When I was five years old I would line up my stuffed animals into pews. I would grab bread and juice from the kitchen and I would administer the Sacrament to my stuffed animal congregation. Even at five years old I knew something special happened in this moment at church. At that time I went to a Roman Catholic Church. My parents taught me to carefully fold my hands together so that I didn’t drop the wafer. If I dropped the wafer I was dropping the body of Jesus. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew I had to be careful. They said I could have the priest feed me the wafer if I was scared of dropping it, but that just felt creepy. So I learned to carefully fold my hands together and let the wafer dissolve in my mouth. Jesus lived in that box on the altar and was released when the priest opened the pretty shiny box.
Fast-forward, through different spiritual questions that were more alive in me than some of my friends as a teenager and young adult, I go from Roman Catholic to being ordained as a RCA minister. A RCA minister who would serve communion weekly if my church would allow. The table is still very special to me.
In seminary I never learned about the theology of gluten. I must have missed that class. I didn’t know Catholics believed that the host must contain gluten in order for it really to be Jesus. I thought bread, in whatever form, was a way to communicate the grace of God. Wouldn’t we want to serve that in any way we could? That’s why it was surprising to me to learn from, the progressive(ish), mercy focused Pope, that a gluten free wafer is a no-go.
In his letter to the Bishops on the bread and wine, the Pope said:
“The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools” (n. 48)
I value the theological minutiae such as preserving the integrity of wheat in the Holy Meal, but surely if gluten causes reaction wouldn’t we want to make accommodations to support the one who is receiving the Sacrament of grace? For Reformed folks, especially those of us who enjoy Calvin, union with Christ is our heartbeat. One of the places we find union with Christ is at the table of our Lord where we are raised up in the spiritual presence of Christ. If gluten-free wafers help you find union with Christ, then a gluten-free wafers are what I will serve. This is a pastoral concern. Let grace be abundant, in gluten and non-gluten host alike.