Pope Francis loves gluten—or so it appears. When he's not taking Rome's homeless out for pizza, he's flying around in papal planes eating potato ravioli, cheese-stuffed pasta crepes, and biscotti, to his heart's content.
Now, Francis and the Church that he presides over are taking steps to ensure that the holy ceremony of the Eucharist is not besmirched by any gluten-free products. In a recent letter to bishops written by Cardinal Robert Sarah, "at the request of Pope Francis," gluten-free bread is deemed "invalid matter" for the celebration of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is the ceremony instituted by Jesus Christ himself at the Last Supper, which consists of consuming bread and wine in order to commemorate Christ's sacrifice. Catholics believe that bread and wine are converted into the body and blood of Christ through a process called transubstantiation.
But apparently, just what type of bread (or more typically, wafers) can be transubstantiated required clarification in the era of gluten-free food. With mass-produced gluten-free products becoming more readily available both online and in retail stores, the Catholic Church felt it needed to address just what kind of starches could be served during the Eucharist.
"Until recently, it was certain religious communities who took care of baking the bread and making the wine for the celebration of the Eucharist," the letter says. "Today, however, these materials are also sold in supermarkets and other stores and even over the internet."
Citing canonic law, Cardinal Sarah reminds bishops that the bread used in Communion must be "unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition," adding that it is "a grave abuse" to introduce other substances into Eucharist bread.
By extension, gluten-free wafers are not acceptable, though partially gluten-free hosts are, albeit with a few stipulations. "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."
That adherence to purity also applies to the blood of Christ, with Cardinal Sarah reminding bishops that wine used in "the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice" must be "natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure, and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances."
To sum up, it sounds like the Vatican is very down with funky natural wines and that anti-gluten followers could be damned—literally.