Calgary

Gluten-free bread is toast at holy communion: Vatican

The Vatican has outlawed gluten-free bread used to celebrate the Eucharist during Roman Catholic mass, but says low-gluten hosts can be used — so long as there is enough protein in the wheat to make it without additives.

Calgary-area Catholic community reacts to new ruling issued by Holy See

The Vatican has ruled gluten-free wafers aren't valid to be used in Catholic mass, but at least one Alberta parish isn't planning to do away with the practice. (Fernando Llano/The Associated Press)

The Vatican has outlawed gluten-free bread used to celebrate the Eucharist during Roman Catholic mass, but says low-gluten hosts can be used — so long as there is enough protein in the wheat to make it without additives.

For some Calgary-area Catholics, the ruling is being taken with a grain of salt.

According to the Holy See, the new rules — issued at the request of Pope Francis — are needed because bread is now being sold on the internet and in supermarkets and the Vatican wants to ensure local parishes use adequately pure products.

"Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist. Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they 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," the letter reads.

'It's kinda disappointing'

Brock Mix, a former Catholic and now a youth minister at Living Springs Christian Fellowship (a Protestant-Pentecostal church), says the ruling is limiting people from being able to have the fullness of a Christian life.

Brock Mix says he is disappointed in the Vatican ruling, adding that it limits people from being able to have the fullness of a Christian life. (Submitted by Brock Mix)

"It's kinda disappointing that they would go that route with the tradition after the 1960s, which was all about updating the church and bringing it to the foreground so that's it's relevant in culture and relevant in this kind of modern/postmodern society. So to pull back on this and give a vague explanation, it doesn't entirely make sense to me," he said. 

Roman Catholics believe bread and wine served at the Eucharist —  which commemorates the Last Supper shared by Jesus and his apostles as well as his crucifixion — are converted into the body and blood of Christ through a process called transubstantiation.

Fulfilling the Sacrament

But for celiac Roman Catholics, the news makes sense in accordance to certain liturgical rules.

Eryn Isaac is a youth minister at St. Paul's Catholic Church and a young coordinator with Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools. She is also celiac.

Although she understands the criticism the ruling may be limiting certain individuals, she is determined to follow the Vatican's ruling.

Eryn Isaac says she will follow the Vatican ruling and amend the sacrament in order to fit her celiac allergy. (Submitted by Eryn Isaac)

"I think that's why the Catholic Church has stood as long as it has. It's because it keeps its tradition — and sometimes it can be very difficult to follow, but I think that they're just trying to keep strong in a society that is kind of turbulent."

Instead, Isaac says she will go for wine in order to fulfill the sacrament — which she says lowers the risk of getting sick from possible cross-contamination.

"I know what Jesus can do in my life and I see what he does in others' lives and it just inspires me to go and help as much as I can and give back what Jesus have given to me."

Practice will continue

An official from St. Joseph Catholic Church said despite the ruling, they would still offer gluten-alternatives, which includes gluten-free hosts, to members, unless told otherwise by Calgary Bishop William McGrattan.

Multiple attempts to contact McGrattan on the ruling were left unanswered, but a forum on the Catholic Diocese of Calgary website from 2011 says gluten-free hosts are not valid in the church.

Instead, the diocese offers "pastoral options" a parish can provide to help those participate fully, which include presenting yourself to a parish before mass to explain your condition and ask for low-gluten hosts or wine.

"The Body and Blood of Christ are fully present under each species of the sacrament. For those who are severely gluten-intolerant, the priest can provide the precious blood in a separate chalice that does not contain a particle of the host. It is recommended that this chalice is offered first to those with celiac disease so that particles of a gluten host do not get introduced to the chalice," the forum reads.

Nonetheless the Catholic Diocese forum reads if no other options are available, the church recommends "those with celiac disease make a spiritual communion."

There's an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics in the world with about 866,000 in Alberta as of 2011.

About the Author

Josie Lukey is a graduate of Mount Royal University’s Bachelor of Communications - Journalism program. She attended Harvard University in the summer of 2016 where she studied speech writing and online journalism. She’s a 2017 Joan Donaldson scholar and an avid espresso-shot taker.