Are Communion Wafers Gluten-Free?
If you are a gluten-free Christian, I expect that you might have the same problem that I run into when I take Holy Communion. The Host (the Bread) is gluten-y. So, in answer to the question in the title… No, communion wafers (or the equivalent), as a general rule, are not gluten-free.
And, if you are Jewish or belong to another religion where matzo or bread is used sacramentally or in accordance with a tradition or sacramental ritual, you probably run into the same problem.
In a nutshell, the problem is “How do I participate in the sacrament or tradition and not have a gluten reaction?”
In addition to whether the Bread is Gluten-Free, there is another major concern that you must be aware of… cross contamination. At this point I’d like to get the subject of cross-contamination, out-of-the-way.
Normally, the Bread is presented to the sacrament taker (the communicant) on a plate or in a container of some sort. Some Christian denominations require that the minister/priest give the bread to the communicant. Some such as the Roman Catholic Church go so far as to actually place the communion emblem in the mouth of the taker. In either case, there may be a cross-contamination problem. For example:
- Whoever prepared the content of the plate or container may have contaminated it from their hands. This is especially difficult in many Protestant denominations where children may be used to prepare the bread portion of the sacrament. Or,
- The preparer contaminated the Bread itself by touching it while there is gluten on their hands. This is most likely to occur in Protestant churches where there can sometimes be any number of people involved in a wide variety of ways in the preparation of the Bread. Or,
- The minister or priest, when you think about it, works in a very uncontrolled environment from a gluten contamination standpoint. They handle things that may have been contaminated with gluten, such as clothing, vestments, books or etc. They may have shaken hands with someone who had contaminated themselves with gluten…and the list goes on.
So, the bread may end up contaminated because of the priest or minister’s hands.
I’ve just mentioned a few the possible sources of cross-contamination of the HOST. Basically, the list is fairly endless. Enough said.
In many Christian churches it may be possible, if their church or denominational rules allow it, for a gluten-free person to choose to take only the wine or juice portion of the sacrament… Assuming, of course, it is free of contamination… And, the communicant is comfortable with just taking the wine or juice portion of the sacrament and allowing that to symbolically represent the entire Sacrament of Holy Communion.
And, be aware that even the wine or juice or serving cups may be contaminated.
Also, some churches’ practice is to dip each wafer in a communal chalice of wine or grape juice, or for each person to sip from a communal cup after having taken the wafer or bread. Neither practice is safe for a gluten intolerant person.
In addition, cross contamination of the individual wine cups may also occur because someone handled bread or something else gluten-y before handling the cups.
Concerning the wafers or bread, different churches have different policies about it.
The Roman Catholic Church will not accept any communion wafers that are not made from wheat. However, if you are Catholic and your Parish Priest is willing to investigate further, Parish Crossroads of Indiana makes communion wafers from a special wheat that has been developed which contains a very low level of gluten.
The requirements of the Catholic Church are that the bread must have at least a trace of gluten in it and not contain any non-wheat products. These low gluten wafers must be shipped to the local parish so that the proof of its being acceptable is available to the priest who will be serving the sacrament. The parish must place the order. An alternative is that the order may be placed and paid for by an individual but be shipped to the local parish.
The Parish Crossroads of Indiana website offers more suggestions on how this might work to satisfy the needs of the priest and of the gluten-free individual.
Parish Crossroads of Indiana also provides Low-Gluten Travel Packs (individually wrapped low-gluten wafers) with a card in each to certify to the priest of a Catholic church which a gluten-free person may be visiting that the wafer meets the Catholic Church’s requirements.
I did not find any reference to the Greek Orthodox branch of the Christian church as far as requirements concerning The Host are concerned.
For other churches with less strict sacrament-related rules regarding gluten-free Eucharist, such as Protestant denominations, there is the possibility of someone baking their own gluten-free wafers or bread.
Other Sources of Gluten-Free Communion Wafers
Also, there are several sources of gluten-free wafers I found online, of which Ener-G Communion Wafers may be among the most economical or best-known brands. Using these wafers could be acceptable as long as they are kept uncontaminated before being used, possibly by keeping in a dedicated jar (one of Ener-G’s options) or other container so that no one would have to touch the wafers except the person who was taking one out for him or herself to use.
Some congregations use crackers or matzo for the bread in communion, usually broken into small pieces. Matzo is Jewish unleavened bread. It is traditionally made of wheat, although I have found some alternatives recently that are made from oats. If the oats are certified gluten-free, the matzo made from them would be safe for a gluten intolerant or sensitive person. You can find some gluten-free kosher for Passover matzo-style squares made by Manischewitz here.
What to Do Next
At a minimum, you should approach those who are in authority in your congregation and request that they institute rules requiring individuals who handle sacrament or sacrament related containers, plates, or preparation implements to thoroughly wash their hands and the objects being used and be instructed on proper techniques to use so that their hands will not be contaminated during the preparation process.
Another approach that might work is to get permission for a gluten-free member of the congregation to prepare the emblems for gluten-free individuals in the congregation. And that those emblems be segregated and presented separately to the gluten intolerant and sensitive members.
Ask questions and be aware of the practices of any place where you expect to take communion or similar sacrament so that you know how to best guard against a gluten reaction.
Protect your gluten-free health.
Some people bake their own wafers or bread to use. If you would like to bake your own Gluten-Free Wafers for communion, here is a simple recipe that I have made.
- 3/4 Cup (90g.) Gluten-Free Flour Mix, such as Betty Crocker All-Purpose GF Rice Flour Blend
- 3/4 Teaspoon Xanthan Gum -- only if the GF Flour Mix you use does not have a gum in it
- 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 Teaspoon GF Baking Powder
- 1-1/2 Tablespoon Oil
- 1-1/2 Tablespoon Honey
- 1/4 Cup Water (maybe a little less)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment.
In a medium to large mixing bowl, mix dry ingredients thoroughly.
Combine the honey with the oil and pour into the dry ingredients, stirring well.
Add most of the water and stir well with a fork; continue adding water a tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together and is workable.
Spread the dough out on the prepared pan, smoothing with a wet spatula or fingers.
Cut into circles, if desired, and reshape the leftover dough so that every bit is used. I don't have that small a cookie cutter, so I used an upside-down egg cup for this.
Instead of cutting into circles, the dough can also be scored with a knife into squares or diamonds so that after baking it can be separated, like crackers.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges.
Separate the pieces, if you scored the dough. If you shaped circles like I did with the egg cup and you want smaller pieces, cut them into quarters or sixths with a sharp knife on a cutting board.
This wafer recipe is designed for those with gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, or celiac (coeliac) disease, but it's one of my gluten-free recipes that people who have no food allergies like, too. It is wheat-free, barley-free and rye-free, as well as dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free and refined sugar-free. In fact, depending on the flour mixture you use, it can be top 8 allergen-free.
Vegetarian Mamma’s Gluten-Free Fridays
Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays
Gluten-Free Homemaker’s Gluten-Free Wednesdays
The Tasty Alternative’s Allergy Friendly Wednesdays