Thursday, July 13, 2017

Confecting a Valid Eucharist


Recently the Vatican has been in the news for (according to headlines) banning the use of gluten-free bread at the Mass. Natch the reality is a bit more subtle than that. What the Vatican has done is clarify rules surrounding the bread to be used, in my words (1) not just any old bread from the supermarket (2) low-gluten may be used, where "low" equals some semblance of truth can be given to the description that it is bread made of wheat. Citing from the Cardinal Sarah letter:

"“Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.  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”"

Now, whether this works for coeliac disease sufferers is something I am not qualified to comment on. Nor do I find sufficient details in this Stuff article about the current Catholic regulations in NZ re "gluten-free" wafers to work out whether or not those regulations are the same as what I have cited above or different.

Intriguingly, for me as an Anglican who is comfortable with grape juice being offered as an alternative to wine (for children, for alcoholics), the letter also speaks about the offering of grape juice instead of wine. But it is not the grape juice we Anglicans typically use when we use grape juice:

"“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”"

But mustum is "thick" grape juice, the result of the initial pressing of the grapes: juice, skin, seeds, stems crushed into a thick liquid with 7-23% solid matter. In other words, this is grape juice on the way to becoming wine, without fermentation, and not filtrated to get the watery juice we call grape juice. (Note to parishes which use blackcurrant juice rather than grape juice: you really, really ought not to do that!)

Juridical approach to Validity

What most interests me as an Anglican, however, about this letter, is the manner in which it represents one aspect of Roman thinking which, mostly, is very different to Anglican thinking. That is, a juridical approach to minute matters of pastoral care and theology. Coeliacs may like or lump the proscription of completely gluten-free bread. Valid bread is defined by law and not by description. The validity of the eucharist, on this thinking, is valid according to following Roman canon law and involves not only a validly ordained priest following a validly authorised liturgy but also validly acceptable bread and wine (or, in certain permitted-by-the-bishop circumstances, low gluten bread and/or mustum).

For Anglicans, I suggest we are happy to use any bread which is described as bread (gluten free, rye, from the supermarket, made by prayerfully commissioned wafer makers, etc). And we do this, not because we do not believe in rules (we have some pertaining to communion, e.g. must be presided over by a priest or bishop)* nor because we are casual or careless (though sometimes we are, but that is a post for another day), but because we cannot see Jesus himself making a fuss over this (imagining there might have been some gluten free bread at the Last Supper, we think he would have happily broken and distributed that).

Also, we think that some rules are made to be broken. A eucharist in a Japanese POW camp, using rice grains and water is a valid eucharist because, under the circumstances, that is the best that can be done to obey the greater rule, Do this in remembrance of me. And, pertaining to coeliacs, we would happily break the rule re wheat-based bread in order to include coeliacs in communion than exclude them. If gluten-free rather than low-gluten bread is the best that can be done to obey the greater rule, then so be it. (See argument made here).

Now, my point here is not to argue the superiority of Anglican thinking over Roman thinking but to note that, when so much of our ways of Christian life, including emphasis on the eucharist, are bound by common traditions, values and attitudes, nevertheless there are some real differences in approach, which, from time to time, are highlighted in global, public pronouncements from our respective HQs.

*On the specific matter of bread and wine for communion, NZPB, p. 515 specifies:
"The bread for the Eucharist should be a good quality bread (either loaf or wafer) and the wine for the Eucharist should be good quality wine."


Andrei said...

There are far more interesting things involved here than "gluten" v "gluten free" and that is the use of leavened versus unleavened bread the East using the former from earliest times while the Latin Church the later

And this leads inexorably to when the Last Supper took place, on the eve of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread in which case Leavened Bread would have been used or on the first day of this Feast implying unleavened bread - the Fathers based on John's Gospel believed the Last Supper took place on the eve of the Feast, implying the use of leavened rather than unleavened bread

In the East the baking of the bread is a devotional act in itself with rubrics surrounding it and there is a service where it is prepared for use in the liturgy as the bread used in communion

As for its recipe only white flour and water may be used in the strictest interpretation, salt and/or yeast are frowned upon in some circles but are used by some but nothing else may be used

As for supermarket bread with its dough conditioners and fats and oils that would be a complete no.

