Of Catholics and Communion

This story talks about Jenny Richardson, a five year old girl who suffers from celiac disease. Jenny cannot eat wheat. She can eat rice. The Catholic church (Archdiocese of Boston) has decided that it cannot allow Jenny to take communion using a rice wafer instead of the traditional wheat wafer. Efectively, this bars Jenny from receiving the full communion (body and blood of Christ). According to the story, the Archbishop’s ruling is in accord with a Vatican pronouncement that “Special hosts [which do not contain gluten] are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.”

Now, the story also mentions that the parish priest offered a compromise of allowing Jenny to take communion only with wine, but the parents refused, preferring to become members of a Methodist congregation.

There are two questions I would like to ponder:

  1. Since the Catholic Church believes in transubstantion of the host, why would it rule that the composition of the wafer before transubstantiation invalidates the sacrament?

  2. I am not catholic, but my understanding is that the sacrament of communion is considered vital for aceptance into the Church (the body of Christ? Or am I misremembering that particular symbolic identification). If so, does this ruling effectively bar Jenny from the “true faith”. If not, is the sacrament considered optional or dispensible for other members of the church. (Could an alcoholic Catholic, for instance, take the sacrament only with a wafer? For that matter, is non-alcoholic wine considered appropriate? Do the strict restrictions on content hold only for the wafer?)

Mrs. Cal saw this story, too, and was also angry about it (and she’s not even Catholic). It eminds me of the family in James Michener’s book “The Source” who converted to Christianity from Judaism because their son would be accepted into the Christian congregation without having to go through legal rigmarole.

I was brought up Catholic, and I’d never heard about this requirement that the Host be made of wheat. I’ve had many types of eucharistic host, but it always DID have wheat as one ingredient.I can’t understand this papal inflexibility.

  1. Because the Last Supper, according to Catholic faith has Jesus holding up bread, made from wheat, saying “Take this all of you and eat of it. This is my Body.” He did not say “or a reasonable substitute,” so neither do the priests. The wafers are also made under strict conditions so as to be suitable for their intended use, and any old substitute won’t do in ordinary circumstances.

  2. No, it doesn’t bar her, she could have just had wine. It was her parents choice. Yes, you can just have a wafer.

I understand, Scylla, but it still seems absurdly restrictive – bread can be made of other grains. The standard “communion wafer” I ate as a child was made of wheat and unleavened, but it surely wasn’t identical to the nleavened bread eaten at a Jewish Passover in first century Palestine. Neither were the molasses-and-whole-wheat loaves we used in Grad School, for tha matter. So why were these substitutes OK?

But Methodists? One reason my wife loves our Lutheran church is because we do communion weekly, in an EXTREMELY inclusive manner, instead of once a year with a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth like her Methodist church did. I’m sure we could work something out for her.

I sometimes want to tell visitors who are holding back from communion that the Evangelical Lutherans not only don’t require you to be “in a state of grace” when you take communion, but also think it might do you some good. But, as a fallen big-C-Catholic, I assume they are Catholics who have been told that the bread will catch fire in their mouths because it’s not a Catholic church.

Sheesh, I sometimes wonder why I quit Catholicism, then there’s a story like this to remind me. And transubstantiation would work on alternative bread.

This is not really accurate. There is no requirement to receive both bread and wine, and receiving one is no less full than receiving both.In fact, most churches I’ve been to generally don’t distribute wine (although I’m sure most,if not all,would in this situation). There are also restrictions on the wine,although I don’t remember exactly what they are (I know it can’t be grape juice,so I suspect non-alcoholic wine is not okay))

In Ireland Celiac disease is more common than most other countries and Celiacs regularly recieve gluten free hosts in catholic churches. I was an altar boy - several years ago and there was always a small supply of hosts for celiacs kept to hand. People would call to the sacristy before mass and say that they were celiac and could a special host be left out for them.

I haven’t been to mass for a few years, but I’m sure that I would have heard if things had changed here. Come to think of it one of my cousins is celiac, so I’m sure I would have heard if things had changed.

In the RCC view, the molasses would invalidate the bread for eucharistic purposes…so it would not be “OK”…(yes I know it’s done…and for me personally, it’s not a huge deal…but it is part of Canon Law… Can. 924: “The bread must be merely wheat and recently made so that there is no danger
of corruption”.)

I did a quick look at the Canon Law section that seems relevant to this…

Article 3: The Rites and Ceremonies of the Eucharistic Celebration

Can. 924 §1 The most holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist must be celebrated in bread, and in wine to which a small quantity of water is to be added.

§2 The bread must be wheaten only, and recently made, so that there is no danger of corruption.

§3 The wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine, and not corrupt.

Can. 925 Holy communion is to be given under the species of bread alone or, in accordance with the liturgical laws, under both species or, in case of necessity, even under the species of wine alone.

Can. 926 In the eucharistic celebration, in accordance with the ancient tradition of the latin Church, the priest is to use unleavened bread wherever he celebrates Mass.

Here are the canonical laws pertaining to this situation:

From this we see that the archodiocese followed canon law in refusing to substitute rice wafers for wafers made from wheat. We also see that, pursuant to Can. 925, it would have been perfectly proper, and not in any way a denial of the sacrament, for Jenny to recieve the Host under the species of wine only, an alternative the diocese offered.

The OP asks why this rule about wheat exists, speculating that since Catholics believe in Transsubstantiation, it shouldn’t make any difference what the material was prior to being consecrated. But by this logic, parish priests could be serving up hamburgers. We use bread because that is what Christ used when instituting the sacrament. It may be white or whole wheat, round or square or irregular - but we believe the basic property of wheat bread is the one that’s necessary to obersve the sacrament.

