Here is round three of questions related to the Eucharist. If you didn’t catch the previous ones, go to previous blog entries. This week, there is only one question since the answer is more involved.
Question: “If the priest is alcoholic or has Celiac’s disease, how can he offer the Mass? What about parishioners?”
Answer: If a priest suffers from either of these issue, it is a real issue whether he can offer the Mass since it is required of him to partake of the host and chalice for the sacrifice to be complete. To be clear, one solution is not to simply use grape juice instead of wine. The chalice of Christ was truly wine, fermented fruit of the vine of grapes. So, in order to maintain this reality while also minimizing the effects of alcohol on the priest, something called “mustum” is used. Mustum is a special grape juice, the result of the crushing grapes allowed to begin fermentation, but then quickly frozen so as to retain some alcohol content, but a very small amount. So, mustum is not common table wine nor grape juice. Mustum is something in-between. Grape juice, as we know it, is pasteurized which evaporates any natural fermentation that was present. That is why we can buy juice at the store and it can last so long before it begins to turn to wine or vinegar. To be clear, non-alcoholic grape juice was not used during the time of Jesus and therefore not used at the Last Supper. Wine, fermented grape juice, was used by Jesus, and so we do the same. Mustum is fermented, albeit only slightly. I have never heard of mustum being offered to the congregation due to the complexity and pragmatics of such an approach.
In regards to Celiac’s disease, the species of the host always maintains its “wheat-ness,” that is its appearance and qualities of wheat. This is true even after consecration. What changes due to consecration is the substance, the what-it-is-ness. How’s that for a strange new word? This is true about the species of the Precious Blood. It maintains all the physical qualities of grape wine. But, due to consecration, both are changed into something substantially, truly, essentially different… the Body and Blood of Christ. Back to Celiac’s disease. An estimated 1% of the population has Celiac’s disease. While that may not seem like a lot of people, think of it as 1 in every 133 people. That means there is at least one or two people at every Mass that struggle with this disease. Celiac’s disease is a “genetic autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food” (celiaccentral.org). That means foods with gluten are a no-no. Unfortunately, wheat has gluten in it, and is considered constitutive and essential for wheat to be wheat, and bread from wheat is necessary for the host to be valid matter. Some have proposed the use of non-gluten hosts, but then these are not considered truly made of wheat, therefore invalid matter for consecration. So what is a priest, and for that matter anyone, to do who has Celiac’s disease? Depending on the priest or person’s physical reaction to the gluten in a host, they can still choose the host regularly offered at Mass and know the consequences of such, or use/receive a low-gluten host. A low-gluten host is valid matter for consecration, though the pragmatics of its use are very difficult to pull off. For example, depending on the person, there can be no contamination of the other hosts with a low-gluten host. For the priest, that would be difficult to do since he has to handle the bulk of hosts during the Mass. I have pondered on all of the ways to make this happen considering all the complexities of our church, the variety of priests, and its praxis. I have concluded simply to ask those who struggle with Celiac’s disease to make a personal choice to either receive a regular host or receive only from the chalice. Remember, there is no harm in receiving from one species, for Christ is truly present in either species. This is a very sensitive situation which needs to be dealt with in the most pastoral way. Different churches will decided differently on how to work with this disease and the pragmatics of their solutions.
Whew! That was a long response! Next week’s question: “When did the laity first start receiving from the chalice?” Do you think you could answer this one? Return next week and find out.
Fr. William Holtzinger