In the old days when home bread making was common people would seek the priest's permission and blessing to bake the bread, usually for a special purpose, prayers for a sick relative, remembering a departed one etc - this still happens but is less common because the art of bread making has been lost

When my late mother did it, which she did two or three times a year, no TV or Radio was allowed in the house from the time she began until the bread, known as "prospheron" had been given to the Priest and given there was no yeast in the bread this process took about a week

Anyway this leads to discussion on when the Last Supper took place ancient controversies between Eastern and Western Christianity and living a worshipful Christian life in the world when it is not particularly Christian

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
Dates for the Last Supper: very challenging (if one wishes to hold four gospels together on the matter).
Leavened or unleavened bread: Anglicans mostly in my experience are comfortable with either (and likely do not know what the differences pertain to).
I loved the story of your mother breaking the bread and the disciplines associated with that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peter, for this post - and all your posting.
Just a correction/expansion/elucidation to your validity = form + matter + minister model. The authorisation of the liturgy is not required for its validity (you write "validly authorised liturgy"). One could have a valid eucharist using a eucharistic prayer that wasn't authorised - it would be illicit but valid if the eucharistic prayer had all the appropriate content.
The point doesn't alter the core of your post.



Peter Carrell said...

That's a valid point, Bosco :)

Jean said...

Quite interesting... Andrei this may be a good tradition to re-establish today re no TV/radio during your mother's bread making, imagine how hard we would find it living without the internet for a week! Or cellphones! In my reading I had to do some time ago on the last supper my conclusion was it was on the eve of the feast, but as Peter I am happy with leavened or unleavened. And although I always new what the terms meant I have never really thought about its relevance in the Eucharist!

The interesting thing with bread and wheat is that the ancient grains e.g. Sorghum which were more prevalent in the time of early Christianity and especially in areas like Mesopotamia, don't contain gluten. They were also used for bread making. Is there a particular reason why wheat needs to be in the bread? Christianly speaking?

There is no doubt the Catholic and perhaps Eastern re Andrei's comments place more importance on the substance of things in their physical form for worship. A part of this I can see adds meaning and a deeper focus in application. It reminds of a woman I know whose form of worship is making the linen clothes you wipe the chalice with (sorry don't know the official name), for her it is a craft, it has to be linen to represent what Christ was wrapped in (I do not know if this is fact), and she puts her heart into it. It is humbling to see her dedication to this act as an act of love. The difficulty I think is when it becomes a rule for then to me it looses its worshipfulness. For, if only a piece of cotton is available, are people to be prevented from taking the Eucharist? As often the significance is in the hearts attitude ... be it Cotton or linen.

Interestingly Peter in a former parish we had grape juice as an option to accommodate the Pentecostals in the midst who didn't drink alcohol.

Andrei said...

"The interesting thing with bread and wheat is that the ancient grains e.g. Sorghum which were more prevalent in the time of early Christianity and especially in areas like Mesopotamia, don't contain gluten. They were also used for bread making. Is there a particular reason why wheat needs to be in the bread? Christianly speaking?"

Well Jean when baking prosphora (the bread for the Eucharist) the finest and most expensive ingredients should be used - we take white flour for granted but until recently it was expensive because it was hard to refine and took a lot of work and that is why it is appropriate - the same would apply to using linen for chapel veils. You can put narratives around these things I suppose

It is common in Orthodox Churches for people to gift the consumables and these will almost always be of the highest quality. Prosphora you need the priest's blessing to give but other things can be just left anonymously and are

I think this gluten thing is a product of bread being made too quickly - the way my mother and grandmother did it was very time consuming and the bread had long fermentation times which probably increases its digestibility, in fact that is probably why people started leavening bread in the first place, it made it more easily digested - in the modern rush world things are speeded up and the bread is probably less digestible as a result and some sensitive souls can't cope with it.

