Gluten free Hosts and mustum for wine – dust up in Spain

Here is an interesting story about the use of low-gluten Hosts for people who are intolerant of gluten.  By extension it reminds us of the use of mustum, a wine whose fermentation process is halted by freezing.

Almost gluten-free Communion for celiac sufferer

A row between Catholic authorities in Spain and a family was settled in order to allow their son – who suffers from wheat-gluten intolerance – to receive Holy Communion in the form of nearly gluten-free wafers.

Martin Barillas

A Spanish boy will be allowed receive his first Holy Communion this week after an agreement was reached with Catholic diocesan authorities in Huesca, a town in the Aragon region of Spain.

The boy who suffers from celiac disease, rendering him intolerant of the wheat gluten found in ordinary communion wafers, will receive Holy Communion in the form of a host specially confected of nearly gluten-free wheat flour made in Germany.

The boy’s mother had earlier requested that her son receive Holy Communion in the form of a wafer made of maize flour, [Nope.  Can’t happen.] saying in that way she could be absolutely certain that he would have no reaction.

The pastor of their parish had refused to offer Holy Communion in the form of gluten-free wafers, having recurred to a document written by Benedict XVI before becoming pope that ruled these are invalid under Church law. [Not just law.  This is something that cannot be changed by a change in law.  This is part of the divine constitution of the Eucharist, the matter of the sacrament.] According to local press reports, the priest also refused to allow the boy to receive communion in the form of mustum – grape juice that has only and imperceptible amount of alcohol.  [Hmmm…]

However, the 2003 letter written by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger stated that nearly gluten-free hosts are permitted, "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."

Likewise, according to the document "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.", and may be used by celebrants of the Catholic liturgy and consumed by the congregation.

Church authorities had offered Holy Communion under the species of wine. However, this was refused by the boy’s parents who pointed out that consumption of alcohol by minors is prohibited in Spain.   [At this point it sounds rather like she was merely being difficult.  She wanted her way, the corn thingie?  Dunno.]

Catholic authorities had reached an agreement with the Celiac Association of Aragon (Spain) after examining a 2004 agreement reached in the neighboring province of Navarre that allows Catholic Spaniards suffering from celiac disease to receive Holy Communion in the form of hosts made of wheat starch. These will now be made available to the parish in question in Huesca.

The wheat-starch hosts, which are nearly gluten-free, are manufactured in Germany by Franz Hoch GMBH and are marketed by Arte Sacra de Candotti Claudio of Italy.


The USCCB has this about the issue. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Elise B. says:

    “Almost gluten-free” hosts could still be dangerous for certain persons. In our parish, there is a lady who cannot have anything that has touched gluten. The solution is that a chalice has been set aside for her. She pours a little amount of wine in it and places it on the altar before Mass and it is consecrated with the regular chalice. Nobody else touches it except the priest at the altar. She has her own «purificatoire» (sorry, I do not know the English word for it)) After taking communion, the celebrant hands her her chalice and she takes communion with the blood of Christ only. She is the first to take communion.

  2. Elise B. says:

    Even «almost gluten-free» hosts could be dangerous for certain persons. We have such a case in our parish. A chalice has been set aside for her use only. Before Mass, she pours a little wine in it and places in on the altar. It is consecrated with the regular chalice. For communion, she comes to the altar and is given communion before everyone else. The celebrant purifies it by pouring water and then transfering that water into his own chalice so that he does not touch it with his lips. Celiac disease can be very dangerous if not treated. This parishioner almost died before doctors found out what she suffered from.

  3. Bro. AJK says:

    Dear Fr. Z, et al.,

    I made mention of this on my blog with a link regarding hosts that are proper, at least then.

  4. EDG says:

    Expect to see this done in other places, particularly the US, where for some reason the attempt to force other things for use in the Mass is sort of a liberal cause. This woman clearly was just trying to assert herself, and it’s a pity the bishops gave in to her (Huesca, IIRC, has pretty liberal bishop). The Pope had made the provision for low-gluten hosts, although celiac disease is – having had a relative who had it – not like an alergic reaction that triggers anaphylactic shock and kills you. It simply causes – er, lower intestinal problems – and makes you unhealthy if you eat wheat products as a regular part of your diet, not if you take a tiny fragment once a week. Furthermore, what does it matter that secular law forbids alcohol to children under 18? If it’s that important to her, the boy doesn’t have to take the chalice. I never do (I grew up when Communion under both species for the laity was rare to non-existent) and it’s not necessary to do so.

