Vatican Says No To Gluten-Free Communion


People living with celiac disease are now finding it easier to shop for gluten-free food as more stores are beginning to offer specialty food items. However, if you’re a devout Roman Catholic, you might still have to contend with the small amount of gluten found in the unleavened bread used for Communion.

The Vatican Radio announced on Saturday, July 8, that the Catholic Church has reaffirmed its ban on the use of gluten-free wafers to celebrate the Eucharist during mass.

In a letter sent to bishops in June, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments reiterated that the wafers used for Communion must be made following strict guidelines.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the congregation, said the bread must be unleavened, made purely of wheat, and prepared recently to avoid the danger of decomposition. He stressed that no other ingredient other than wheat should be used, otherwise the bread will be deemed invalid for confecting the Eucharistic Sacrament.

As far as low-gluten variants are concerned, Cardinal Sarah said they can be used provided they still contain enough gluten to obtain the confection of bread without using additional ingredients. They should also be made without the use of procedures that would alter their nature as bread.

The new directive should clarify any confusion surrounding the Vatican’s doctrine on gluten, a protein found in wheat and other types of grain.

Gluten-Free Bread For Communion

In 2014, some church leaders started offering gluten-free wafers to their congregants for Communion. This is in response to the growing number of churchgoers developing celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

While the Vatican has allowed the use of low-gluten hosts, the bread should still contain the protein even if in small amounts.

In the United States, the term “gluten-free” can be used to refer to wheat-based products that have been mostly removed of their gluten content. The maximum amount of gluten they can still carry is set at 20 parts per million.

Such gluten-free wafers can be used as altar bread in celebrating Catholic mass. However, the Church will not accept truly gluten-free variants made from other ingredients such as potato, rice, and tapioca flour.

The Vatican said there has been much confusion about what can be used as communion bread since many variants can now be found readily available in supermarkets and online stores. These products often have varying labeling and marketing standards, causing many people to become confused.

“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 Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said.

“Today, however, these materials are also sold in supermarkets and other stores, and even over the internet.”

The Vatican directive released last month reaffirms the Catholic Church’s existing policy on the use of gluten-free bread to celebrate the Eucharist. It was set out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2003 under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was later elected as Pope Benedict XVI.