Sewing Chalice veils or baking prosphora are both prayful acts of devotion and the focus should be on God not the world as they are undertaken

Andrei said...

"The difficulty I think is when it becomes a rule for then to me it looses its worshipfulness."

The rituals are there to get you into the right state of mind to make the action worshipful - they are aids to worship not a magical mantra to be slavishly followed in some superstitious fashion

Light a candle and perhaps some incense, say the prayers and measure the ingredients without somebody in the background trying to sell you a product for female urinary incontinence or a super dooper machine that will help you with weight loss, focus on God and not the noise of this world as the task is undertaken for his glorification

I know some protestants get, well perhaps slightly, confused by rituals and traditions and not grasp their purpose

Here is an old joke

"In the village of Pesochny all was not well in the local Parish. Every year, during Lent, at ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes’, half of the congregation would make a metany at the waist, and half would make a full prostration. The little metanists would start whispering sharply, ‘No! No! From the waist!’ To which the great metanists would hiss back even louder, ‘Wrong! Full prostration! Who are you following, the Devil?!’ And fistfights would break out and the service could not even be completed.

Finally the war-weary parishioners decided to ask their priest, Fr Veniamin. ‘Batiushka, what is the tradition? In Lent, at “Blessed art Thou”, do we make a little metany, or a great metany?’ Knowing the rancour attached to the dispute, poor Fr Veniamin trembled, grew pale, then fainted dead away and fell backwards.

So next they went to the Skete of the Forerunner, and asked Fr Onouphry: ‘Batiushka, we want to know, we have a terrible argument at Pesochny–what is the tradition? Because half the people say to make small metanies at “Blessed art Thou” now, and half say great metanies. And we start fighting, terrible, terrible. So, tell us, what is the Tradition?’ Seeing the ferocity in their faces, poor Hieromonk Anatoly simply fainted dead away.

Then someone shouted, ‘Let’s go to Elder Ioann and ask him!’ It was a marvellous idea. Surely the elder’s answer would bring peace, for he was respected by all, a native of Pesochny, and his hoary 94 years guaranteed a knowledge of what the old tradition had been.

So a large crowd gathered at the elder’s dacha on the outskirts of town. Some 15 men from both sides entered the dacha, and found frail Elder Ioann lying on his bed. As he struggled to draw himself up and offer tea, they cut him off: ‘Elder Ioann, you have to help us! What is the Tradition? Every year in Lent, at “Blessed art Thou, O Lord”, half of the people at Pesochny make little metanies, and half the people great metanies, and we start to argue, and the service doesn’t even finish because of the fistfight!’ Then Elder Ioann said firmly, in his voice shaking with age, and with tears streaming down his joyful face, ‘That…IS… the Tradition!’"

Jean said...

Hey Andrei

Ritual not rule would be a better approach indeed : ) .... - like the joke.

Actually gluten is in the wheat itself and it is a case of less gluten equals more easily digested. Unfortunately as wheat became the more easily grown grain it was modified to contain greater amounts of gluten as gluten partially acts as a preservative; although gluten is not by itself bad for everyone. Ironically white flour is now the cheapest most available item!

It may seem like the increase in allergies is a random occurrence but it is mostly due to the increase in that particular food type in our diet. Peanuts for example occur in a number of manufactured products hence the increase in allergies. Interestingly there are very few if any peanut allergies in Africa ...

Now I am off-topic, have a good day!

Anonymous said...

I remember years ago reading one of the Anglican wide reports where the representatives spoke honestly about how they managed in cultural and geographical settings where bread was virtually not available (and maybe wine too). Does anyone recall it?
Also, what about he taro matou mo tenei ra?

Anonymous said...

I'm with the night-before-the-feast crowd. The bread could have been made from a number of then popular cereal grains; wheat, rye, barley, oats or spelt. And if you have studied the ideas of bread kosher for Passover, the leavening is the activation of any yeast that is ever present around us and naturally on the bread. It isn't about the yeast packets that you can buy to add to flour during breadmaking. Kosher matzo for Passover has to be made in just under 18 minutes, from the moment the water and the flour touch until it comes from the oven. The natural environmental yeast begins to leaven the flour in 18 minutes.

