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I Can’t Believe It’s Not Jesus!

Gluten and Alcohol-Free Christ

Jesus Gluten Free

Someone once said to me, “I have no problem believing that it’s Jesus, it’s believing that it’s bread that I find difficult!” Another time I heard someone explaining, “it’s not supposed to be bread, it’s just supposed to symbolise bread.” In the early church, Christians used the same baking techniques and same ovens for both their daily bread and that which was to be used in the Eucharist. For about a thousand years the bread of the Eucharist was ordinary, leavened bread. Then, in the Western church, there came a growing distinction between the “symbolic” and the “real.” This resulted in changes to the theology of the Eucharist. A dichotomy grew between our daily bread and the “bread of angels,” the “manna from heaven.” The eucharistic presence was too holy to occur in ordinary bread. Furthermore, the growing practice of reservation of the sacrament required the bread to be unleavened.

If what we receive in communion appears neither as bread nor as broken, how can we say that “We break this bread to share in the body of Christ”? Celebrating Eucharist Chapter 10 – The Preparation of the Gifts

There has recently been a lot of discussion (some quite “energetic”) about Cardinal Robert Sarah’s recent Circular letter to Bishops on the bread and wine for the Eucharist. No one would accuse me of being a Cardinal Sarah groupie, but the circular, in fact, adds nothing new. That this is not a blog post written, say, the day after the publication isn’t then such a big deal. It also doesn’t hurt, on a site that tries to bring more light than heat, to let the dust (or other tiny particles) settle.

In brief, the letter says that there must be some gluten present (the amount is not specified) in bread for the Eucharist, but there need not be alcohol present in the wine.

This circular simply expands a more-than-two-decades-old Letter to all Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences concerning the use of low-gluten altar breads and mustum as matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.

The first point, then, is that this is addressed to bishops. There is a certain expectation of theological agility. This blog post, then, will reflect within the sacramental theological model of substance, accidents, validity, licitness, and grace.

Firstly, there is a ruling here that there needs to be some gluten present for the substance brought to the Eucharist to be considered as bread. We could distract ourselves by discussing whether there is such a substance as “bread”. But I want to note that there is no specification of how little gluten is to be present. Let me underline that. For something to be classified as “gluten-free”, NZ has one of the strictest specifications (often described as less than 3 parts per million). In other words, even if there is some gluten present, in the country with the world’s most stringent legislation it would be classed as “gluten free”. Would such “gluten free” bread fit within the Vatican requirements?

A significant point follows. In the online reaction to the circular letter to Bishops, a lot of non-RC churches have contrasted the availability of gluten-free wafers at their services with RC practices. What I note in such crowing is that there generally appears little effort made to prevent cross-contamination. Gluten is very sticky, and if someone has been distributing bread (or wafers) containing gluten, they are far more likely to transmit more gluten to someone with celiac disease, even if handing out a gluten-free wafer, than the careful pastoral practice advocated, say, by the USA Conference of Catholic Bishops. [This RC pastoral carefulness extends to the use of the chalice. Gluten can be transmitted from lips of communicants to the chalice from which those with celiac disease might receive.]

In the online conversations, I have also noticed several stories about a person in prison unable to get bread and wine. People then leap from stories of such exceptional circumstances to justifying, for example, Ribena (a blackcurrant-based drink) in our outside-of-such-prisons context. Hard cases make bad law. To be clear, I am not in any way questioning that Christ is present and that grace is received in the prison cell where no bread or wine is available.

As an aside at this point, I note that the letter requires unleavened bread (3a). As we know that the Vatican accepts leavened bread as matter for the Eucharist, one can only assume that, at this point, it is speaking about licitness (in the Latin Rite) rather than validity.

Then, at 4(b), it repeats the earlier ruling:

Mustum, which is grape juice that is either fresh or preserved by methods that suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing), is valid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist”.

Firstly, I would note that this is no free for all to abandon wine (i.e. with alcohol) at RC eucharists. The Vatican is clear: someone who suffers from alcoholism cannot be ordained a priest. Should they develop alcoholism after ordination, the preferred solution is intinction. Beyond that, “the permission to use mustum can be granted by ordinaries to priests affected by alcoholism or other conditions which prevent the ingestion of even the smallest quantity of alcohol, after presentation of a medical certificate.” There are further limitations to concelebration for such a priest.

An undergirding issue remains: please could someone agile in RC sacramental theology explain why mustum (grape juice rather than wine) is seen to be valid matter while bread with no gluten is not. Roma locuta; causa finita est I think does not apply in this case.

