Rationality Now Rotating Header Image

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.


  1. David says:

    Never let common sense and health get in the way of doctrine!

    As a person who is sensitive to gluten and who gets the benefit of being married to a professional gluten-free baker (Pasqualinas, I find the Vatican’s stance to be both indefensible and typical. Compared to trying to force a raped pre-teen to have a child, as in Brazil recently, this is hardly as emotionally provoking. Yet is surely shows that doctrine is more important than life and health for some. So why do we listen to these people any more, when they are so clearly delusional?

    1. James says:

      In http://richarddawkins.net/articles/4547 Philosopher Dan Dennett describes a study of the lives of various preachers who have lost their faith…He quotes one as saying “There’s no WAY you can complete seminary and still believe in God…”

  2. stephanie says:

    This issue has caused my family so much pain. As a mother of a 7 yr. old with Celiac Disease – as well as Dermititis Herpatiformis (skin condition celiac’s suffer with when gluten is ingested). Having her ingest the low gluten host wasn’t an option, as the poor child reacts with a severe, welting, stinging/burning rash covering the right side of her face – with no treatment or drugs available. After switching to the Episcopal Church for a year, we did find a Catholic priest willing to give her the “rice” host, so she can receive 1st Communion like everyone else. It makes me INSANE that people think the host HAS to HAVE GLUTEN to be “Jesus”. I have been a life long Catholic, I tell my daughter that the Church will change the rules on this in her lifetime. It is very hurtful to read what a lot of people write about Celiacs and this issue. She should be able to take any Sacrament like anyone else, it is bad enough that she suffers and cannot even have a cookie or a piece of cake at any party, gathering, etc. It is so hard for a young child to live on this diet, the Church shouldn’t discriminate or make anyone feel badly for a medical condition that they inflicted with. I tell her that God rolls his eyes at these rules and they are missing the whole point. The Eucharist is supposed to mean UNITY and SHARING NOT discrimintion and shame. One priest told me that these “rules” were imposed, as priests in the 1970’s were consecrating anything and it was getting way too loose. I get that – but don’t punish people with ingesting a toxin if they want to participate like everyone else. I can’t imagine if Jesus was on this earth – that he would exclude my daughter from a Church sacrament. And as far as taking just the wine, she WANTS to be like everyone else – why shouldn’t she be able to take the host — her life is restricted enough and I wish someone could see HOW DIFFICULT it is to watch people constantly eat things you cannot and picture how that is in the life of a child. The Church is missing the boat on this one.

    1. Keith says:

      Dear Stephanie,
      Were can I get the rice wafers?

  3. acnemelanie says:

    i have an allergy to Gluten and most of the time i use guar gum or xanthan gum for baking. these gums are good substitute for wheat,

  4. Bot Grinder says:

    Interestingly enough the hosts look like trucker speed.

  5. I have gluten allergy since childhood. I am always on a Gluten Free diet and i use guar gum in some of may baked foods.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.