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?
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.
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.
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.