Bread for Communion

I was surprised to hear on the news today an item about Rome banning the use of gluten free bread for communion in the Roman Catholic Church. I say surprised, because this is nothing new. Several official statements have been issued in the past on this topic, including a circular letter to Bishops Conference presidents in July 2003.

The letter referred to in news bulletins today was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on 15 June, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Its purpose is not to state anything new but to remind bishops about the stipulations in earlier documents, which is does by extensively quoting key sections from them.

The Congregation feels that such a reminder is necessary at this time because:

“Until recently it was certain religious communities who took care of baking the bread and making the wine for the celebration of the Eucharist.  Today, however, these materials are also sold in supermarkets and other stores and even over the internet.”

The letter sets out several steps that diocesan bishops can take to ensure the validity of the matter for the Eucharist: providing and requiring special certification for eucharistic matter; reminding priests of their responsibility to verify the worthiness of the bread and wine for the celebration; informing producers of the bread and wine for the Eucharist of the absolute respect that is due to the norms.

These norms are set out in several Church documents:

“The bread for celebrating the Eucharist must be made only from wheat, must be recently baked, and, according to the ancient tradition of the Latin Church, must be unleavened.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal 2000 #320)

“The bread must be wheaten only and recently made, so that there is no danger of corruption.” (Code of Canon Law 1983 #924.2)

“The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat… bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament.” (Redemptionis Sacramentum 2004 #48)

It is clear from all these statements that bread for communion must be made from wheat. This poses a problem for those people who suffer from coeliac disease (intolerance to wheat gluten). So that they may still receive communion under the form of bread, low-gluten hosts are available. The manufacture of these hosts involves a process of bleaching wheaten flour until as much gluten as possible has been removed. The majority of coeliac sufferers are able to eat this low gluten bread.

The only option for those people who are highly gluten intolerant and cannot consume even this very small amount is to receive communion under the form of wine alone - another (in this case practical) reason for all parishes to ensure that communion is always offered under both kinds.


Elizabeth Harrington