Gluten-Free Communion Wafers Don’t Meet Vatican Standards

By Laura(The Gluten-Free Traveller)

If you are Catholic or have ever attended a Catholic mass, you have probably had experience of communion. However, part of the service includes breaking of bread and wine and we gluten-free folks obviously can’t eat normal bread.

Communion wafers are made from wheat and therefore are not gluten-free, so what do you eat if you are both Catholic and celiac? Gluten-free communion wafers of course! Various churches around the world are now offering gluten-free communion wafers for celiac and gluten intolerant folks.

But what if you were told that the lack of wheat in your gluten-free communion wafers meant that they don’t meet with Vatican standards?

This may sound a little ridiculous, but it’s a real issue for some gluten-free folks in Ohio. The Catholic Diocese of Columbus said recently that he doesn’t believe the gluten-free wafers meet Vatican standards because they do not contain wheat.

“For Catholics, consecrated bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus, and the sacrament of Holy Eucharist is “the heart and the summit of the Church’s life,” according to its catechism.”

“Church law “calls for the host to be wheat and wheat only” because Jesus ate wheat bread with his apostles before his Crucifixion, said Deacon Martin Davies, director of the Office for Divine Worship at the Diocese of Columbus.”

Back in 1995, the Vatican agreed that low gluten hosts would be considered valid if they contained enough gluten to make bread. Those people wanting to use this low gluten option then had to present a medical certificate in order to gain approval from a bishop.

In 2003 the need for a medical certificate was then taken away and the Vatican said that Catholics with celiac disease could receive Communion with just the wine.

This is fine for some people but there are many Catholics with celiac disease or gluten intolerance who want to participate in full communion, including bread, so this low gluten communion wafer is their only options.

Two different low-gluten wafers have been approved by US Catholic bishops. One is the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Missouri and the other the Parish Crossroads in Indiana. These wafers are said to contain less than 100 parts per million although the labeling legislation the US is aiming for and what is already in place in many countries throughout the world is that a product cannot be considered gluten free unless it contains 20 parts per million of gluten or less.

What are your thoughts on this? Does your church offer low-gluten communion wafers?

18 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Communion Wafers Don’t Meet Vatican Standards”

  1. It would make no difference because the priest would be touching all of the gluten containing wafers then touching your “gluten free” wafer as well. I sit in the front row & am the first one to the cup to avoid contact with gluten at mass.

  2. Unfortunately, my church does not routinely offer low gluten hosts. My daughter made her First Holy Communion this past year; she has celiac disease. I did the research and brought the information to our priest. He then did order the low gluten host so she could fully participate in this special sacrament. My next mission is to make it available to her every Sunday at Mass!

  3. My church has been offering low gluten hosts for over a year. The minister who gives it to me cleans their hands before giving to me so that there is no contamination. We even had a little girl who recieved first communion this past year that is celiac. They planned ahead to have her receive first before anyone else. The priest cleaned his hands after the consecration and then she was the first to receive. I have been very impressed with how they have gone out of their way to make sure we are ok.

  4. In Judaism (where the bread and wine came from in the first place) you can have it “count” as bread (challah) with bread from wheat, barley, oats, spelt, or rye. My wife and kids are all celiac and intolerant of any of the five grains, so they just don’t take part in that mitzvah (deed), and it’s no big deal.

    It’s my understanding though that in Catholicism, the belief in transfiguration complicates this issue and abstaining isn’t as easy?

  5. We received an inexpensive unused pyx from our church (they can be purchased as well). Put a label on the bottom. We order our own hosts form the Benedictine Sisters and keep them in the freezer to keep fresh. We talked to the priests to help educate them. He opens the pyx for the blessing. Ideally at communion, he hands the pyx to my daughter she removes it form the pyx. Thus, she is the only one to touch the host. In some churches we have gone to they have a separate person that distributes GF hosts. Some of the priests do hand her the host and then the pyx, but even with that the doctor was very pleased with her gluten level tests she had this summer. We attend church weekly.

  6. This is a subject dear to my heart both as a celiac myself, mom to a celiac daughter, and a theologian preparing to minister as a Diaconal Minister within the ELCA. I am doing a research project on inclusive communion, including being inclusive in the elements used (as much as possible). I would love further feedback, questions, and personal stories shared about your experiences — please see:

    I know that I personally find that the more inclusive communion is the more meaningful the sacrament is to me, and the deepest meaning has come when gluten free bread is shared with all communing so that we are all partaking in the same loaf. This is not always possible, but I was amazed at the difference it made to me, and I wrote about a particular experience here:

    The project includes much more than gluten free but due to my experience that is a big part of it. All comments and feedback appreciated.

  7. My daughter who is celiac also receives communion every week with
    the hosts that we purchase from the Benedictine Sisters. It’s a much better idea to provide your own hosts-thereby always having them in stock, and knowing that they are kept fresh in the freezer.

  8. Perhaps I am fortunate enough to not be overly-sensitive to gluten, and I have not cheated on my GF diet since I was diagnosed almost 3 years ago, but I make no special accomodations at Mass – I just take the host I’m given, trusting in my faith and my maker to not allow me to get sick or react from such a small amount of gluten. I have not suffered any effects from taking Communion in this manner.

