Catholic Church confirms ban on gluten-free bread for Holy Communion

The Catholic Church has confirmed its opposition to using gluten-free bread in Holy Communion in an announcement that spells bad news for members who have celiac disease.

(REUTERS / Dave Kaup)Low-gluten prayer breads fill a container at the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration monastery in Clyde Missouri December 18, 2014.

In a memo recently issued by Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, the Vatican confirmed that gluten-free bread should not be used in Holy Communion. However, low-in-gluten options are available for those suffering from celiac disease, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

"Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist," the Vatican said in the memo issued at Pope Francis' request. "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."

Nutritionist Dr. Joanna McMillan called on the Catholic Church to accommodate parishioners diagnosed with celiac disease, an auto-immune disorder in which gluten intake damages the small intestines. She said it is a serious condition and the church has a duty to let sufferers practice their religion safely.

According to the canon law, the Holy Communion bread needs to be made of wheat and water so that transubstantiation can happen. This process, based on Catholic teachings, is the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. There were several updates about the use of low-gluten breads for the sacrament, but the recent ones state that the bread must have enough gluten to achieve the "confection of bread."

In a commentary published on Religion News Service on July 11, Simple Church's head baker Kendall Vanderslice explained the importance of gluten to the Communion bread. She said it was necessary for the dough to die and then later become bread when it is cooked, much like how Jesus had to die to be an instrument of life to His followers.

Vanderslice said the symbolism of the Holy Communion is lost when gluten is eliminated from the bread's makeup. However, she said the chemistry of bread should not be allowed to create divisions among Christians and should not hinder a believer from approaching God's presence.