Question: As a parish priest, I understand that there are new hosts available that may be used for people who suffer from celiac disease. Can you tell me about them? I know of gluten-free hosts, but I gather that they are not valid matter.
-- Name and address withheld
Answer: The website of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Divine Worship states that its secretariat has been working for a number of years on the development of low-gluten hosts that may be used at Mass and that are perfectly safe for people who suffer from celiac disease.
These low-gluten hosts are available from the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, 31970 State Highway P, Clyde, MO 64432.
You are correct about gluten-free hosts. Such hosts are not bread, and bread is the only valid matter for the Eucharist. In 2003, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, took up this matter and wrote that: "Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist."
This position is not mere legalism, but a recognition that the action of Jesus at the Last Supper was to consecrate not just anything, but true bread and wine.
The date of Easter
Question: Easter Sunday in 2009 is April 12. How and when is the date of Easter determined? When is the earliest and latest date that it is celebrated?
-- M. L. Andryha, Kittanning, Pa.
Answer: The history of the date of Easter is quite complicated, and I cannot go into it in any detail. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII revised the calendar used across Christendom, providing a new means for the calculation of the date of Easter. The new calendar, known since as the Gregorian calendar, was adopted slowly. By the 1700s, most of Western Europe followed this calendar.
In this calendar, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, which is March 21.
There are some highly technical rules for determining the actual date of the full moon, but when all is taken into account the result is that Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25.
The Eastern Orthodox churches use a variant of these rules that result in those churches celebrating Easter on a different Sunday. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, Easter occurs on April 19 in 2009. There is hope in ecumenical circles that a common date for the observance of Easter may eventually be established. But, as in all things between East and West, things move slowly.
The orans position
Question: In our parish, everyone is encouraged to hold up their hands for the Lord's Prayer. Where did this practice start, and does it follow official norms of the Church?
-- Name and address withheld
Answer: In the early Church, it was commonplace for worshippers to pray regularly with their hands extended heavenwards. (This is called the orans position.) The data on the liturgical life of the early Church is too complex for us to know too much about this practice, but it seems certain that it was used commonly for the Lord's Prayer.
When and why the practice died out is unknown, though, of course, the priest always used the orans position for the Lord's Prayer. This prayer position began to be used popularly again after the Second Vatican Council, and largely as a result of the charismatic movement.
There are no official norms for the congregational use of the orans position for the Lord's Prayer, but to judge by its popularity, it seems here to stay.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.