To move from discussions of validity to licitness, NZ Anglicanism is crystal clear:

The bread for the Eucharist should be a good quality bread (either loaf or wafer) and the wine for the Eucharist should be a good quality wine. (NZPB/HKMA page 515)

If you want to see changes to that agreement that clergy vow and sign up to, you know the drill: agreement to your change by General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW); debated at all diocesan synods and hui amorangi and agreement by a majority of them; 2/3 agreement in each of the three Houses at a newly-elected GSTHW; a year of “lying on the table” for any objection.

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31 Responses to I Can’t Believe It’s Not Jesus!

Gluten and Alcohol-Free Christ

  1. It had better be unleavened bread then … if, noting your last sentence, it is going to lie on the table for a year 🙂

    Serious question: (because preparing some lecture material on 1 Corinthians 5-7 and thus refreshing myself with the discussion of bread in 5:6-8): did the johnny-come-lately distinction between leavened and unleavened bread draw on 1 Cor 5:7 for either inspiration or an undergirding symbolic importance attaching to unleavened bread (or both)?

    • I think, Peter, the history of the bread used at communion is complicated. I also think some of it is uncertain and disputed. I think there are elements at work of the West and East polarising each other into the differing practices (unleavened; leavened). I suspect that the practices are then theologised (as well as some practices originating from theology). There is also the Western understanding that the Eucharist, as it were in some sense anyway, is repeating the Last Supper. On the other hand, there are those who would argue that, in the Bible, unleavened bread is only ever called ἄζυμος, and that at the Last Supper Jesus took the ἄρτος – not ἄζυμος. When we get to 1 Cor 10:16, then, these would note that Paul uses ἄρτος and not the ἄζυμος of 1 Cor 5:7. Blessings.

  2. I am not an expert Bosco but my RC understanding is that wine is produced from the fermentation of grapes so the product of a very early stage in that process (mustum) is (barely) valid matter. Not good matter because the sign is nowhere near as clear, so mustum is very much an exception.

    Bread is made from wheat which naturally contains some gluten. Hence at least some gluten must be present (even if minute) otherwise it no longer contains wheat.

    Hope this helps
    Many Blessings

    • Thanks, Chris. Yes, you are describing what I’m posting. I’m not sure about “barely” or “the sign is nowhere near as clear” – the latter would tend against using individual, small wafers. “A very early stage” when applied to bread would suggest we could use dough as “(barely) valid matter”. Blessings.

      • David,

        My guess is that good quality 1st Century flour had little or no bran, so refined grain is acceptable. But I don’t really know.

        I think that wheat was considered to be the best type of bread so was naturally chosen for the eucharist. The Anglican rule expresses this idea of using best quality elements:

        “The bread for the Eucharist should be a good quality bread (either loaf or wafer) and the wine for the Eucharist should be a good quality wine. (NZPB/HKMA page 515)”.

        Many Blessings

    • I think that’s a word game, Chris. Are we then to argue that we should actually use whole wheat as opposed to refined grain? Refined grain, such as used in white bread, has had the bran, very much a valid part of the wheat kernel, removed. Is white flour also then not really wheat?

      And why does it have to be wheat? We know that Jews used wheat, spelt, barley, oat and rye. What kind of loaf might Jesus have picked up from the table?

  3. A few thoughts.
    Gluten-sensitive does not necessarily mean “Coeliac” disease. There are persons who suffer digestive or other AEs of consuming gluten that do not approach the life-threatening reactions of classical Coeliac disease. For them, cross-contamination is less of an issue (particularly as it is the finished product that would likely cohabitate).
    Second, I wonder if mustum could be considered simply “unleavened” wine. It still has the essential “grape” ingredient. As for gluten-free bread, I am not sure that I have ever seen a gluten-free bread made from wheat, so that would mean a wheat-free bread product. Am I wrong to think that their (to me silly) objection is that gluten-free bread is not made from wheat?

    • Thanks, Br Jeffrey. I did not really want to get into the gluten-sensitive debate because on other sites around this discussion that has become very heated. I think you are correct – the source of RC low-gluten wafers is wheat. ps. what does “CoS” stand for? Blessings.

      • [Duplicate edited out]
        On the gluten-sensitive issue, as a day job, I’m a physician, so I’m not scared of the topic.
        Thanks for your good work.

  4. In our parish we have a couple of members who are very sensitive to gluten. We manage that with a separate paten (shallow bowl) containing gluten-free wafers. The priest or other minister extends the paten toward the communicant, who takes a wafer from the paten directly themselves. Not perfect, but it works.

