Communion wafers don’t taste good. They don’t taste like much of anything, in fact, so why is it that the paper-thin hosts, as the Church calls them, are so damn satisfying to munch on? The Takeout has already explored the mass appeal of communion wafers, tracing 80 percent of the wafers used in U.S. churches to just one family-run host-baking company out of Rhode Island. But today we learned of a new twist: Some churches are offering gluten-free versions.
Charleston, South Carolina’s The Post And Courier notes that several Christian churches in the area offer the alternative hosts for the small portion of parishioners who cannot eat gluten, and congregations in Ohio and Iowa also offer churchgoers a gluten-free option. According to the website of Iowa City’s Trinity Episcopal Church, “Gluten-free bread is also consecrated. When the priest comes to you with bread, you may say “gluten-free.”
The issue is a bit thornier for Roman Catholics, though, as the Vatican has a long-standing policy that states some amount of gluten must be present in a communion host for it to be valid as a sacrament. Per the Vatican’s Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith: “Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist. Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread.”
The Vatican’s reasoning seems to be that the Eucharist should as closely as possible replicate the bread and wine Jesus served his disciples at The Last Supper; Protestant congregations tend to view Communion in a more symbolic manner, which seems to afford them more leeway on the gluten question.
According to an article from Catholic News Agency, a Nebraska priest with celiac disease received special permission from his diocese to use gluten-reduced hosts in the celebration of Mass; his parish purchases them from the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri. (A 30-pack of low-gluten hosts costs $5.50; a 500-count box of the standard white hosts costs $9.03).
I could go on! The issue of gluten in Communion wafers is fascinating to this Catholic school graduate, who despite a decade of theology classes never heard this detail discussed. Or maybe it was, and I was too busy sneaking unconsecrated hosts from the altar servers’ supply closet.