  5. Todd says:

    “Expect to see this done in other places, particularly the US, where for some reason the attempt to force other things for use in the Mass is sort of a liberal cause.”


    I know many celiac allergy sufferers. I can appreciate the reticence on the part of a few for comsuming substances they consider dangerous. It becomes a pastoral challenge for the priest or liturgist: an opportunity to teach and to be compassionate.

    The Benedictine sisters in Clyde MO ( provide our parish with their low-gluten hosts. They do good work and they are delightful women, having taken great care with their research and obtaining input from Rome, the US bishops, and celiac sufferers. The latter testimony might convince the doubtful.

  6. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    The problem with most of this is that the parents involved generally do not have the Faith. They do not believe in transubstantiation, and only wish for their child to to have a coming of age type experience. I am truly heart broken, for those that can not receive Communion, and wish to receive Our Lord, but most of the stories I have seen have nothing to do with that. We had one member of our chapel that was in a skiing accident and had her jaw wired. The priest broke off a very, very small piece of the host, dipped his finger in the Precious Blood, picked of the tiny fragment with his finger and put it in her mouth. This obviously is not the solution for people extremely sensitive to gluten. And while Church authorities have said Mustum can be used, I know some theologians who doubt this is valid matter. Just has when extra ingredients cause bread to no longer be bread, and therefore be invalid matter. Some theologians argue that Mustum is not really wine, and therefore the matter is doubtful. Just has bread with too much sugar ceases to be bread, is wine with no alcohol really wine? Is bread with no wheat flour really bread? I am just glad I do not have to deal with such situations.

  7. mary says:

    I don’t think we should assume the woman was just being difficult or that there is any liberal cause involved.

    Caeliac disease is highly variable, and some do react very badly indeed to even the tiniest amount of gluten – speaking from experience, they may not go into anaphylactic shock on the spot (although it is in fact possible), but can suffer symptoms such as malabsorption, which leads to iron and other deficiencies and serious malnutrition. Others can get away with small quantities of gluten without serious side-effects, provided they don’t eat it too often.

    And offering wine to a 7 or 8 year old doesn’t sound that desirable to me, particularly if there is a family background of alcoholism.

    Many priests and diocese continue to make life very difficult indeed for those with this disease, and increased understanding of the problems it involves is sorely needed. I don’t understand, for example, why the diocese refused to consider the mustum option (which, EDG, I assume was offered as an alternative to a host, rather than in addition to).

  8. Tim Ferguson says:


    I think it’s important to note that they were not considering offering wine to a 7 or 8 year old. It was the Body and Blood of Christ being offered. Granted, under the form of wine, but I do think it’s an important distinction to be made.

  9. Harry says:

    We keep having to legislate the exception. In this case of celiac sprue the Church is importuned to alter the matter of the sacrament in order to accomodate the rare exception. This condition is not anaphylactic so that the patient would perish upon mere contact with wheat gluten and certainly would be able to tolerate a small particle of the host since the reaction is related to the dose of antigen. Again, the refusal to take the precious blood appears to be pretextual and suggests an agenda which is other than concern for the health of the patient. Next I suppose someone will request to be baptized with sand or chrismated with mineral oil. We already have invalid matter demanded with female priestess wannabes and homosexuals wanting to marry.

  10. Excellent link to the USCCB, Fr Z. It’s a joy to be able to help those who need help.

    I’m also content that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with competency granted from the Holy Father, decides the issue.

    The Church is never importuned by pastoral concern, although one might risk getting impatient with those who compare those suffering a horrific physical disease with, of all things, “female priestless wannabes and homosexuals wanting to marry”.

    This post is also good for those who insist that as long as there is 51% wheat, all other added ingredients, like nuts and sugar and sprouts, do not take away validity. They do. I remember an Archdiocese which had to pay back nine years of Mass stipends since the vast majority of parishes were using whatever the baking parties came up with. Nine years… what a headache both logistically and financially, a headache well deserved.

  11. Paul says:

    As a Catholic coeliac, I can sympathise with this but reduced-gluten hosts are usually a good solution.

    Incidentally, Ireland has one of the highest incidences of coeliac disease in the world (bad genes, of the four in my family, three are coeliac!). Hence, this issue is regularly faced by priests here who nearly always cope very well. In my local parish church, there is a separate pyx in the tabernacle for low-gluten hosts and a wink towards father at communion time usually does the trick for me. In another church where I work, the practice is regularly to allow communion under both species. I usually line up as usual with the others but then dodge into the chalice line at the last moment.