  5. CoS is for Community of Solitude. We are an ecumenical community of brothers and sisters living the Rule of St. Benedict with a Camaldolese flavor. We are a “dispersed” community. One of our sisters apparently knows you and is in New Zealand. We number about 20 members from novice to solemnly professed. Our website is http://www.communityofsolitude.com/
    Since my “day job” is a physician, I guess that I am less fearful of talking about gluten sensitivity.

      • Fr. Peters, We dropped the CAM last year to simplify things and also to avoid suggesting that we were officially associated with the RC Camaldolese orders.

  6. Thanks for your measured thoughts, Bosco.

    A good priest friend of mine has Coeliac disease. He uses very low gluten wafers made by an order of Roman Catholic religious sisters, with four parts gluten per million. (That would seem to be “enough” for Rome.) This is working for him (so far). He also has a severe nut allergy, and so he does not consume the ablutions after communion, but delegates this task to a server.

    Here in Canada, given the tragic influence that alcohol has had historically on their people, some First Nations reserves have a “dry” (zero alcohol tolerance) policy, including churches. I think grape juice is usually used, rather than even “mustum”.

    I am sympathetic to the problem, but I confess to having qualms about that. It seems that the Roman instinct to take pains to ensure some minimal continuity with the “real thing”, rather than saying “it doesn’t matter”, is the proper one. We should, as far as possible, bend to the sacrament, not bend the sacrament to us.

    I’d be very interested to know how such “hard cases” are handled in Eastern Christian churches, where the (leavened) bread is consumed soaked in the wine. I have a Ukrainian Catholic liturgist friend whom I ought to ask…

    • Thanks, Jesse. Can you explain the connection of nut allergy and ablutions please? I am still hoping for a deeper explanation of why the Vatican finds mustum acceptable (rather than, say, wine from which the alcohol has been removed – this is readily available here and I encourage its use in our alcohol-obsessed culture as an alternative, nice drink at social occasions). It would be interesting to know what the general Eastern response is to using mustum. And I hope we hear the response from your Ukrainian Catholic liturgist friend. Blessings.

      • On the nut allergy, if someone has had, say, a peanut butter sandwich and drinks from the common chalice, the particles of peanut butter residue could put my friend in the hospital if he consumed them while cleansing the chalice. (As might any “sticky gluten”!)

        Your questions are forcing me into areas of medieval theology and canon law that I haven’t visited before. Aquinas (Summa theol. IIIa q. 74 art. 5) answers the objection that the Third Council of Braga (675) seemed to forbid the use of mustum. He argued that its use was permissible in emergencies, when — he cites Pope Julius I (d. 352), I assume via Gratian’s Decretum (Pars 3, dist. 2, can. 7) — one may even squeeze the juice of a grape directly into the chalice. This was undesirable, but pardonable.

        The mustum, he says, is already sweet, and so fermentation has in principle begun. But it would be improper to have anything else mixed into the mustum (like grape skins), because then there would be something other than wine. I suppose a similar argument could be made about pasteurized grape juice. It has ceased to be the fermentable fruit of the vine, and has become something else. And one might argue the same about de-alcoholized wine: a process extraneous to wine-making has transformed it into something else.

        I took a course on Islam as an undergraduate, and the instructor explained that observant Muslims generally frown on consuming, say, non-alcoholic beer. Not because it has alcohol, but because it resembles alcohol, revealing the drinker’s desire for alcohol, and because it might set a bad example. Something of the same instinct here, perhaps.

        • Ah – I get the ablutions point now, thanks, Jesse.

          And thanks for pointing to some of the historical background and discussions around mustum.

          I have seen different approaches by those who suffer from alcoholism (and discussed such with individuals pastorally): some have chosen to do little more than wet lips from the chalice (and find that this small amount isn’t an issue for them); others receive by intinction; others only take the bread (understanding Christ is fully present); others have taken the chalice, held it (but not drunk from it), giving thanks for the period they have abstained.

          Blessings.

        • ps. I forgot to mention: when, in 2015, I walked the Camino, a lot of people drank beer with the alcohol removed. The beer’s name was the Spanish word for “without” (as in – without alcohol): “Sin”!

        • That’s a bit like Ashkenazi Jews and Passover. They don’t even use the grain-like foods such as quinoa during Passover because of the appearance of chametz.

          Sephardic Jews don’t have a problem with the grain-like foods.

    • But isn’t bending the sacrament exactly what folks have done with baptism Jesse? It now is administered in a number of different forms; sprinkling, pouring, dipping, immersion and submersion, to my knowledge all accepted as valid forms. Didn’t they all come about for various reasons of convenience?

      Including this strange administration!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFGHerqhSC8

      • Excellent point, David. The essential matter of a sacrament is capable of all manner of flexibility in its administration, so my metaphor of “bending” was not very apt.

