By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

Catholics who have celiac disease can still receive Holy Communion even though the Church requires the protein gluten to be an ingredient in the bread.

In a letter released this week, the Vatican is reminding priests and laypeople that the hosts must “contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread” in order to stay true to the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Catholics believe that bread and wine consecrated during the Liturgy of the Eucharist — which commemorates Jesus’ the Last Supper — become the body and blood of Christ.

“It’s not about taking God’s grace. It’s about doing everything I can to receive it,” said Rev. Kris Schmidt, who is a celiac himself and can’t consume gluten. “It’s about remaining faithful to the sacrament in matter and form. Matter is having the right materials, and form is the right words spoken.”

While gluten – a protein composite – is a necessary ingredient, “there are always options. There’s always a solution,” Schmidt said. “We don’t want anyone to not receive the Eucharist who wants it.”

The latest circular from the Vatican does not change liturgical practice in Canada. In 2003 the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops posted on its website the rules regarding use of low-gluten hosts, with approximately 0.01 per cent gluten, and for use of mustum, a wine substitute that has less than one per cent alcohol. The page also provides a list of approved suppliers of these items.

“We’re working with parishioners who have to be very careful of gluten,” said Rev. Paul Kavanagh, director of the Office of Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

Kavanagh noted that low-gluten hosts and mustum are sealed and consecrated separately to prevent cross-contamination.

A layperson affected by celiac disease who is not able to receive even a trace amount of gluten may receive Communion under the species of wine only, at the discretion of their priest and from a separate chalice, according to the Vatican.

To critics of the ban on gluten-free hosts, Schmidt noted that it’s about Catholics adapting to the sacrament of the Eucharist, not vice-versa.

He said in his experience only one parishioner a few years ago had an issue with gluten, and she received the host from a separate vessel.

Laypeople and priests also have the option of mustum (grape juice that is fresh or preserved through methods other than fermentation)   with the permission of their local bishop.

Schmidt notes that in some cases Catholics are unable to consume either bread or wine, and in those cases accommodations are made for an act of spiritual Communion.

For more details on the Vatican rules, visit http://nlo.cccb.ca/index.php/documents/160-celiac-disease-and-holy-communion.