Readers may be interested in the following feedback I received last year in response to a column about communion bread and the communion cup, and in my reply.

Comment: I am no expert on Liturgical norms just an observant and I hope, an informed Catholic. I was sad to see you introduce hygiene into any discussion concerning Our Lord's Precious Body and Blood. I don't wish to appear nit-picking but I have always felt that anyone who worries about this aspect of this sacrament is lacking somewhat in their faith.

Surely when Our Lord said, "Take this, all of you, and drink from it", He would never permit anyone who carried out His Divine command to suffer any kind of infection from doing so. I have never heard, or read, of any Catholic suffering in this way. Indeed, when Communion under both Species was introduced into the Latin Rite Church following Vatican II people who were concerned with hygiene were assured by the Bishops that no case of germs having been spread in this way was known.

Similarly, your mention of coeliacs suffering, because of the ingestion of wheat, seems strange also, as I would think this would be more of a mental, not physical, reaction. The doctrine of transubstantiation entirely precludes the Host from having any connection with bread (or wheat) or any other matter than the Body and Blood of Christ.

Reply: I admit to being somewhat surprised by your reaction to my raising the matter of hygiene in relation to the common cup at communion. The theology that you express is not in line with orthodox Catholic belief.

Of course the Catholic Church believes in the real presence, that is, that 'by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1376) This is what is known as 'transubstantiation'.

But of course along with this goes the belief that while the substance has changed, the accidents (form or appearance or vehicle) under which Christ is presence is that of bread and wine. Hence they still look, taste, smell and feel like bread and wine. Christ's body is made present to us under the form of bread which contains wheat and under the form of wine which contains alcohol. These don't disappear at the moment of consecration.
That is the whole meaning of the sign and symbolism of using bread and wine at Mass

If there really is no wheat in consecrated bread or alcohol in consecrated wine, there would have been no reason for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to issue a letter in 1995 recognising low-gluten altar bread as valid matter for the Eucharist and allowing the use of mustum or grape juice by priests who cannot take even small quantities of alcohol. If it was not possible to get germs from the eucharistic cup, the bishop of Tasmania was misguided when he temporarily prohibited the use of the common cup during a meningococcal outbreak there a few years ago.

I hope this clarifies things a little. Why not talk about it with your parish priest?


Elizabeth Harrington