Saturday, October 17, 2009

Catholic Celiac's and the Priesthood -- Do you pray for your son to become a priest?

Nate has been celiac since the age of three. About second grade, the age of his First Communion, several classmate's parents were asking each other if they were praying that their son would become a priest, or daughters to enter the Religious Life and become Sisters.

I hadn't. Celiac's can't become priests. (Well, I will have to take that back, my husband has a musician friend, a priest, who is celiac. This priest was not diagnosed Celiac until after many years in the priest hood.) Since becoming a priest was not an option, I had focused my prayers for Nate on other topics.  

Just recently, the topic came up again. Nate was going through confirmation, and the youth leader had asked if the teens had prayed about entering the Religious Life. I am not sure if Nate felt a stirring to consider, or if he had heard his friends talking about the options of being a Sister or Priest. In a chat with Nate, he asked where I had learned that he could not be a priest.

From the Vatican, to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, the following was stated:

D. Given the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist in the life of the priest, candidates for the priesthood who are affected by celiac disease of suffer from alcoholism of similar conditions may not be admitted to Holy Orders.

Since Nate knows he is Celiac, he will never be admitted as a candidate for the priesthood. (Chances are, he will never be drafted for the military either. The military does not want to risk medical complications if gluten-free rations were not available.) However, there are many other positions in the Catholic church that might fascinate him if he should decide to follow a vocation to serve. Nate has a love for justice . . . maybe he could consider being a Cannon Lawyer or work with the tribunal. Nate enjoys reading and is starting the training for Reader and Eucharistic Minister. If Nate desired, he could become a religious scholar and help teach in a seminary to train priests.

My prayers.  

My prayers are not for my son to become a priest. Nor are my prayers requesting that the Catholic church allow priests with Celiac disease. My prayers are based on Micah 6:8; that Nate acts justly, he loves mercy, and that he walks humbly with God. I continue to pray that Nate will always remain close to God and that he will love the Catholic church. I pray that he finds ways to serve, no matter what time of day, the occupation or vocation he enters, and no matter if he is single or married.  I also pray for the current priests to be understanding and compassionate in their guidance of celiac Catholics, especially young celiac children searching to understand their faith.

Lord, hear our prayers.

The following is a letter dated March 10, 1996, and was sent to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences from the Vatican. It represents the official position of the Catholic Church with regard to gluten and the Eucharist.
Your Eminence/Excellency:
In recent years, this Dicastery has followed closely the development of the question of the use of low-gluten altar breads and mustum as matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.
After careful study, conducted in collaboration with a number of concerned Episcopal Conferences, this Congregation in its ordinary session of June 22, 1994 has approved the following norms, which I am pleased to communicate:

  • I. Concerning permission to use low-gluten altar breads:

    • A. This may be granted by Ordinaries to priests and lay persons affected by celiac disease, after presentation of a medical certificate.

    • Conditions for the validity of the matter:
      • 1) Special hosts quibus glutinum ablatum est are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist;
      • 2) Low-gluten hosts are valid matter, provided that they contain the amount of gluten sufficient to obtain the confection of bread, that there is no addition of foreign materials, and that the procedure for making such hosts is not such as to alter the nature of the substance of the bread.

  • II. Concerning permission to use mustum:

    • A. The preferred solution continues to be Communion per intinctionem, or in concelebration under the species of bread alone.
    • B. Nevertheless, the permission to use mustum can be granted by Ordinaries to priests affected by alcoholism or other conditions which prevent the ingestion of even the smallest quantity of alcohol, after the presentation of a medical certificate.
    • C. By mustum is understood fresh juice from grapes, or juice preserved by suspending its fermentation (by means of freezing of other methods which do not alter its nature).
    • D. In general, those who have received permission to use the mustum are prohibited from presiding at concelebrated Masses. There may be some exceptions however: in the case of a Bishop or Superior General; or, with prior approval of the Ordinary, at the celebration of the anniversary of priestly ordination or other similar occasions. In these cases, the one who presides is to communicate under both the species of bread and that of the mustum, while for the other concelebrants a chalice shall be provided in which normal wine is to be consecrated.
    • E. In the very rare instances of lay persons requesting this permission, recourse must be made to the Holy See.

    III. Common Norms:

    • A. The Ordinary must ascertain that the matter used conforms to the above requirements.
    • B. Permissions are to be given only for as long as the situation continues which motivated the request.
    • C. Scandal is to be avoided.
    • D. Given the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist in the life of the priest, candidates for the priesthood who are affected by celiac disease of suffer from alcoholism of similar conditions may not be admitted to Holy Orders.
    • E. Since the doctrinal questions in this area have now been decided, disciplinary competence is entrusted to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
    • F. Concerned Episcopal Conferences shall report to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments every two years regarding the application of these norms.

With warm regards and best wishes, I am Sincerely yours in Christ.


  1. I came across your post here and wanted to let you know that the above document is old. There is a revision that now does not say they cannot be admitted to the priesthood, but that everyone "must proceed with caution." Also, now that the Sisters of St. Benedict have created an approved low gluten (.01%) host this may have changed the previous listed impediment. You can find the updated 2003 document here.

    There is hope! I have a 5 year old son with Celiac who would like to be a priest. For now we are not discouraging it as we do not know how things will change in the future, nor are we encouraging it greatly and giving false hope. We do frequently talk about being a brother or monk as well. God Bless!

  2. Thanks!

    It's nice to know that someone reads these entries. I need to get back and write some more updated essays. Time passes and kids enter new stages and the Church has more resources; now I have more to share.

    I appreciate your links . . . may they be inspirational to others too.