Vatican Takes Bold Pro-Gluten Stance

News the Vatican has banned the use of gluten-free hosts in the celebration of the Eucharist hit like a bombshell this weekend, but the rules re: gluten-free hosts go back at least to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVl) who in July 2003 declared gluten-free hosts “invalid.”

In March 2004, pretty much the same rules referenced this past weekend were contained in a letter to all Catholic bishops from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of The Sacraments and the first Vatican-approved gluten-free hosts were produced by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in St. Louis, Kentucky that same year. Said hosts are made precisely according to Canon law, conjuring up the image of someone busy at her/his baking table with a book of Canon law rather than a cookbook at the ready.

Unleavened bread and gluten free hosts. (By Jonathunder (Own work) [GFDL 1.2 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Communion setting with unleavened bread and gluten-free hosts. (Photo by Jonathunder, own work, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons)


The latest letter to bishops around the world, dated 8 July 2017, is written in typical Vaticanese, and I quote:

Bread must be unleavened, purely of wheat and recently made. Bread made up of another substance, even another grain, or if 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.

Hosts must be made by “people of integrity” but also “skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools.” As for the wine used in the Mass, it must be “natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances [not even water?] – well conserved and not soured.”  (“Confecting” by the way, comes from the Latin “conficere” meaning “putting together ingredients.” One must apparently keep one’s Latin dictionary in the kitchen too.)

The latest rules indicate “Eucharistic matter made with genetically modified organisms [GMOs] can be considered valid matter” and further that Mustum “which is grape juice which is either fresh or preserved by methods that suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing) is valid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.” It is suggested an authority should be “mandated” to guarantee the genuineness of the Eucharist and those producing, distributing and selling it.


Low gluten "altar breads" from the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. (

Low gluten “altar breads” from the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

Why now?

So why the sudden and urgent need to make sure that the hosts used in Catholic consecrations comply with rules set out more than 13 years ago? According to the Vatican, it’s partly because ingredients used to make hosts are now being sold online and in supermarkets and, it seems, some hosts might even contain “fruit or honey,” making them definitely “invalid.”

One might wonder, though, why GMOs are considered fine and dandy when genetic modification, by definition, involves purposely moving a gene from one organism to another to “improve or change said organism to produce desirable traits.”

Perhaps the rules are being proclaimed again because the hosts being used are entirely gluten-free. Low-gluten hosts will satisfy Canon Law (a fairly new law, I presume, given that celiac disease is a relatively recent phenomenon) but will surely put those suffering from it at risk. It makes one wonder if Christ gave any thought to the problems his choice of bread and wine would cause some 2,000 years after Holy Thursday.


Bread & Wine

And while the Vatican has always declared that anyone who consumes either the bread or the wine receives the whole sacrament, the Body and the Blood of Christ, we’ve also been told that receiving “under both species is the ideal.” The fact is that it wasn’t the norm for Catholics to receive under both species until well into the ’80s locally, and most of us seniors recall a time when only the priest was permitted to touch the host. The rules surrounding the reception of Communion were so drilled into us that I’m sure I’m not the only one who recalls having a host stick to the roof of my mouth and being convinced that I couldn’t, under any circumstances, remove it with my tongue. (Too much information?)

Mustum Sacramental Grape Juice - Mont La Salle (Photo via Church Supply Warehouse

Mustum Sacramental Grape Juice – Mont La Salle (Photo via Church Supply Warehouse)

At Sacred Heart Church, in Sydney, the three steps up to the Communion rail (remember them?) meant that as a small child, one had to kneel on the top step, holding onto the rail for dear life, waiting anxiously as the priest approached, the altar server placed the patten under your chin and you received the host with relief rather than any sense of the miraculous. (If the host happened to fall to the floor, there was a flurry of activity as a white cloth was fetched and dropped over it until the priest could retrieve it.)

Certainly, there are have been many changes concerning the Sacrament of The Eucharist — including the fact that fasting from midnight the night before reception has been gone for years. Nobody ever hears the term “Easter Duty” anymore, although there are probably still some who follow the old rule that one was required to go to confession and receive the Eucharist at least once a year, during the Easter period.

The most significant change of course, other than the introduction of Eucharistic Ministers, male and female, has been reception of Communion in the hand, although there are still those convinced the sacrament must be received while kneeling, and from a priest. (With the  ever-declining number of available priests, such people could go a long time without Communion.)

Times have changed, although the idea of the miracle of “Transubstantiation” by which the priest and only the priest is able to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ remains a difficult concept for many of us to wrap our heads around.



But I digress. The fuss about gluten-free bread being considered “invalid” seems ridiculous. If there is, indeed, a miracle happening at every liturgy, surely it wouldn’t be stymied by the presence of gluten, especially if the presence of “genetically modified organisms” doesn’t slow it down.

For sure and certain, Christ gave no thought whatsoever to the bread he referred to as his “body;” it was bread, a staple for people at that time just as it is today, gluten or no gluten.

As usual, the Vatican has become bogged down in trivialities instead of focusing on the many, pressing matters that should be at the top of its “to do” list. And as the CBC reports, at least one parish, St. Joseph’s in Calgary, will continue to use gluten-free hosts “unless told otherwise by Calgary Bishop William McGrattan.”

Featured image: Gluten-free Communion wafer via Concordia Supply.


Dolores Campbell


Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.



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