Official word: The body of Christ is not and cannot be gluten-free

If you are Catholic, what if you are allergic to the body of Christ? The answer may be hard to swallow.

Monsignor Mark J. Merdian [pictured here] takes a stab at solving the problem. His analysis appears in the magazine Homiletic and Pastoral Review:

Celiac Disease and Holy Communion: A Medical and Spiritual Dilemma

Msgr-Mark-Merdian2In this article, I hope to inform as many people as possible … about the damaging spiritual and physical effects of celiac disease. And … provide resources and pastoral recommendations for caring for individuals who may be unable to receive the Holy Eucharist in the sacred host because of this disease

The first time I had to deal with the issue of celiac disease, I was the pastor of a large suburban parish when the parochial vicar came into my office and asked if we had any Communion options for those suffering from celiac disease. He asked if we provided the precious blood to them or offered them some other spiritual remedy. Sadly, I responded in the negative….

[A letter from the] the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) of the Vatican [specifies]:

  1. Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist….

His is not the only word. Here are others:

Celiac Disease and Eucharistic Communion,” Anne Bamberg, Jurist 61 (2001): 281.

Coeliacs, alcoholics, the eucharist and the priesthood,” Aidan McGrath, Irish Theological Quarterly 67, no. 2 (2002): 125-144.

(Thanks to Miss Conduct for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: Tom Lehrer’s view (in 1967, approximately) of the bureaucracy that, ultimately, decides such questions:

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  • chuntuk

    Isn’t it supposed to transform into the (presumably gluten-free) flesh of Christ before it hits the stomach anyway?

    • Franklin Peach

      Actually you have it in partially in reverse and misunderstand what is transformed. The host in substance is transformed during the consecration Once it loses the appearance of bread then it no longer is the body of Christ (somewhere in chewing and swallowing and or in the stomach). While the substance changes the accidental qualities (taste, touch etc) do not. It will behave in every way, exactly like a unconsecrated wafer will. If you are too sensitive to handle even that much gluten then you should abstain, take the blood only, or take a smaller portion.

      • LissaKay

        When it comes to gluten intolerance or sensitivity, there is no portion small enough to not cause extreme health issues in some people. A single crumb can cause me to be in pain all over my body for many days. I do believe God would understand that I pass on the bread …

        • Franklin Peach

          agreed. As I said you generally have an option for the cup. It is no less Christ than the Host.

          • Kl

            No, you don’t. Traces of gluten from others’ mouths and dipping remain in dangerous amounts.

          • Franklin Peach

            Intinction by the communicant is prohibited in the Catholic Church and any other forms of intinction is generally not practiced (at least not in the Latin right within the US) So it should not be an issue. if it is at your parish I would have a talk with your pastor and see if something can be corrected. Also talk to your Pastor or sacristan if you are concerned about gluten traces from other communicants remaining on the cup. You can probably arrange to be the first one or have another cup set aside for you.

            God Bless

  • Gayle McGuire

    That is absolutely appalling!

  • Steve

    At least they can take the wine-only option.

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  • Guggie L Daly

    This only seems scandalous to those who don’t know the overall teachings. The church teaches that you do not have to receive both forms. You are not being “denied” Christ.

  • Roofus Doofus

    Isn’t this activity more or less cannibalism anyway?

  • Ken Head

    They could use ancient grains. The rise of sensitivity to wheat has coincided with the prevalence of modern wheat.

  • Michelle

    I have been allergic to grapes/wine for many years and have successfully avoided taking that part of communion. I recently discovered trouble with gluten; my church uses the unleavened Matzo crackers and so far I have not had a problem consuming the smallest morsel. There may come a time when I’ll have to fake it or avoid it all together.

    Please disregard the ignorant church bureaucrats who make up these things and remember “Man does not live by bread alone..” Matthew 4:4, and ““The Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (NLT).Romans 14:17

  • Anonymous

    Really? This is what people spend time dwelling on? Why not just use meats instead of bread? Everyone pretends the bread is flesh anyway. If doing something is unhealthy – stop it. It’s really that simple.

    • Alicia

      The Word refers to bread, not meat. Read for yourself, Jesus is rather specific. He asks us to take bread and share it and to take the cup of wine and share it. He is not specific in how often he would like us to do this, just that we should do this in memory of Him. This is Bible truth.

      If these things are not important to you, that may be your personal state of mind. But please reconsider your mind and where it came from. This is what’s really important.

      • Paul Edwards


  • Justin Mederich

    As a minister in training I feel it is important to include all worshippers in the Lord’s Supper. To deny a member of the body of Christ the ability to participate in it due to disability would be an atrocity. We should provide both options, gluten and gluten-free, or simply gluten free for all as the most important subject is the heart of the believer, not the substance.

    Our call is to say, “Come!” to all who are thirsty (Rev. 22:17), not disallow participation in one of the two most intrinsic worship experiences of Christian faith.