    Coeliac disease need not be troublesome for Catholics unless one is very intolerant of gluten (luckily, I am on the other side of the spectrum). However, I am aware that some coeliacs are embarrassed to parade up for communion by themselves so I hope any priests reading will remember this and make it easy for us to receive.

    Best wishes,


  12. Mike says:

    I suppose Corn Dogs are next, given many parents’ desire to obsessively please the little ones…

  13. EDG says:

    I live in the Southern US, and I have occasionally seen some of our goofier Catholics call for the Church to use grape juice because the use of wine “offends” the Baptists and other Southern teetotalers. Aside from the fact it’s sort of a moot point because the Baptists don’t believe in Transubstantiation anyway – and in fact, the very theory of Transubstantiation probably offends them more than the alcohol – I fail to see how people can not see the damage that this tinkering does to the perceptions of Catholics themselves.

    The Church is rightly concerned with the validity of the matter and this is a technical question that can only be decided by the Church. But the purely symbolic aspect is also important. We have millennia of poetry and images of wheat and wine; we can trace the symbols all the way back through the Old Testament. I don’t see that it is legitimate or profitable to souls to alter these substances for PR purposes (dealing with Protestants) or even to deal with the allergies of particular individuals. Perhaps it is up to these individuals to ask how God wants them to handle this problem, rather than demanding that the Church change things to accomodate them. Most people seem to find some way of working it out, and I suspect that those that do not have an another agenda going.

    BTW, I feel that this applies to sacramentals and liturgical items, too. At Palm Sunday this year, some of our churches suddenly came up with something called “eco-palms,” alleging damage to the environment from the Catholic use of palms, and substituting some kind of small, withered house-plant frond instead. For millenia, Christians have used palms or olive branches (and pussywillows or other spring growth, in cold climates), all filled with the rich symbolism of the Faith and woven through our artistic and literary heritage. The “eco-palm” doesn’t even work with little family customs, such as making palm crosses or sticking your palms behind a religious image or a mirror or putting them outside your window. But then, the people behind the eco-palm probably knew this, since one of the main objectives of many “liturgists” is to break all connection with the stream of tradition, in any of its manifestations. And destroying symbols is certainly one way of doing this.

  14. RBrown says:

    I know many celiac allergy sufferers. I can appreciate the reticence on the part of a few for comsuming substances they consider dangerous. It becomes a pastoral challenge for the priest or liturgist: an opportunity to teach and to be compassionate.
    Comment by Todd

    Why would this involve a liturgist?

  15. Maureen says:

    Re: liturgist
    The liturgist figures out how to line people up for low gluten hosts unobtrusively.

    Re: wine
    There’s absolutely nothing harmful in a sip of wine, no matter what age a child is. In fact,
    for most of human history, wine or beer was far more healthy than water, and was served to
    children as soon as they weren’t exclusively on the breast. If you are inheriting an alcohol problem, the problem is the same no matter what age you are.

    Re: communion age
    As for the proper age to receive the Precious Blood, our Eastern brothers and sisters have their first Communion at the same time they get baptized and chrismated — usually as tiny babies. We drag our feet pretty long on this by waiting till the age of reason.

  16. Boko Fittleworth says:

    Holy Communion is being treated as a consumer good.

    An alcoholic priest once told me that store-bought Welch’s grape juice was valid matter. True?

  17. Boko: …store-bought Welch’s grape juice was valid matter. True?

    I don’t think it is.

    Fermentation has to have started. I don’t believe that brand of juice qualifies.

  18. Boko, that is not true. If you follow the link Fr. Z provided and read the guidelines of the USCCB you will find that “pasteurized grape juice in which all alcohol has been evaporated through high temperature preparations is invalid matter for Mass.” Welch’s grape juice is pasteurized.

  19. nac says:

    I’m appalled at the reactions regarding gluten free Communion hosts. Being raised Catholic and being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I cannot believe that the almighty Church relies on Faith to eliminate the scientific evidence that wheat gluten has damaging effects on a Celiac.

    My mother took Communion after her celiac diagnosis and her Faith kept her from having a noticeable reaction. I believe that. I also believe that it was the ongoing ingestion of this gluten that led to her demise of losing her life to colon cancer.

    Low gluten is unacceptable in a Celiac diet. It is NOT acceptable to have ANY amount of gluten in the system. The standards for gluten tolerance are consistently being revisited by the World Health Organization and local Associations for gluten awareness. Because there is no test for minute amounts of gluten, studies rely on people’s reactions. It is possible not to have an overt reaction, and have the system break down.

