Catholic Church Says No to Gluten-Free Eucharist Bread

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July 10, 2017

Many people follow a gluten-free diet religiously, but Catholic dieters will have to make an exception to ingest the bread of the Eucharist.

The Roman Catholic Church has clarified that bread with at least trace amounts of gluten must be used for the celebration of the Eucharist. The new directive merely reaffirms a rule established in 2003, but it comes to resolve confusion over what constitutes "gluten-free" bread.

In America and Europe, bread with trace amounts of gluten—about 20 parts per million—legally meets the definition "gluten-free." But even this small amount can be dangerous for those with celiac disease, and the Vatican directs them only to take the sacramental wine.

"The confusion can be great when these 'breads' are advertised as gluten-free alongside what are described as gluten-free but are in fact low-gluten altar breads," the Catholic Church in England and Wales said. The Vatican's statement sought to clarify the definition of "gluten-free" as well as the proliferating sources of bread and wine that churches access.

"Until recently it was certain religious communities who took care of baking the bread and making the wine for the celebration of the Eucharist," the Vatican stated. "Today, however, these materials are also sold in supermarkets and other stores and even over the internet."

The Catholic Church is dealing with this problem by restating the rules about what constitutes appropriate Eucharistic bread and wine. It has multiple past statements to reference, which allow for low-gluten wheat bread as well as mustum, a type of grape juice for those who cannot consume alcohol.

"The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition," the directive states, quoting a previous statement. "It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament."

This may pose a problem to gluten-free dieters who would like to take the Eucharistic bread but want to keep gluten entirely out of their diet. The controversial protein that occurs in wheat has been the focus of concerns far beyond those with celiac disease.