Pope Francis has earned a largely positive reception since his election to the papacy in 2013—for instance, he has cautioned against the very real dangers of both climate change and Putin’s government. But over the weekend he dealt a harsh blow to Catholics with celiac disease, wheat allergies, and also your annoying neighbor who thinks that gluten makes her head hurt or something. A letter from Cardinal Robert Sarah, written at the behest of the Holy See, clarifies that gluten-free Communion wafers are not allowed in the Catholic Church. Maybe somebody tipped off the Vatican that Catholics, some of whom could suffer severe intestinal damage if they ate wheat, were taking gluten-free Communion?
Cardinal Sarah, who also wants to make sure you’re not buying wafers on eBay, wrote on Saturday:
Until recently it was certain religious communities who took care of baking the bread and making the wine for the celebration of the Eucharist. Today, however, these materials are also sold in supermarkets and other stores and even over the internet.
The Cardinal goes on to remind Catholics that they’ve been through this already, way back in 2004:
…the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the norms for the celebration of the Eucharist by persons who, for varying and grave reasons, cannot consume bread made in the usual manner nor wine fermented in the normal manner:
Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Chances are, if you’re a practicing Catholic with celiac disease, you weren’t taking Communion anyway, because despite the doctrine of transubstantiation—in which Catholics believe that the Communion wafer turns into the body of Jesus Christ—it still contains wheat, and not even Jesus can save you from autoimmune disorders. (Although it should be noted that Catholics consider Jesus present and whole in both Communion wafers and in wine—the Body and Blood of Christ—so you can partake of one or the other and still fully participate in the sacrament.) Oh, and GMO Christ is fine.
And even though there have been strong reactions to the Cardinal’s letter on the internet all weekend, it’s really just a confirmation of canon law that’s been in place for more than a decade—back in 2004, the Bishop Of Trenton actually invalidated an 8-year-old girl’s First Communion when it came to light that she’d been given a gluten-free wafer. As with a great many other holy mysteries—such as why women can’t be priests and why only Catholics can get into heaven—it makes very little sense that transubstantiation is a matter of gluten and not of faith.
Unconsecrated, gluten-free Communion wafers are on sale in at least one clergical supply store through Tuesday.