        I had particularly in mind the third element of the Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888, which commits us, in the two dominical sacraments, to the “unfailing use of … the elements ordained by [Christ]”. We must “bend” to that requirement. But I am compelled to admit that what minimally constitutes those “elements” is exactly the question at issue.

        I suppose the analogous question regarding baptism would be whether it was licit to baptize someone with, say, milk, or less remotely, carbonated water. (Is that still “water” in an Aristotelian/Thomistic sense?) Or, to get really scholastic, with ice or steam!

        (The Didache gives a list of options in order of preference. Cold running water is best. If not running, then still. If not cold, then warm… I wonder how low the author would have been willing to go. I once saw a film about 17th-century Jesuit missionaries in which a priest baptized a still-born baby with saliva. It struck me as highly improbable, but maybe that was scrupulously researched!)

        I just love that Georgian baptism video! There must have been been no question in the mind of anyone present that those babies had been “done”. (I’m assuming, of course, that no Baptists were present…) The babies themselves will have been especially impressed with that fact.

  7. As I understand it, mustum contains a small amount of alcohol so is still wine. Remove all the alcohol, or all the gluten, and it is no longer wine/bread.

    Dough is not baked, so would not seem to be bread. And it would be a very poor sign (“breaking dough” ?) and not readily recognised by the faithful as bread. Not to mention the practical difficulties of exposing or reserving dough.

    Yes, bread is a better sign than wafers (as one visiting RC priest recently advocated) and it is occasionally used by RC priests. But there are serious practical problems (decay & mould when reserved, how to expose it for adoration, crumbs) which would be scandalous to many Catholics. Every sacramental development occurred for good reasons.

    Hope this helps.

    • Yes, Chris. I am concerned for crumbs. You will also, on this site, find the bread recipe I have used in some contexts. It would be interesting to know the situation in Eastern Christianity in regard to crumbs. I wonder if your assertion is correct that mustum contains alcohol and so is still wine – if that is the case, why is it not simply called “low-alcohol wine” rather than “mustum”, just as the term used is “low-gluten hosts”. Blessings.

  8. According to Wikipedia:

    “Gluten-free bread is made with ground flours from a variety of materials such as almonds, rice, sorghum, corn, or legumes such as beans, but since these flours lack gluten they may not hold their shape as they rise and their crumb may be dense with little aeration. Additives such as xanthan gum, guar gum, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), corn starch, or eggs are used to compensate for the lack of gluten.”

    Hence it is not really bread, being made from other substances and having additives added to make it cohere. Quite a lot of tampering going on there!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread

    • Thanks, Chris. I know, in discussions with liturgical theologians around inculturation, there has been reflection, for cultures that did not have bread (or wine), of what might be appropriate in such a context – it has often revolved around many becoming one (seeds to bread; grapes to wine). Cf Didache 9:4

      As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.

      Blessings

    • Yes Bosco the sign of many becoming one is very much in bread. And also bread as simplicity, the everyday food of the poor.

  9. If the Roman Church wasn’t so hung up on wheat, they could use another ancient grain available in the Levant in the time of Jesus, einkorn. Modern milling techniques could certainly render better bread today than in the 1st century and it’s reported that it’s gluten doesn’t cause the allergic reactions of those with gluten-sensitivity or Celiac disease.

    BTW, wheat was a grain of the upper classes in the 1st century and not necessarily likely used by the masses (pun intended.)

    • Thanks, David. Your point about who used what in the First Century CE sounds like it could make a fascinating study. Blessings.

  10. Thank you, Fr Bosco, for having brought this in. I see more and more Anglican priests using unbread at Mass, and this is really an issue.

    There cannot be gluten-totally-free wafers, as there cannot be alcohol-totally-free mustum.

    Rome’s error is to need medical certificates. Mustum or gluten-low (or bran-low) wafers are intrinsically a valid matter, regardless the medical certificate.

    Another issue, which the Vatican does not grasp, is that of the water which is mingled with wine or wheat. How pure has it to be? In this post-industrial society, even deep water is not pure. Water from a potabilisation factory is purer than deep pit water. What about the wafers that Africans make with polluted water from a lake?

    Why Ribenna? You do not even find it in all the supermarkets. (Or rather you don’t find it here in Belgium, for instance, and probably not in most of the countries.) Grape juice is easier to find in markets. It personally knew priests who had served in jail, and celebrated the Mass clandestinely with “ordinary” wine of grapes (with some negligible quantities of sulphites), and with “ordinary” bread of wheat (with some NaCl besides water and yeast). And that was valid. But I don’t believe common unbread of the supermarket, which one would not even serve to a dog, be a valid matter for the Eucharist.

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