Spanish Bishop Opts for Almost Gluten-Free Host

Notes Church’s Care For Celiac Sufferers

By Nieves San Martín

HUESCA, Spain, MARCH 19, 2008 ( A Spanish bishop joined his voice to that of others in the Church who have clarified how to pastorally care for those who cannot consume wheat products, but still want to receive the Eucharist.

Bishop Jesús Sanz Montes of Huesca made public a statement explaining what to do for the faithful who suffer from celiac disease, and thus cannot consume gluten, a composite of proteins that exists, conjoined with starch, in some grass-related grains, such as wheat, rye and barley. The text was published Tuesday.

The pastoral situation of celiac suffers brought the Church to study how to care for these members of the faithful while still protecting the requirements for the matter of the sacrament of the Eucharist.

The dilemma of how to allow gluten intolerant people to receive Communion without endangering their medical condition arose in Huesca after a boy who suffered from celiac disease reached the age of his first Communion.

The boy’s mother proposed using hosts made of maize flour, but the parish priest cited a 2003 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that states, “Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.” The text was signed by then prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The solution found in Huesca was similar to that found in other areas: The child was able to receive the Eucharist using a low-gluten host. The particular host chosen by the diocese is a wheat-starch host manufactured in Germany with an almost imperceptible level of gluten.

The Association of Celiacs of Aragon gave the medical OK; the Diocese of Huesca approved that the host could be the matter of the sacrament; and the boy’s family accepted the solution.

The vicar general of the Diocese of Huesca, Father José Antonio Satué Huerto, told ZENIT that the bishop’s document was based on “two similar documents, one from the Italian episcopal conference and another from the Archdiocese of Pamplona.”

The document affirmed that, “in recent years, the number of faithful affected by celiac disease has increased considerably” and goes on to explain the solution found by the Church: hosts that are nearly gluten-free, or receiving Communion just under the species of wine.

The statement urged priests to know their faithful, becoming aware of who suffers from celiac disease, and doing what they can to “alleviate the difficulties and the discomfort they encounter for their daily life and their participation in the Eucharist.”

Affirming the Incarnation

ZENIT’s Father Edward McNamara dedicated his Sept. 14, 2004, liturgy column to the question of gluten-free hosts.

Father McNamara explained why the Church has seen it necessary to confirm what can and cannot be matter for the sacrament of the Eucharist.

“From the theological perspective the Church’s power over some elements of the sacraments is not absolute and must respect those elements which it understands as having been determined by the Lord himself,” he noted. “Among these elements is the use of water and the Trinitarian formula for baptism and the exclusive use of wheat bread and grape wine for the Eucharist.

“In a certain way the submission to these limitations is also a recognition and an affirmation of the reality of the Incarnation in which the second person of the Blessed Trinity submitted himself to the limits of space and time by becoming man.”

Father McNamara went on to note, however, that hosts with almost imperceptible levels of gluten are increasingly available.

He cited the work of Sisters Jane Heschmeyer and Lynn Marie D’Souza, of the Benedictine convent in Clyde, Missouri. After 10 years of experiments, they developed several years ago a Communion wafer that has a gluten content of 0.01%.

According to the U.S. episcopal conference’s Committee on Divine Worship, “This product is the only true, low-gluten altar bread known to the Secretariat and approved for use at Mass in the United States.”

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