As to gluten, it is a toxic protein that is one of many lectins developed by plants to protect their seeds from predators - animals. It is found in the bran layer of the grains. Gluten and the other lectins don't agree with the human digestive system and create havoc that most folks don't realize is happening. It's the highly gluten sensitive who are most aware that we really shouldn't eat lectins. Sorghum and millet are the two gluten free/lectin free grains.

David Allen

Andrei said...

This is just another example of 21st century nonsense - like the controversy raging on another thread but less harmful

Bread has been a staple part of the human diet for 6000 years and gluten is what gives bread its structure

It is true gluten is not particularly digestible but we mahange fine for the most part as our ancestors did

And the idea that the amount of gluten found within a communion wafer could be in anyway harmful to anybody scales the heights of absurdity

Read the stuff article - the little girl is also a dairy free vegan who lives in an area noted for its dairying

My mother who appeared earlier on this thread could never waste food, do you know why? Because she had experienced famine and hunger and lived through a time when finding an onion was finding treasure and people made soup out of grass

Seriously 21st century western a filled with self indulgent nonsense because they have everything handed to them on a plate and have a wide variety of food available just by hopping into a car and driving to the local supermarket and not have anything real to worry over invent imaginary grievances like not being tolerant of gluten or being non binary gender and expect the world to jump to accommodate their whims

Glen Young said...

David Allen is quite correct in the statements he made in hie second paragraph. Our family is only too aware of the life threatening issues surrounding gluten and refined sugars. It was only research by my dear wife which saved our family member from unnecessary and disfiguring surgery.

Theologians should stick to theology and leave dietary matters to those who understand the human body. If they did,they would understand that the wheat which provides today's flour has little resemblance to Biblical wheat. It is
bred to provide more gluten to give us that fluffy bread.

St. John reveals that God so loved the world that He gave His ONLY BEGOTTEN SON,that whosoever believes on Him should not Perish but have everlasting life. Where does all this pin pricking nonsense come into God's love????

Jean said...

Interesting, I never knew bread rose/leavened naturally if left long enough...

Andrei in this case I believe you are incorrect. Those with Celiac disease or who go into amophalactic shock when eating anything containing gluten either suffer or risk death and it isn't just 'self indulgent nonsense.'

Yes we have eaten wheat for years but the make-up as I mentioned earlier has changed the wheat has been bred with more gluten to enhance its preservative function. Spelt which has gluten but hasn't been modified at all carries an amount that most people can digest - as some gluten is good for you if you can eat it. The western world also used to have a greater variety of grains in their diet until it was found Nitrogen fertiliser increased the yield of wheat but not other grains, resulting in wheat becoming the most prevalent crop and part of our diet. And hence, perhaps more gluten than was good for us in the food chain. My Grandpa's saying -everything in moderation.

I know a farmer who grows wheat who became gluten intolerant and a baker who became so gluten intolerant if she even touched flour she became ill which meant she had to change her whole profession. It is not uncommon for high exposure to specific food groups to cause a negative response in the human body.

I haven't met any gluten free people with 'imaginary greivances' - it's hard to have a grievance against a food substance they aren't very responsive when complained to, but I have met a few people for who say Celiac disease has impacted on their lives.

Andrei said...

Actually Glen there are hundreds of varieties of wheat and the flours they produce are useful for different purposes - the flour used to make a sponge cake is different from that used to make baguettes

In the real world of 21st century NZ tracking down speciality flours is difficult and if you can they find them they are expensive

But in the supermarket you can buy for small change flours suitable to the purpose - and this is achieved by adding things to the flour - "High Grade" or "Bread flour" will almost certainly have gluten added to make it suitable for bread making

And all supermarket flours are bleached to give them their whiteness

Likewise with bakers yeast - you can buy bread leavened with "natural yeasts" from specialty bakers but they are time consuming to make and therefore expensive, this is how my mother and her mother before her leavened bread and very good it was too but baking it required time and planning