Finally, I would point out to Pergau that while I’m not sure when he was in Ireland, the Vatican in 1994 clarified the effect of 924 § 2, saying that gluten-free hosts are not valid for reception of the Eucharist.

Gluten is, however, a word that describes a mixture of individual proteins. They are generally classified into two groups: prolamines and glutelins. The prolamine, gliadin, appears to be the major problem in celiac disease; gliadin antibodies are commonly found in the immune complexes associated with this disease.

  • Rick

Curse you for your quick fingers, beagledave, and me for adding my little gluten discourse!

Or, would the fact that the girl got sick from a host prove that transubstantiation did not occur?

Well, one of the things I’m least interested in doing from a religious mode is defending the Thomist theory of transubstantiation, but it’s a part of that doctrine that there is a distinction between the “accidents” – the overt evidence pertaining to a thing – and its “substance” – its inner, ideal “true nature.” And that in the making of Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, while its accidents remain those of bread and wine. Therefore, just as it looks like bread, tastes like bread, etc., it causes bodily reactions in celiacs just like bread – notwithstanding that it is in some supernatural sense the Body of Christ.

For me, the meaning to which the foodstuffs are put would be far more important than their composition. However, I’m not the Vatican, and if they want to make laws that keep a believing child from receiving Communion (at least in the normal bread-and-wine sense) for her health’s sake, that’s their prerogative.

Seems silly, but when has that stopped …

Have nothing substantive to add to this debate, but wanted to express how proud I was when attending a niece’s first communion, as they began communion, my 11 year old son turned to me and said, “Well I am feeling a mite peckish.”

[side issue]
I was under the impression that the transubstantiation took place at ingestion, not consecration? Yes? No? I’m an ignorant heathen dog?
[/side issue]

I think my real question concerning the composition of the sacrament comes from my own attempt at idsinguishing “things which are symbolic and that we try to do” from “things that are integral and cannot be done without”.

In other words, we believe Jesus was holding a specific type of bread at the Last Supper. We believe that when we replicate this ritual the host is physically transformed into the body of Christ when it enters our system. We consider the exact form of the host to be unintegral, and out “target” is based more upon Church tradition than historical accuracy. We consider the composition of the host to be integral. It cannot b altered without invalidating the sacrament.

Is that accurate?

My apologetics skills suck…(like that would ever stop me :stuck_out_tongue: ) but I’ll take a stab.

  1. transubstantiation takes place at consecration…not ingestion (which is also why special care must be taken in transporting communion to the homebound)

  2. The Canon Laws regarding the physical form of the host reflect the RCC understanding of the type of unleavened bread (and grape wine) used by Jesus at the last supper.

  3. I’ll leave any “ignorant heathen dog” descriptions to someone else…for now…but I have my eye on you buster :smiley:

I’ll leave your main question, Spiritus, to the Catholic posters, but with the statement that that is indeed my impression: “having communion” with, say, Ritz crackers and Pepsi is not using the things Jesus used, and therefore not a valid sacrament.

On your side issue, while you may indeed be a “heathen dog” I’ve never seen you wilfully ignorant. :wink: And the study I’ve done on theories of the Eucharist among denominations have never included a “transubstantiation at ingestion” believed by any church.

For the Roman Catholic, I understand that it is spelled out somewhere in canon law that the moment of transubstantiation is at the Words of Institution in the Canon of the Mass (=Great Liturgy=Eucharistic Prayer=Prayer of Consecration, in other denominations). The priest says, “Jesus said, ‘This is my body’” and it becomes so; ditto the wine>blood. (Sidelight on the origin of a phrase: Supposedly, the Latin for “This is my body” – hoc est corpus meum became * hoc es[sup]t[/sup] co[sup]r[/sup]pus…" which became "hocus pocus* by a form of linguistic transposition I don’t recall the name of.

For Episcopalians and, I’m given to understand, Orthodox, there is a three-point phenomenon: (1) The Words of Institution serve to set apart the communion elements to function in the role in which Jesus set the at the Last Supper; (2) the Epiclesis – “We pray you to send the Holy Spirit upon these gifts, that they may become for us the body and blood of Christ” – is the actual moment when, in response to that prayer, they change function; and (3) the faithful “make a good communion” with the elements, and they serve to nurture them spiritually with Christ’s body and blood as the actual foodstuffs nurture them physically.

Something akin to this is held by Methodists and other liturgically minded Protestants, including the Disciples in Christ, but it never gets spelled out in that much detail, and tends to emphasize the spiritual end of what happens rather than making reference to the physical activity.

Lutherans hold to a doctrine of “consubstantiation” in which the physical character of the elements remains but to them is added the spiritual character that they are serving as the vehicle by which the believer participates in Christ’s body and blood. Episcopalians and other “real presence” advocates refuse to get into the metaphysics of what “really” happens when, but affirm that the Body and Blood are indeed really present in the consecrated elements…details of how and when left to God.


Thanks for the info, folks. While I have read a fair amount of theology, I have never studied this particular dogma.

Of course, no discussion of communion would be complete without this link:


Enjoy! No, no, don’t thank me. My work is its own reward.

Two points to add.

Yes, you can take communion of wine alone, although it would foul up the procession line a little bit.

No, you don’t have to take the wine. In the many churches I’ve been in wine taking can often be more the exception than the rule. Probably goes double during flu season.

A priest, I imagine, does have to take both when both are offered. Someone has to make sure it isn’t poisoned! Alcoholism among parish priests isn’t exactly a well kept secret, although it might not be as common nowadays as it was back before the concept of this disease existed.