Bread & Wine

Last year, Haley Waldman, an eight-year-old New Jersey girl, made headlines when her first Communion was declared invalid because the wafer had been made of soy flour (New York Times, October 4, 2004). The child suffers from celiac disease, a digestive disorder that makes it unsafe for her to eat wheat. Her difficulty had led a sympathetic priest to substitute the soy host, but when the local archbishop learned of the irregularity, he declared the Communion invalid. Haley’s mother, Elizabeth Pelly-Waldman, told the press, “I don’t want to bash the church, but Christ would not have turned away my child for a medical condition.”

Who is right in this story of conflicting goods: a needy and desirous child and her family, or the local ordinary and the tradition he pledged to uphold? Why does the church insist that only wheat bread is “valid matter” for the Eucharist? In a somewhat analogous situation, why has the church allowed the use of nonfermented wine at Mass for priests and others who are allergic or addicted to alcohol? Might not a similar broadening of the rules apply to those who are allergic to wheat or gluten? As Haley Waldman’s mother seemed to imply, would a father asked by his child for bread give her a stone instead? Perhaps a look at the history and development of sacraments, particularly in light of Vatican II, will shed some light on how church leaders may consider resolving cases like those of...

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