Result in your local supermarket you can buy a loaf of bread baked with bleached flour with added gluten and leavened with bakers yeast for $1 which is next to nothing and people don't go hungry - we don't see the emaciated corpses of people who have starved to death lying in the streets

Now were the good old days so good, apart from regular famines which haven't been seen in the "Anglosphere" for many generations there were also mass outbreaks of ergot poisoning for example

Maybe the downside is that a few, a very few people are intolerant of the added gluten. But I'll say it again the amount of gluten in a communion wafer will be trivial and if you are so sensitive to gluten that this amount of exposure makes you sick then you are not going to survive long regardless

Bryden Black said...

My ordaining bishop, Paul Burrough, was a prisoner in Changi. And being a bit of an Oxford man, his father being priest of Summertown for years, he naturally drew much strength, he told me, from the Eucharist - celebrated with rice and rice water. Thanks for mentioning that wee option Peter; I'm sure Jesus was FULLY present. As for the rest - gnats ...

Glen Young said...


I have to bow out due to your superior medical qualifications and experience concerning the effects of gluten on human life. I am forever indebted to this post for finding out that there is a only a few people who are gluten intolerant; and that their issues in life are not as important as the 'purity of the bread'. You obviously has far expertise than all the medical authorities worldwide we have consulted. But the 'BREAD MUST BE PURE'. Our ETERNAL LIVES depend upon whether there is any gluten in the wafer.But does the Gospels say He 'Broke the BREAD or does it say He 'Broke the WAFER'. Surely,the question is, that if we are so concerned about the make up of the wafer, then we should be more concerned about whether it it is 'bread or wafers?????

At a time when the Church is facing the issues of PELL and 8000 other clergy
who are accused of criminal offences;perhaps there are greater issues facing the Church than gluten in the wafer.

Andrei said...

Dear Glenn I have no issue with gluten or otherwise the in the wafer - indeed in this thread we see the excellent example of a liturgy celebrated with water and rice a fine example of oikonomia

None of us can worship and serve the Lord in the way we would aspire to but must do so as best we can with what we have and if all we have is rice and water then that will do very well indeed.

There is a real condition in which young children who fail to prosper begin to prosper when wheat is removed from their diet - that is real but the definition of that condition has been expanded to such an extent that wikipedia boldly informs me that up to 80% of suffers go undiagnosed because they do not exhibit symptoms of that disease and silly old me thinks well if you don't really have a disease if you don't have any symptoms

And you get to a point where you the disease you dealing with is actually hypochondria or neurosis rather than anything real

I'll tell you something else these "diseases" are rare in Africa because most Africans eat what they can get or go hungry and they don't have the luxury of being obsessive over "macrobiotic vegan diets" and so forth.

I myself have known since I was a teenager that if I eat too many pastries, too much bread I'll get indigestion and a doctor who i mentioned it to said it was because I couldn't digest gluten too well. And interestingly enough the sourdough breads baked at home that I ate did not cause this effect - this is my personal experience. And if I do get indigestion I take some antacids - I don't have a disease and I don't need to bend the church to my body's idiosyncrasies and I have never ever got indigestion from taking communion.

There is a line to be drawn between catering for people with real medical conditions and pandering to people's neuroses

Glen Young said...


Let me say that there are two separate issues here; (1)that the bread of the Sacrament can cause you problems: (2)that bread in everyday life can cause you problems.

To the first I say no and to the second I say definitely yes. If you had read my original post carefully,you would have seen that I was talking of gluten in general,not in regards to to the Sacrament.

Our family would be happy to receive the wafer but in everyday life,we eat gluten free.It seems to be a problem with the O- blood group,which is associated with our Celtic origin.

Andrei said...

Glen everything we eat contains "toxins", that is why we have a liver

Potatoes are famously toxic as is rhubarb. but so are apples, their pips at least contain cyanide but nobody avoids giving their kids apples

Even more confusingly some things that are essential in our diet are toxic in high doses, such as selenium or vitamin A - that's just the way it is

Andrei said...

BrianR said...

