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"Valid" Hosts could make you sick

Catholics with coeliac disease are likely to suffer ill effects if they receive the Eucharist made under a new formula which begins production this week, according to the Coeliac Society of Australia.

Technical Officer for the Society, Graham Price, said this week that the new formula, which uses wheaten corn flour, contains 200 parts per million of (wheat) gluten. This amount may be called 'low gluten' under Australian standards, which are amongst the strictest in the world. Wheat gluten damages the lining of the bowel in sufferers, preventing the absorption of nutrients. This causes many different and wide ranging health effects, from miscarriage to cancer. The Coeliac Society estimates that one person in every 100 to 200 has an allergic reaction to gluten from wheat, oats, barley and rye. Australian law requires foods which contain gluten to be so labelled.

Ozanam Industries, which is the largest producer of hosts in Australia, was told by the National Liturgical Commission to find a new formula for the production of the host following the 24 July 2003 Instruction by the Congregation for the Faith. The Instruction says in part:

1. Hosts that are completely gluten free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.
2. Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread.

Bread suppliers were then required to find a solution which would satisfy the liturgical requirements but also community health concerns.

Ozanam Industries has, in recent years, been producing gluten free hosts out of maize cornflour. The protein in maize does not affect the coeliac. However the Congregation for Divine Worship, in a letter dated March 2004, insists that the sacrament lacks validity unless "the bread used (in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice) is unleavened and made purely of wheat." (Redemptionis Sacramentum p. 48)

Rev. Peter Williams, Executive Officer of the National Liturgical Commission, says that his primary concern is for the pastoral needs of people. "I am trying to find a solution that will satisfy the instruction but that will also enable Catholics with coeliac disease to participate in the sacramental life of the Church," Fr Williams told Online Catholics.

But Graham Price, who is a chemist and serves on the External team for the Government's Gluten Labelling committee, says that even low-gluten hosts are a risk. "From my conversations with the scientists at Penford's (the manufacturer of the wheaten cornflour) I am confident that the gluten content satisfies the 'low gluten' standard (200 parts per million). But some more sensitive coeliac sufferers may suffer symptoms with anything over 5 parts per million."

Fr Anthony Doherty, a former Dean of St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney now at Rose Bay parish, thinks that Instructions such as the one issued by the Congregation are overly influenced by a Latin American mindset. "For them, the idea of 'gluten free' hosts is just an expression of (US) American excess," Fr Doherty said.

"Really, the problem is with their theology. If you have what's called an 'ascending' theology of the eucharist, you begin with Jesus, coming together to share food and drink, his call to remember, his prayer and the community of believers.

"But if you have a 'descending' theology, the bread and wine are 'confected' by the priest, and as a consequence Jesus appears in a 'magical' way. This is the way priests think who continue to celebrate Mass all by themselves.

"The insistence on wheat flour by Rome is another unfortunate occasion when non essential matters create discord," Fr Doherty said.

See also:

  • Redemptionis Sacramentum
  • Vatican document draws new attention to low-gluten hosts and 'mustum'
  • Coeliac Society of Australia
  • NSW Coeliac Society

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