  9. I attend Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church in WV; a church with a reputation for being inclusive. A couple of years ago they started to offer gluten-free wafers and a separate chalice for the celiac / gluten intolerant members of the congregation – myself included. When asked to help with communion set-up, I decided to supply only gluten-free bread, as I disliked having to dodge around the pastor to reach “my” wafers. The church loved the idea of everyone sharing the one bread, and they now have a dedicated gluten-free bread maker with people making gluten-free bread on a rota for every communion service.

  10. I believe this article should be more specific since they are referring to Roman Catholics, not all Catholics. Byzantine Catholics do not receive wafers for communion. They receive small squares of actual bread soaked in red wine. Each communion goer receives a small square of wine soaked bread. Byzantine Catholics have never had the option of receiving a low-gluten bread. The only options have been no communion or asking the priest to prepare a separate chalice of wine specifically for them. It should be noted that most Byzantine-rite priests believe they must add a small piece of bread in that wine anyway….which in return renders that special wine not gluten-free. Therefore, non-Roman Catholics usually do not receive communion of any kind. It is a terrible shame.

  11. Vatican standard…& then having to
    obtain the bishop’s permission.
    I am only gluten sensitive”…not
    Catholic. Our church has scheduled
    communion, I purchase my own GF
    wafers that are only touched by me.
    No medical document is required
    or needed, so no hoops. From my
    seat, I ask the Lord to bless my own
    bread…& He does. BTW, i changed
    churches when my dear friend who
    has celiac was told by the paster
    the church had no interest in
    proving GF wafers. So i just chose
    to bypass that issue , change churches
    & purchase my own wafers. When you
    are Catholic, that freedom is yours, no
    permission is ever required & the Lord
    blesses all just by you & you alone
    asking Him.

  12. In forty years, things will be different. For now, we are still at the beginning of educating our church leaders, those in every faith, about the needs of those of us with celiac disease. The better job we do in presenting our desire to participate fully in communion with other members of the congregation, the easier it will be for our children.

    I bought low-gluten hosts from the Benedictine Sisters and delivered them to my pastor with several suggestions about ways to have them consecrated and presented to me safely. Our system is still not perfect because I need to speak to him before every mass at which I wish to receive communion. There are only 1 or 2 of us receiving low-gluten hosts at each mass so the system is OK.

    With more people receiving, the best way that I have heard to ensure that the host is ‘clean’ would be to have each of us bring our own host in our own pix and place it before mass on the side table to be brought to the altar, consecrated, and then handed to us so that we can open it and take the host out by ourselves.

    Keep working on the project of educating church leaders! Don’t give up! Don’t settle for less than the goal of full participation in your faith!

  13. My daughter doesn’t have celiac but she has an IgG response to wheat. If she has even a crumb, her cheeks turn bright red so she has separate butter, peanut butter, cream cheese etc. She can’t drink the wine because of cross contamination issues. My pastor gave me a package of the low gluten hosts from the Benedictine sisters but the first ingredient in them is still wheat. Taking the gluten out doesn’t solve my daughter’s issue. She goes to catholic school and feels so left out at communion time. She is 9 years old and feels shunned by the church. I doubt she will want to be a member when she gets older. My friend who has celiac doesn’t receive communion because our church doesn’t routinely offer the low gluten hosts. She says she feels like everyone looks at her like she is a non-catholic or has done something that prevents her from receiving communion. I think this issue is alienating a lot of people from the church.

  14. Catholics participate in “full communion” any time they receive either the bread or the wine, since we believe that the presence of Christ is fully present under either form. Nothing extra is gained by having both.

    As a Catholic with Celiac disease and serious reactions, I have been blown away by how accomodating the Church has been. Many priests have gone out of their way to provide for me. I usually just receive the wine, and haven’t had many problems coordinating this with the priests. I am overwhelmingly thankful for how well the Church as a whole and its priests have taken care of their sick.

  15. This whole issue is so ridiculious! My MS Lutheran Church is very understanding and co-operative. Churches should work with you if they care and are compassionate! I have severe celiac disease which is improving! They ordered me special GF wafers and they are taken out first and put on a small silver plate. During communion when the Pastor sees me at the communion rail he turns and gets the small silver plate with my wafer and holds it out for me to take. He does not touch it as he has been handling the silver chalice with the wheat wafers. We also have individual wine cups which is fine. I have a friend who is Greek Orthodox and her church will not help her in the least and so she continues to take communion and get sick. How sad…I say change churches and find one that is compassionate!

  16. I’m happy to say that my Episcopal church in San Francisco offers gluten free wafers — which are kept in a separate container brought to us by a server who does not touch the gluten-y parts of the communion elements. (The church consciousness of gluten issues was much raised by hiring a celiac priest!)

  17. My daughter has not had Communion since 2004. I ordered Gluten Free Communion wafers from EnerGFoods, and the priest refused to concecrate them. I have contacted the Church numerous times, they tell me “someone” will get back to me. No one ever does. Oddly, my daughter was quite ill in the hospital. The METHODIST hospital chaplain thought it was reprehensible that my daughter had neither received Communion, and hadn’t been visited by her parish priest. The Methodist chaplain researched, then brought gluten free Host to my daughter in the hospital. This is beyond sinful. The Church has a problem with a recipe for Communion wafers, yet somehow figures out every way for their priests to escape detection and prosecution for their terrible atrocities against children. The Holy See ‘sees’
    NOTHING. I bet you don’t print this. Does no one else see the stupidity and ignorance?

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