Monday, June 20, 2022

Communion under the Species of Wine for Health Reasons and the Traditional Latin Mass

During this octave of Corpus Christi, and just before the feast of the Most Precious Blood on July 1st, it seems appropriate to publish the following letter, which I wrote in response to an inquiry from a person burdened with an extreme wheat allergy, whereby any exposure to wheat, even gluten-free, causes strong adverse reactions. Since this question comes up more and more often nowadays, it is well that it be dealt with in a principled and practical way. I am aware, of course, that opinions vary a lot, and I would be particularly interested in hearing from clergy in the comments. Let me clarify at the outset that I am not at all in favor, in the Latin rite, of a blanket policy of “communion under both kinds” for the laity (see here for a good explanation of the traditional viewpoint) and that I see the use of the chalice, as described in the letter, as a reasonable concession to be made only for those who cannot communicate with low-gluten hosts, which already have the Church's approval.

June 15, 2022

Dear N.,

It was good to meet you recently at the Washington, DC premiere of Episode 2 of Mass of the Ages. Thank you for sharing a little of your story with me, including your struggles with severe wheat and gluten allergies. The question of the laity receiving from the chalice in case of grave necessity can be considered an open question; it is surely one that requires amicable and serious discussion.

My attention was first drawn to the problem of celiac Catholics close to home, since my wife was diagnosed years ago with celiac and we had to address how best to handle sacramental Communion. The phenomenon of allergies to gluten and/or to wheat is a reality. [1] There are a number of theories as to why we are seeing more of it at this time in history. Some think it has to do with hybridizations and genetic modifications of crops, others that it has to do with food quality and modern life strains. Whatever the exact etiology, the condition is real and far from imaginary or exaggerated. People can get very sick from foods or drinks contaminated with allergens; I’ve seen it firsthand.

As we know, the miracle of transubstantiation changes the substance of the bread and the wine into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ, but it leaves intact the accidents, the quantity and qualities, of the substances that were once present. The remaining accidents affect the body as if they were still present in a natural substance.

For this reason, the Church has deemed it just and reasonable that celiacs should be accommodated, as long as the divinely instituted matter of the sacrament is respected. [2] It is easy enough to see how this may be done in the traditional Roman Rite with those who can tolerate a low-gluten host, for it is easy to ensure that some such hosts are consecrated and available. The difficulty arises rather with those whose sensitivity is such that they can receive only under the form of wine.

The rubrics of the old missal do not prohibit the giving of the chalice to the laity for the simple reason that they do not envision it at all; it is not even mentioned. It is entirely ignored, since it long ago ceased to be the custom to share the chalice with the faithful on any occasion, with the rather peculiar exception of Catholic emperors and monarchs. However, there is no inherent reason why the Precious Blood could not be shared with a member of the faithful in a case of true necessity, as long as all due precautions were taken into account.

The fact that the rubrics of the old rite do not anticipate or envision such a thing is not logically or canonically tantamount to the exclusion or forbiddance of such a thing in a case of true necessity. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention, and it could be assumed that in a healthy situation in which the Congregation for Divine Worship was properly functioning to support the organic development of tradition rather than acting as a policeman to suppress it, a solution would have been worked out sooner or later, as adumbrated in note 1. Unfortunately, now is not the time to be submitting new dubia to the CDW or any other Vatican dicastery! It is rather the time to use common sense, historical precedents, and sound sacramental principles to arrive at a reverent practical solution consistent with the nature of the Roman Rite.

Historically, there are two relevant precedents for communicating the laity with the Precious Blood: first, the fistula or liturgical metal straw, which was mentioned as recently as the Latin edition of the 1969 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, but which is not, perhaps, very practical anymore, and in any case difficult to obtain; second, the spoon, as used in the Byzantine tradition, which is readily available. [3]

The procedure would be as follows. The priest consecrates, in addition to the large chalice, a small chalice with a little wine in it, which has been placed on the corporal as would a ciborium. [4] At communion time, after everyone else has received the host, the communicant in need of the chalice approaches and kneels. The priest brings down the small chalice from the altar, with the spoon, and gently places a few drops of the Precious Blood into the mouth of the communicant, who holds a purifactor under her mouth as a precaution. The priest then takes the purificator and returns to the altar to perform the usual ablutions, in the course of which the small chalice and spoon are rinsed as well, and dried with the purificator. [5]

Alternatively, the spoon could be skipped, and the priest tilts the chalice gently to the communicant’s lips, himself holding a purificator under the rim of the chalice. I have seen this done and it presents no difficulties. Any spillage is prevented by the purificator being present.

A last alternative — though the least desirable, because it moves into a practice stemming from and associated with the Novus Ordo — is that the communicant take the small chalice from the priest, drink its content, and return it to him. If this were to be done, the communicant should wear a pair of gloves, as is the normal respectful way for the non-ordained to handle sacred vessels.

