At least three million Americans are affected by Celiac Disease. Most of the time the disease is hereditary; people with immediate relatives have a higher chance of developing it. According to the University of Chicago Medicine, 60% of children and 41% of adults who were diagnosed with celiac disease during the study did not show any symptom. It takes an average of four years for a person, who shows symptoms, to be diagnosed with Celiac Disease. This delay increases a person's likelihood of developing autoimmune disorders, neurological problems, osteoporosis and cancer.
The Communion Bread
A letter that was released by the Vatican in the previous June and was just published by the Vatican Radio in July 2017 is causing quite a stir as it iterated that bread and wafers used for communion must have at least some gluten in them. This is not fresh news, but is simply a reminder to bishops that they need to be attentive of the bread and wine being used during the mass.
According to Andrew Menke, the executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship, as shared by Denver Post, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has already established guidelines regarding the use of low gluten bread and nothing will be changed. The "new guidance" was sent out to ensure that the church's requirements are met. The reason for this reminder was a direct request from the Pope Francis as he had noted on the availability of Eucharistic bread and wine over the internet and the continuous rise of the gluten-free fad, especially to non-gluten sensitive masses. The reason for this requirement is that the Catholic Canon law states only fresh and unleavened bread stemming from pure wheat without additional ingredients may be used as how it was used during the Last Supper. The church continues to struggle to remain unified whilst trying to accommodate the different regions of the world.
This letter has garnered the reaction from all corners of the church community, especially those with Celiac Disease. Many shared finding difficulty in locating gluten free hosts; therefore, resorted to "spiritual communions" instead to avoid any damages. Many members of the church have also reached out for suggestions and comments on how much gluten can a person take before it greatly affects them just to be able to complete the Eucharist and accept the body of Christ. Other people have suggested that they may take in the wine alone as the drink is equal to the bread.
The Study on Gluten Consumption
As posted on Forbes, not following a gluten-free diet is incredibly dangerous for those affected. Eating gluten may trigger the immune system to attack the small intestine and increase their risk of gaining life threatening illnesses. Forbes also shares a study conducted by an Italian scientist in 2007 which tested the daily consumption of gluten with Celiac Disease. They randomly assigned participants a daily capsule that contained no gluten, 10 milligrams of gluten, and 50 milligrams of gluten. The results showed that participants who consumed 10-milligram tablets did not incur damages unlike those who took 50 milligrams of gluten who experienced unfavorable negative effects in their small intestines.
Along with people suffering from the disease, there is also a percentage of people who suffer from "nonceliac gluten sensitivity" (NCGS). Those who have NCGS do not have Celiac Disease but still experience symptoms like bloating abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Still, the church has permitted the use of low gluten communion bread through accredited sources only. One being the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration who, according to their website, has been baking communion bread from more than a century. Along with their low-gluten products they provide information on handling and distribution of their goods, which you can find information on their website. One reminder that they share is that low gluten bread must be stored and distributed separately from regular ones to avoid contamination.
Unlike their Catholic counterparts, the Protestant churches continue to place orders for a Eucharist that won't affect gluten intolerant participants. The Catholic church believes that during the Eucharist, the bread goes through the doctrine of transubstantiation, which suggests that the bread turns into the actual body and blood of Christ. This is the main the reason that the church established requirements to follow when it comes to the wine and bread.
Protestant churches, on the other hand, see the communion as a symbolic event. This comes from their view that tradition equates to authority and that the scriptures are authoritative. With this, they refer to John 6:64 where Christ states that his words were "spirit and life" and that "the flesh is of avail." This allows a wider scope when it comes to the elements that compose the ceremony. This allows them the ability to use grape juice instead of wine and bread can be made from things other than wheat.
As Rev. Susan Blain, a staff of the United Church of Christ's Cleveland headquarters, shared with Religion News Service that they can understand how things might be changed respectfully to meet the needs of the members. Similar to how their church has embraced cultural changes much as the UCC did in the 19th century.
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod advocates that there are solutions and comment that the questions of gluten free or not is dependent on the individual pastoral judgment. It continues to share theological notes quoting a 1983 report on Theology and Practice of the Lord's Supper, “Since the Scriptures are silent on the source of the bread, it may be baked from the flour of wheat, rye, barley, or other grains.” This supports the acceptability of using gluten-free bread during the ceremony.
Rest assured, the churches- may they be Catholic or Protestant- are finding ways to accommodate everyone whether culturally or health-related matters. The aim is to include all the two elements of the ceremony; wine and bread can be taken both or just one of them. As stated in one Iowa Episcopal Church, some churches also offer options, that when the priest approaches you may say 'gluten free'.
Celiac Disease is not an easy-to-cure disease that you can just take a pill or two to end the symptoms. Moreover, the disease affects people from different walks of life, and that each person may experience different symptoms. For this reason, a lot of celiac patients are getting anxious in finding the most effective treatment and practices that could help them improve their condition.
One of which is to avoid foods that contain gluten. But for religious groups who take their faith seriously, not taking the communion bread, which is usually gluten-filled, is a big concern. However, for celiac disease advocates, this is a serious case as this put the patient’s life in jeopardy.
Considering both sides, it’s hard to make a decision when both parties actually present valid cases. Still, the decision on whether or not to take the communion bread with gluten should be decided by both the patient and his or her doctor. When health is a concern, let the professionals give their advice. Maybe an occasional gluten can be tolerated. If so, this attempt to make the gluten-filled communion bread a big issue is nothing but a waste. If not, then health should be prioritized.
- A letter from the Vatican published in July 2017 said bread and wafers used for communion will contain at least some gluten.
- Catholic Canon law states only fresh unleavened bread from pure wheat with no additional ingredients may be used for the celebration as how it was used during the Last Supper.
- Those with celiac disease are seeking options when it comes to receiving the host during mass.