Wheat wafers and Holy Communion
If you have a wheat allergy or coeliac disease how do you cope with Holy Communion?
The Catholic doctrine believes that the wafer and wine taken at Holy Communion are the body and blood of Christ, and therein lies a major problem for someone with a wheat or gluten allergy.
How do you take part in this most important aspect of your religion if you know that the moment that you swallow the wheat containing wafer, or drink from the cup that other people have left wheat on the rim of or in the wine, you will become ill, often within seconds of contact.
How has the Catholic church considered the health aspects of forcing someone with a wheat or gluten allergy to consume that very substance that will make them ill?
Well sadly it appears that it isn't easy for sufferers to maintain their spiritual and physical health needs at the same time.
It was recently in the news that a 7 year old has been practicing to receive first Communion, however suffering from coeliac disease and diabetes means that they cannot eat the wheat wafer or drink the wine.
Having thought that using a rice Communion wafer would be the perfect solution to this, the child's parents were disappointed to find out that official church policy forbids its use.
The ritual of Communion is tied to the Last Supper when Jesus is believed to have eaten wheat bread and drunk grape wine with his disciples. Canon law therefore requires that both wheat and wine be part of the Communion service. Children usually only eat the wafer, while adults usually receive both.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his previous role, addressed the issue of Catholic worshippers who suffer from coeliac disease and alcoholism, allowing the substitution of low gluten wafers and slightly fermented grape juice.
However with approximately 1 in 133 Americans suffering from coeliac disease (according to the Celiac Disease Foundation), and its rising prevalence in Europe and other parts of the world, some sufferers have been left high and dry by the refusal to honour their right to Communion, and in some cases declaring it invalid if rice wafers are used.
Some people are so sensitive that even low gluten wafers are unable to be tolerated by their bodies. In these cases isn't it time that the church relaxed this overly rigid rule by special dispensation?
While staunch Catholics rigidly maintain that the wafer must be wheat, coeliac disease does exist, and is a major health issue for people who suffer from it. We are after all in the 21st Century, should the church not be updating this overly rigid issue that is causing people to look to other religions that will adapt to their health needs as well as their spiritual needs?
Allowing rice based Communion wafers would be a small but significant step for those sufferers who, through no fault of their own, have a health issue that prohibits them from being accepted fully into the religion that they choose to follow.