Gluten Allergies/Alcohol Intolerance
and the Bread and Wine used at Mass
Following the example of Christ, the Church has always used bread and wine with water to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. (GIRM 319)
At Mass the Church uses only bread made from wheat, and wine made from the fruit of the grape-vine.
However many people have an allergy to gluten and are therefore unable to eat wheat bread. Many people, also, have an intolerance of alcohol and are therefore unable to drink wine. This presents them with difficulty with regard to receiving Holy Communion.
The faith of the Church is that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into substance of the Blood of Christ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1376.) However the physical properties of the bread and wine remain and it is these that present sometimes a very grave danger to the health of those wishing to receive Holy Communion.
It is often asked whether there is anything that be done to overcome this difficulty. Perhaps a non-wheat and entirely gluten free flour could be used to make the bread and something other than wine for the cup?
Such speculation continues, and some non Catholic churches do use other foodstuffs. However for the Catholic Church the Holy See requires that for Mass to be validly celebrated wheat bread and wine made from grapes must be used.
It is not simply that these elements are what the Church has traditionally used in her celebration of the Mass. They were also the elements used at the Last Supper, and in the celebration of the Passover. They have levels of symbolic meaning which make a significant contribution to our understanding of the meaning of Eucharist.
At the same time the Holy See is not unsympathetic to those for whom this teaching causes difficulties. There are some things which can be done which keep within the tradition of the Church but make it possible for many more to receive Holy Communion safely.
The Congregation for Divine Worship has recently confirmed (2017) that
- although only wheat flour and water maybe used to make the bread for Mass, it is acceptable to use wheat flour from which virtually all the gluten to be extracted from the wheat flour
- although only grape juice may be used for the cup, it is not necessary that it be ‘wine’ as this is usually understood. Instead ‘mustum’ can be used — i.e. grape juice that is either fresh or- preserved by methods that-suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing)
Where there is medical need to receive Holy Communion in the form of low-gluten bread or mustum, an individual should approach their parish priest who will ask the local bishop for the necessary permission.
Certificates can be issued by the bishop for the convenience of those who are travelling and will attend mass away from their regular place(s) of worship.