Once accustomed to the procedure, the adding of a little wine to a small chalice, the bringing of that chalice to the person who needs it, and the cleansing of it afterward along with the other vessels should not add more than one minute to the duration of Mass. Again, I have seen all this done with my own eyes, otherwise I would not be able to speak about it with confidence. In one case, it was a diocesan priest who brought the small chalice and tilted it to the communicant’s mouth; in two other cases I have seen it done by members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. As note 2 indicates, I recently learned of an SSPX priest who uses the spoon method. Suffice it to say that this accommodation can be made and is being made.

Some may question whether it is ever necessary for a member of the faithful to receive Communion. Surely this question should answer itself. Our Lord urged His disciples to eat and drink His Flesh and Blood, and said that we would have no life within us if we failed to do so; Scripture and Tradition alike teach that baptism orders the baptized to sacramental participation in the Eucharist. This is the revealed basis for the canonical requirement that the faithful receive at least once a year, having duly cleansed their souls in Confession. Due to concomitance (Our Lord being fully present under either species), this requirement is fulfilled by receiving either the host or the chalice. If there were an extremely rare case of a person who was simply unable to receive under either species, he would have no choice, sadly, but to resign himself to the inscrutable decrees of Providence and to make fervent spiritual communions. It seems unnecessarily harsh, however, to deprive a member of the faithful of sacramental Communion simply on account of an allergy to wheat, when there is an alternative at hand.

Communion may not be denied to a properly-disposed member of the faithful, as canon 843 (CIC 1983) §1 states: “Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.” It would seem unreasonable and unkind to say to a celiac who can commune only under the species of wine: “You are not allowed to do that at the Latin Mass, you must go instead to the Novus Ordo Mass.” This would be setting up a strange conflict or competition between forms of the Mass, when in reality the faithful should be able to satisfy their obligations and receive sacramental nourishment at either one.

Yours in Christ,

Peter Kwasniewski

ADDENDUM (6/27/22)

I should have said in the above letter that it is important to be considerate about making the request to a priest to accommodate a special need, since doing so does involve a certain inconvenience and adds a bit of time, which affects everyone present at Mass. It's not enough, in other words, to speculate that, since one is feeling unwell and can't find another cause, it must be or could be this particular food allergy. Rather, someone must be medically certain that he has this problem before bothering a priest about it; a scientific test result would seem to be appropriate in this case, for the ease of everyone's conscience.


[1] Some priests seem to be unaware that a wheat allergy is distinct from a gluten allergy, even if they often go together. Someone who suffers from the former cannot receive even a low-gluten host without negative consequences.

[2] See “Circular Letter to all Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences concerning the use of low-gluten altar breads and mustum as matter for the celebration of the Eucharist,” sent by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 24 July 2003 (text here), B1: “A layperson affected by celiac disease, who is not able to receive Communion under the species of bread, including low-gluten hosts, may receive Communion under the species of wine only.”

[3] It seems that the Vatican was already thinking along these lines in a 1959 ruling from the Holy Office (Canon Law Digest on Canon 852): “The Holy Office has received the petition of Anne T., who desires to receive Holy Communion but finds it difficult to so because she suffers from a severe allergy to wheat in all its forms. After careful consideration of all the circumstances of the case, this Supreme Sacred Tribunal has decreed: ‘Favor granted whereby the petitioner may receive Holy Communion in the Oriental rite under the species of wine only; opportune safeguards are to be used to avoid wonderment on the part of the faithful.’” It seems to me that if things had evolved naturally over the next decade instead of the upheaval of the 1960s, this question would eventually have been dealt with and the same logic applied to the Roman Rite. After all, Sacrosanctum Concilium proposed a modest increase in the number and circumstances of those who could receive under both kinds, which logically includes receiving under either kind. The fact that this practice was subsequently extended indiscriminately, contrary to the Council’s provisions, does not rule out a reasonable use of it.

[4] It would be appropriate that a drop of water be added to this chalice, and that it be covered with a (small) pall.

[5] A world-famous expert on usus antiquior rubrics, Louis Tofari of Romanitas Press, wrote the following to me when I asked him for his thoughts on this matter: “Yes, I am familiar with this situation, and in fact, we had a similar one several years ago with a gentleman who also suffered from an adverse reaction from low-gluten hosts, despite several trials. So the pastor ended up doing this instead: he would consecrate a small portion of Precious Blood in another chalice and then communicate It with an Eastern Rite golden spoon and using a purificator held by the gentleman as a safeguard — thus imitating the Byzantine practice; this was also done after everyone else had received normally. This being said, the gentleman was not a daily Mass-goer, so this was done only on Sundays usually, and with advance notice from him (and not every Sunday at that, either). So this is certainly an extraordinary option for an extraordinary situation and to my mind, perfectly legitimate. Note also, Fr. N. is an older priest and a former district superior, thus had quite a great deal of pastoral experience.”

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