On Saturday morning, the Office which oversees the celebration of the Sacraments, The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, issued a circular letter to bishops world wide, repeating the rules which govern the type of bread which may be used for the celebration of Mass.
By Saturday night, news had spread like wildfire: “Catholic Church bans coeliacs from Communion!” Is this true?
So, what did the letter state? “The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament.”
This was a simple restatement of existing rules – there was no change, no announcement of new norms, no banning of coeliacs from the reception of the Eucharist.
Usually, such “reminder” letters are issued when someone, generally a bishop, has raised a question or when Rome has been alerted to possible abuse. I have seen advertised in this country, “gluten free” hosts which were mostly made of rice! Rather than being bread they would be rice cakes! Jesus never claimed to be the “Rice of Life!”
However, the letter did state that Gluten-free hosts have always been invalid matter for the sacrifice of the Mass. A similar letter circulated to Bishops in 2003 stated that that “Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.”
The special hosts we offer to coeliacs are low-gluten hosts, partially gluten-free, that contain a sufficient amount of gluten to guarantee that the hosts are unleavened bread, without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread. The low gluten hosts used here comply fully with Church requirements.
The Church recognizes that it mustn’t exclude Catholics with celiac disease from receiving Communion and has approved the use of low gluten hosts for this reason. Anyone unable to tolerate even a small amount of gluten should receive communion from the chalice alone.