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."