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communion

It seems I was a bit vague.

My last post about gluten-free communion wafers seems to have a conclusion that is a bit vague… at least a lot more vague than I’d intended (ie… not at all). The two commenters, “David” and “stephanie” concluded that my post was criticizing the Catholic church’s position on the gluten content of the Eucharist hosts.

The Catholic church doctrine seems to require that hosts contain gluten in order to qualify as “bread,” otherwise it cannot properly transubstantiate into the body of Christ. This, of course, poses a problem for coeliac sufferers who cannot tolerate any gluten in their diets.

Although I agree one hundred percent with the comments made by “David” and “stephanie,” and I support them in their fight to be included in their religious ceremonies, the issue of immutable church doctrine was not the focused intent of my post.

My intended point was that, since the Catholic church believes that the host physically transforms into the body of Christ, the wafer would no longer contain gluten when it’s eaten. So, if what Catholics profess to believe is actually true, the host could be made of 100% wheat gluten before being consecrated, but afterward it would contain 0% gluten and would be safe to eat, even by the most severe coeliac sufferer.

Since it’s obviously an issue (and a completely valid one, I agree), it would seem that Catholics, including the clergy, do not really believe that transubstantiation occurs. And more importantly, if any coeliac sufferer has ever had a reaction to a consecrated host (a brief search turned up nothing), it would seem that transubstantiation actually does not occur.

My sincerest best wishes to “David” and “stephanie,” though.

Jesus is Gluten Free

Eucharist hostsLast week, I heard mention of a company making gluten-free hosts (or communion wafers). I didn’t think much of it, since it seems logical that someone (especially a child) who had coeliac disease would not want to eat something during communion that would make him ill.

However, upon further examination, I found the issue to be very odd, particularly with regard to the Catholic faith. Catholics believe that when the bread and the wine are consecrated during the Eucharist service, something called transubstantiation occurs, which means the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ.

From Wikipedia…

The Roman Catholic Church accordingly believes that through transubstantiation Christ is really, truly and substantially present under the remaining appearances of bread and wine, and that the transformation remains as long as the appearances remain.

Not wanting to just take Wikipedia’s word for it, I dug a little deeper and found that, indeed, transubstantiation is a basic Catholic belief.

Here’s what Catholic Culture has to say…

Catholics believe in the doctrine of “transubstantiation,” that the bread and wine become, in a substantial way, the Body and Blood of Christ.

From Ancient and Future Catholics

Essentially, the Church teaches that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ in substance, while the incidentals (or accidents), the physical characteristics of bread and wine, remain. This means that what you see, feel, and touch will seem to be bread and wine, while in reality, they are actually the body and blood of Christ.

And, unless it’s changed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says…

By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity.

So after seeing that idea documented in various places (I only listed a few), I’d have to assume that Catholics truly believe that the bread and wine become the actual body of Christ. I can’t say that I find that rational, in any sense, but I have an understanding that it is a Catholic belief.

This all came to a head when I read a question-answer article on the Eternal Word Television Network, Global Catholic Network about a girl who couldn’t receive her first communion because she was allergic to wheat gluten. She states that it’s Catholic Church doctrine that the hosts be made with wheat gluten.

I found the answer to be quite interesting (and involved). After giving some historical rationale, Father Edward McNamara replies…

The Holy See has declared that some gluten is necessary for the substance to be considered as true bread. And thus a gluten-free wafer, in spite of its external resemblance, is no longer bread and thus is incapable of becoming the Body of Christ.

The sacraments are far too important to risk performing them invalidly.

He then goes on to explain that it presents a problem for coeliac sufferers because they shouldn’t have to worry about whether their hosts were genuinely consecrated. He says…

It would be a manifest act of negligence on the Church’s part to look the other way while some members of the faithful were being innocently induced into an act of idolatry by attributing adoration to what is in fact a lump of matter.

So it’s critically important that the host contains gluten because otherwise, it would not qualify as “bread” and would be incapable of becoming the Body of Christ… thereby invalidating the sacrament, unbeknownst to church members.

Happily, the situation has been addressed and a solution has been found.

Recently, however, another solution has been found thanks to the patience and perseverance of two nuns, Sisters Jane Heschmeyer and Lynn Marie D’Souza, of the Benedictine convent in Clyde, Missouri. Over two years of experiments they have developed a Communion wafer that has been approved as valid material for the Eucharist by the Holy See.

With a level of gluten content of 0.01% it is safe enough for consumption by almost all celiac suffers, according to Dr. Alessio Fasano of the University of Maryland and other medical experts.

So, with all that (boring) background information, I can now get to the problem that I see here.

If the host actually becomes the body of Christ, why does it matter whether or not it originally has any gluten in it? According to Catholic doctrine, when the host is consecrated, it becomes the body of Christ and since the human body doesn’t contain wheat gluten, there should be no danger to anyone, including coeliac sufferers. No Catholics should ever have to refuse the Eucharist unless they have an allergy to human flesh or blood. Wheat gluten should be a complete non-issue.

What I take away from this is that even Catholics don’t really believe in transubstantiation. They may say they do, but when it comes right down to it, they don’t… otherwise gluten-free (or nearly free) hosts would never even come up as an issue. It’s the same as quite a few other religious notions that people claim to believe, but don’t.

Perhaps that’s a topic for another post.