    Until there is solid, scientific evidence that anything other than zero gluten is acceptable to a celiac diet, my “faith” is not enough to have me accept Communion. I think it’s disgusting that the Church doesn’t review modern science regarding diseases but rather holds onto tradition when people’s health is in question.

  20. Joshua says:

    Welch’s grape juice is certainly valid, without a doubt. Welch invented it for his protestant church. The trick? Pasteurize it. That does substantially alter the substance.

    At Thomas Aquinas College we have several celiacs. They just come to the sacristy before Mass and we have a little pyx where we put their hosts in. The only problem is what to do with the little pyx during communion. One priest would place the pyx in the ciborium, to have it handy, but that makes purifying it ore difficult. Another leaves it at the altar, and fetches it when needed, but that is inconvenient, because he goes back and forth, and when two priests distribute and both need it at the same time? Another priest has the server hold it, which also does not work well both because, traditionally lay people don’t touch sacred vessels and when you are doing the Old Mass it seems even more awkward, and because it is odd for the server to hold the plate and the pyx.

    I think that the celiacs should probably go first or last in communion so that they can be served at once. That would be better.

  21. Rob F. says:

    My wife is extremely intolerant of gluten, even minute amounts. I don’t think any “low gluten” host would help her at all. She receives the sacrament from the cup, and has no problem with it. It is a very easy solution to this particular problem.

    Would she be allowed to receive the cup at a TLM?

  22. Rob F. says:

    Hi nac:

    What church are you talking about? The church to which most of the commenters on this blog belong is not almighty. Nor does it eliminate scientific evidence regarding the damage that gluten causes to Coelic sufferers. I suggest you stop attending your current church and convert to the one that the pope belongs to. After your conversion, you will be able to commune with the body and the blood of our Lord under the species of wine.

  23. Fr Martin Fox says:

    In my parish, when the Precious Blood is provided for the people at a Mass, the servers all receive if they wish, no one has raised an objection.

    I respect the fact that a parent may prefer his or her child not to consume the Precious Blood because of the accident of alcohol; however, when celiac disease makes receiving a host, any host, even a small portion, impossible, then the Church has nothing else to offer but the Precious Blood. That might be a time for that parent to reconsider that objection, especially if there really is no health danger, just a fear about alcoholism, which is pretty remote: is there any real basis for thinking people develop alcoholism from receiving the Precious Blood?

    In the very rare case that one is both an alcoholic and a celiac-disease sufferer, that is very difficult. But the fault is not that of the Church: “we” the Church didn’t “invent” the Eucharist, so that we can simply alter it as needed…

    But okay, if you don’t buy that, then let’s say we did: we invented it, and we can change the rules whenever it seems appropriate to do it. Fine: then the rules change as follows: yes, whatever you like can be communion, and you don’t need it to be on the altar, and the priest doesn’t have to have anything to do with it. Simply bring it with you, and take it out at the time of your choosing, and receive it. Or do it at home. As you wish, because now we’ve decided it’s just about arbitrary rules and they can change as needed…

    What’s that I hear you say? You don’t like that? Why not? “Because the priest isn’t doing it”…”because it isn’t what everyone is doing”…

    This is when one throws up ones hands. If you want the Catholic Eucharist, as opposed to Episcopalian or Lutheran or do-it-yourself, then how can you complain that it’s…Catholic? Alternately, if you want it the way you want it…no one is stopping you.

  24. Todd says:

    “Why would this involve a liturgist?”

    Good question; easy answer.

    Pastors who have hired liturgists may delegate to someone aspects of the ministry they prefer not to be involved in. Sometimes it’s as simple as researching and procuring low-gluten hosts, as I’ve been asked to do. Sometimes I get to have the difficult discussion with stubborn or worried parents. If a pastor delegates a lay person to cover aspects of liturgy in the parish, or even if he doesn’t in situations he’d prefer to do things or in small parishes where he easily can, what’s it to anyone?

  25. There was a case similar to this in the Boston area a few years ago that was taken up by the local media in one of the most irresponsible farces of journalism I’ve seen. The only reason the media jumped on the issue was to bash the Catholic Church. They used a little girl and her family to achieve their vile ends. Of course, in their thirst to attack the Church they incited all kinds of protest by their deliberate presentation of misinformation. They could have used this as an opportunity to impart the truth, but then again, the media is not about the truth any more.

