful, thoughtful. Thank you.

  • Lila Murphy says:

    Thank you for this very informative article.
    None of this is anything new. The rules have always been the same regarding the host. It can be low-gluten but not gluten-free. You can also ask for a tiny piece of the host, or you can just take from the cup. All are still the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus
    I have never had a problem. All priests at any church I have attended have always been very understanding and helpful.

  • Peggy A says:

    I am a celiac. And I receive the HOST every Sunday. For me when it is transfigured into Jesus it is no longer
    bread it is Jesus that I am taking into my body. I have NEVER had any side effects from the host coming into my body, knowing that it is Jesus makes me joyful and healthy.

  • Meg says:

    My daughters, sisters, nephews and grandsons are all celiac. We have found many wonderful priests who are happy to work with us. I have found it is necessary to educate the clergy and the lay ministers so that they don’t inadvertently cross-contaminate the Host or the cup of Precious Blood. Whenever I travel, I carry my own low-gluten hosts and a pyx that makes it easy for the priest to help me. What a blessing to be able to receive Jesus wherever I travel.

  • Sam says:

    The article by Libonati is generally well-written and informative and most of it is effective and cogent. The assertion attributed to Fasano is ignorant and
    silly, and I suspect it is an inaccurate rendering of what Fasano said. In any event, an article in a newsletter regarding gluten sensitivities should not
    include unchallenged statements like this. There are plenty of people (myself included) who have adverse reactions to food
    that has ten parts per million of gluten, so it is inaccurate to say I would have to have eat 270 wafers to have a reaction. When I was first diagnosed, I found from cursory reading that the reaction
    threshold varies from person to person. It would be nice if literature on gluten sensitivity reflected this knowledge.

    • You can read what Fasano said on this page. https://altarbreadsbspa.com/statement-on-vatican-letter-of-7-8-17/ As you can see, it is neither made up, nor an inaccurate rendering. You may contact the Benedictine Sisters to ask them directly. Their contact information is on that page.

      • Sam says:

        To be precise, your article replaces “a celiac sufferer” with “one”, which is less specific. I notice things like this because I frequently have to explain to people why I can’t eat things that celiac sufferers they know can tolerate. Secondly, the original article you cite is a paraphrase of Fasano and not a quote. When you paraphrase a paraphrase, this makes me suspect imprecision. I would expect a scientist like Fasano to be more precise, and say ” a typical celiac sufferer” rather than “a celiac sufferer”. A less important point is that you have changed .01 % to .001%.

        The gist of your generally well-written article is that the Catholic Church is being very precise (and also offers many alternatives). To me, this means the Church is behaving very responsibly, because it is providing users full information. When your article is not so precise, I notice this because of my extreme sensitivity to wheat. I apologize if I am nitpicking, but I wanted to communicate the purpose of precision when reporting about gluten issues. Thank you again for your generally informative article.

        • Per the original article… “A test done in 2016 indicated the gluten content was less than .001%.”

          I see where the article states “a celiac sufferer.” Thank you for the observation. I have made the necessary change to the article.

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