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In this week after Easter, I thought it would be helpful to share some more information about the sacrament of the Eucharist, or Communion, from a gluten-free point of view.
Tradition has held that the bread used for this holy rite, whether leavened or unleavened, be made from wheat. This tradition was confirmed in mid-2017 from a letter to the Diocesan Bishops, written by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the request of Pope Francis. The letter outlined that gluten must be present in the bread used to celebrate the Eucharist during Roman Catholic Mass.
The Catholic Church’s Canon Law actually already spelled out this requirement in the 1990s and 2000s. It was further enumerated in 2012 when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops agreed to this statement: “it is impossible to consecrate a host made of something other than wheat and water.”
Thus, celiacs and the gluten intolerant, have historically been left without a place at the communion table, unless they partook of only the wine (it is recommended that communicants receive both the Body and the Blood, but it not required in the Catholic faith). Early in this millennium, that changed, after The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration developed a “low gluten” host made from wheat starch. (To learn more about the Sisters and the development of their wheat starch host, see this PBS video.)
This host contains .01% gluten, which is approximately 100ppm gluten; however, equating that amount of gluten (37 micrograms of gluten contained in one wafer) to scientifically established tolerable daily exposure levels (6 milligrams of gluten per day), one wafer would be well within the daily amount of gluten (0.04%) considered safe to those with celiac disease. GlutenFreeHosts also offers a low-gluten wafer (<20ppm) made from wheat starch.
Whether this low-gluten wafer is acceptable to you and to your doctor is completely up to you, and is a matter of considerable debate.
There is another option for Protestants, however: make your own. Growing up in the church, I learned that part of being involved as a member of a church community meant volunteering and helping where you could. One way I have been giving of myself to my church is to periodically bake the loaves for Communion – of course this means that everyone is partaking of gluten-free bread when I’m the bread baker – lucky them! If you are in need of a great gluten-free bread recipe to bake for Communion at your church (or otherwise), have a look at this beautiful gluten free artisan bread recipe.
Recently though, my church asked me to start baking gluten-free Communion wafers for every service. I knew this would require creating a large enough recipe that would produce lots of wafers at one time and have a good shelf life. When I developed the right combination, I felt I should share it with you, too! Having the Host available to everyone, in every church, should be a mission we can all unite behind.
Whether purchased or homemade, whether low-gluten or gluten-free, all Communion wafers for those avoiding gluten should be handled separately to prevent cross-contamination. The most common way of doing this is to place the special Hosts apart from the wheat Host, usually inside of a “pyx” — a metal, ceremonial box. These wafers are also blessed or consecrated by the priest or officiant.
Ask your church about providing gluten-free wafers for you and other parishioners, or make your own and offer them to your church for the benefit of all. Every willing person should be welcomed at the table.
Preheat oven to 450° F (static) 425° F (convection).
Use a food processor or mix by hand in a large bowl: gfJules™ All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour and salt. Slowly add in the liquid while pulsing or stirring with a fork. If the dough is too dry, add additional water by the 1/2 teaspoonful in order to get dough wet enough to hold together in a ball but not be sticky.
Form a ball with the dough and pat out onto a pastry mat or clean counter well-dusted with gfJules™ All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour. Pat with your fingers to flatten the dough, then roll gently in each direction until the dough is so thin you can almost see through it.
Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter, cut and lift with a bench scraper or spatula, and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick each circle twice with a fork (I prick in both directions to make a cross shape). Roll out remnant dough to make more wafers.
Arrange all wafers on a parchment-lined baking sheet. They will not spread, so they may be placed quite close to each other on the sheets. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and lay another baking sheet on top to prevent the wafers from curling during the bake. Put an oven-safe heavy skillet on top of the second baking sheet to keep weight on top of the wafers as they bake.
Bake for 8-9 minutes then remove the second baking sheet. Continue to bake for 4-5 more minutes, until the wafers will are crisp but not browned.
Remove to cool on a wire rack.
Yield: approximately 150 wafers.