Wow, apples and cyanide - I never knew that. This is one of the many reasons why I love this blog!
(Another is that Peter is a very tolerant host and doesn't mind people sharply disagreeing with him.)
A quick search told me that at my weight, finely chewing and ingesting the seeds of about 22 apple cores would send me sooner than I expected to my Maker.

An apple a day
keeps the doctor away.
But one every hour
Makes your prospects sour.

Jean said...

Hey Andrei

Well communion is communion celebrated with the right intention and what is available or eatable for those receiving.

The gluten thing is not hodge podge; yet many people are fine consuming it. Some people are intolerant so small amounts aren't going to make them ill. For others it is more extreme. I know a baker who had to change profession because merely touching flour started to make her ill. I know a farmer's wife who lived with wheat groups most her life who is now allergic to gluten. My boss suddenly developed a severe illness, everyone thought it was cancer, he lost weight, had three months off work, it was Cealic disease - previously not diagnosed. It seems an over-abundance of a substance can cause our bodies to malfunction. Just as in South East Asia there are a lot of type II diabetes where the intake of carbohydrates is high etc etc. Wheat has been altered over the decades to increase its gluten content as I mentioned earlier on, and now as wheat is contained in so many of our food products ..... another interesting aspect of 21st century life as an alternative to the neo-liberalist focus is the impact commercialisation of crops has had on biodiversity and food products.

Interestingly in Africa, where white rice became common after multi-nationals started to manufacture it for other markets, the local populations began to eat it. Now many are deficient in Vitamin A - as previously the brown rice they ate contained the Vitamin A. We get a lot of our quota from it being added into our food products such as cereals.

Ahh enough

Andrei said...

Jean people have been eating bread made with wheat for over 6000 years and it was so important in their diet that it appears in the Bible in multiple places as a metaphor - examples

John 6: 35 " Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

Or in the Lord's Prayer "Give us this day our daily bread"

There are multiple old testament references to wheat and its horticulture - multiple

The wheats grown today differ from their originals having been selectively bred for 1000s of years to produce bigger grains, be frost resistant and so forth

And realistically 99.99999% of people can handle bread made with wheat flour.

Modern Western Educated people are as superstitious as any medieval peasant they just dress their superstitions up in the language of science rather than that of black magic and demons

Science has helped people prosper though - for you the concept that you might endure a famine is not on your radar - cancer not famine might be your fear and unlike your medieval forebears you can expect eighty years of life rather than forty and everyone's expectation is that all their children will attain adulthood and loosing a child is considered an anomaly whereas in medieval times most children died before their fifth birthday

The reality is you are going to die one way or another, you might get some cancer of the digestive system partially or wholly caused by the food you eat, you might die from clogged arteries or from some genetic failing, you might be run over by a truck - whatever your days are numbered and there is not a soul left alive now who celebrated new years day 1900 and I strongly doubt you or I or any other reader of this blog will be here ring in the 22nd century

Jean said...

Andrei there is a point where common sense and logic rules. If one is not facing starvation or famine and eating a particular food makes someone physically ill, it is simple common sense not to eat it. I fail to see any superstition in that equation.

Andrei said...

"Andrei there is a point where common sense and logic rules"

Indeed it does Jean and common sense and logic says the gluten is not as deadly as plutonium despite the hoops some people make others jump through to avoid a single molecule of the substance as in the story of the little girl linked above who has been brought up by her mother to believe that all of the commonly eaten foods that her peers consume are in some way toxic

We live in an age of nonsense, one almost totally devoid of common sense, Jean, and instead of calling people on it we pander to it and the more we pander to it the more we get of it

Jean said...

Yeah and the 11 girl I know of locally who missed most her schooling for a year wasn't pandered to as she had continual stomach aches, and her very caring parents thought she was just making it up, and eventually they were persuaded to get it checked out and she had Celiac. Of course they felt bad when they found out and were genuinely caring.

Just be carefully your definition of 'common sense' in your 'calling people on it' that you don't unnecessarily include those whose situations are genuine and who have suffered enough already.