    Than being said, there was one glaring issue which only became apparent because it was part of a video clip that was not overly edited. No one, not the pastor, not the DRE, not the teacher of the First Communion class, no one took the time to explain anything regarding Church teaching to the family involved. A claim has been made above that the parents do not have the faith or believe in transubstantiation. Another claim was that the boy’s mother was just trying to assert herself. Perhaps the truth is, like in the Boston case, they never learned about transubstantiation or about valid matter for the Eucharist– pretty likely given the state of religious education. Perhaps she us just a mother who cares deeply about her child and wants the best for him. Or maybe it’s some of both. All it would have taken was for someone to sit down and explain things clearly and well. However, these issues are highly emotional and if not handled well from the beginning only tend to escalate. And the media never helps the issue.

    None of use know the exact case of what this boy can tolerate. Just because some people with Celiac disease can tolerate the amount of gluten in a communion host doesn’t mean that all can. Just because some alcoholics can tolerate a small amount of alcohol doesn’t mean that all can. For some, even the tiniest amount taken one time will put them back on the path of addiction.

    The Church is a Mother who is always solicitous of her children. She seeks to ensure that the Sacraments are available to all her children. We who know the great graces and joy of the Eucharist should want all our brethren in the faith to experience it as well. Rather than immediately assuming the worst, lets look closely at all the facts and help people who suffer from these afflictions in any way we can, whether by prayer, good education, or seeking solutions that do not compromise the integrity of the Church.

  26. NAC, you seem to be of the opinion that the Church can change on this. She cannot. She does not have the authority. The Church does not decide what is valid matter for the Eucharist. Christ himself did that at the Last Supper. So it’s not a matter of the Church not accepting “modern science” on human disease. She does recognize it and is doing what she can. Unfortunately, and this is no one’s fault, she can go no further than she has. But, you can. You can receive the Precious Blood. The Church teaches that Christ is received whole and entire, body, blood, soul, and divinity under either species. By receiving the Preceious Blood one receives the whole and entire Christ. By receiving the Sacred Body one received the whole and entire Christ.

    You are angry. I understand that. But your anger is misplaced. It’s not that the Church will not change on this matter. She cannot change on this matter. It is not possible. If it were possible, it wouldn’t be an issue.

    Your mother showed a remarkable faith and in intense love of God. She must be a wonderful woman. I say “be” because she still lives, but not in the same way as we do. It is possible that her faith, or perhaps God, kept her from having a noticible reaction to the gluten in the host. It is possible that her desire to receive our Lord helped her overcome the effects of the gluten. However, the Church does not teach that one should rely on this unless there are no other alternatives. Your mother may not have had any alternatives. But you do.

    Please, speak to your parish priest about receiving the Precious Blood. Make sure he understands your disease. He will need to consecrate a separate chalice for you at Mass because in the “main” chalice he drops a small particle of the host.

    Do not deny yourself the wonderful graces of the Eucharist. The Church will go as far as she can. If your pastor won’t help, go to another parish. You have a right to receive the Eucharist and your priest has an obligation to accomodate you to the extent of his ability. He may not be able to use 100% gluten free hosts, but he can provide the Precious Blood for you.

  27. Joshua, you wrote: “Welch’s grape juice is certainly valid, without a doubt. Welch invented it for his protestant church. The trick? Pasteurize it. That does substantially alter the substance.”

    I’m confused on this. You seem to be saying that Welch’s grape juice is valid matter even though its substance has been substantially altered. That its substance is substantially altered is percisely what makes it invalid matter.

    My guess is that you meant to say that pasteurization does not substantially alter the substance. But that is incorrect. It does alter the substance by removing the alcohol thus making it grape juice instead of wine. Grape juice is not the same as mustum. In mustum the process of fermentation has begun but it is quickly stopped. Grape juice, because it is pasteurized, never begins fermentation. See the link Fr. Z provided to the USCCB where it is made clear that pasteurization makes the matter invalid.

  28. Tim Ferguson says:

    Joshua, just because Mr. Welch invented the juice for his Protestant services doesn’t mean that it’s valid for a Catholic Mass. We were taught in canon law school that the vast majority of commercially available juice is not valid matter, since the pasteurization and additives do not permit the fermentation process to begin, meaning that it is substantially different from wine.

    Mustum, which Fr. Z speaks of in the post, is true grape juice where the fermentation has begun, but is halted. Hence it is wine, though the alcohol content is miniscule.

  29. Liam says:

    Welch’s grape juice is not mustum and definitely not valid matter for consecration.

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