Questions Answered

Christ Gazing at Jerusalem by Greg Olson

Question: A fine layman friend of mine was attending a class at a Catholic college taught by a priest who was insisting that Christ’s acquired knowledge was defective, citing Mk 2:26, when Our Lord cited that David ate the loaves of offering when Abiathar was the high priest, which he wasn’t. Was Christ’s acquired knowledge defective?

Answer: The question of the human knowledge of Christ has occupied much debate recently. One can see some of the more interesting opinions in the professor’s position about the question of human knowledge which is acquired concerning Abiathar. It would be important to review the traditional teaching on this manner first. Christ is normally considered to exercise three sorts of human knowledge which characterize the three states of the human nature of which he is head as man: beatific, infused, and acquired, or experimental, knowledge.

Theology has posited these three forms of knowledge of Christ because he is perfect man. As perfect man, he must take some aspect of each state in which human nature is found. Christ is, after all, the teacher of the human race. “In Christ, God teaches without medium.” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, c.1, lec. 2) He is, thus, a teacher in a different way than all other human teachers because he is the person of the Word in human nature.

Christ had the vision of God from the moment of his conception because, as perfect man, he is already head of the blessed in heaven. His understanding of the Father was not a revelation given to him, nor did he have faith. Christ is never described as among the “faithful” or a “believer.” If he did not have this vision, he would have had to merit it for himself, and he would thus also be only a pilgrim on earth and, in principle, capable of sin. The Magisterium since the Middle Ages has always held that Christ is at one and the same time a comprehensor, or one who knew the Father directly on earth, and a “wayfarer” or “pilgrim” because by his own free will, he did not allow this vision to arrive at his lower self. John Paul II reflected this tradition when he said:

Christ in his condition as pilgrim on the roads of our earth (viator = wayfarer), was already in possession of the goal (comprehensor = one who has already grasped) to which he would lead others.” (Address, May 4, 1980)

Thus, Christ, while on earth, was the head of the blessed in heaven.

In addition to this special knowledge which only Christ enjoyed, he also had infused knowledge. God gave him a special knowledge of the natures of the things in the world (as Adam had before the sin) and of his mission, so that from the moment of his conception, he might merit heaven for us by his perfect obedience. Christ had knowledge of hearts, and also future events. This falls under the principle of fittingness and perfection, and unites Christ to the human race in the condition which Adam enjoyed before the Original Sin.

The Fathers had no qualms about attributing these two sorts of knowledge to Christ, but this led them to balk as attributing ordinary human knowledge from sense experience, or “experiential” knowledge, to him. It seemed superfluous. However, under the rubric of the perfection of human powers in Christ, this led St. Thomas, who in an earlier work had denied experiential knowledge to Christ, to affirm it. This is because Christ must also take something from those in Original Sin, and Redemption, and have the full use of all his powers. Aquinas said:

“There was a time when I thought differently, but it must be said that in Christ was acquired knowledge, which is properly knowledge in the human fashion, […] which is natural to the human soul.” (Summa Theologiae, III, 9, 4, ad corp.)

For example, though Christ may have known the nature of a stone by infused knowledge, if he wanted to know the number of stones in a stream, he would have had to count them. He also would have to learn the customs of his people, and languages, by experiencing them.

The question of Abiathar belongs to this third type of knowledge. More traditional explanations of the faith explain this passage thusly:

According to the text of 1 Kings 21:1-6, it was the priest Abimelech, not his son Abiathar, who gave the loaves to David. Some suggest the phrase is not authentic. Others take it to mean “in the time of Abiathar” or “in the biblical passage about Abiathar”. […] We are not dealing here with a word-for-word citation from the Old Testament, but rather with the general allusion to an incident which illustrates the point of doctrine which Jesus wished to inculcate. The fundamental principle is that the law of Sabbath rest was intended to benefit mankind. Its observance is subordinate to the needs of men, who were not created merely in order to observe the Sabbath. (Bernard Orchard, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Nelson, 1951 on Mark 2:26)

It should be obvious from this explanation that since this is practically the only incident in the New Testament which could suggest that Christ had been mistaken, it is pedantic to develop this into a whole theology of the knowledge of Christ so patently against both Scripture and Tradition. Christ was not mistaken in this passage, or anywhere else, and, though this kind of knowledge connects him with us, and he did have to obtain science by sensible abstraction like everyone else, he still had perfect knowledge.


Question: I have a 7-year-old daughter who not only has celiac disease, but a life threatening anaphylactic allergy to wheat and gluten. Even crumbs could sicken her. We are Catholic from birth, but my daughter’s conditions and safety have prevented us from attending church. My heart is heavy because my daughter can never be a full member of the Church as she does not receive Holy Communion. Is there a way she could receive Holy Communion?

Answer: In answer to this question it is first necessary to explain what the matter of the Eucharist is. There was some question about this a number of years ago, and for some reason, people decided to substitute different matter for the Eucharist like Coke for the wine, and honey bread, or rice crackers, for the wheaten flour.

The matter of the Eucharist is very clear in Church law, resulting from its institution by Christ, and so cannot be altered. Pope John Paul II’s instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum states:

The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made, so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows, therefore, that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools. (No. 48)

As to the Precious Blood it clearly states:

The wine that is used in the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances. […] It is forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments. Nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter. (n. 50)

There are some further points to be made about this. In the Latin Church, the bread must be unleavened, but not the Eastern Churches. The addition of leavening would be illegal in the Latin Church, but not invalid. However, any other additives, even honey for flavoring, would cause invalidity. Also, if the sign of bread should become so stale that it ceases to be bread, then the change in the Eucharist ceases, and it returns to whatever those substances may be.

For those with gluten allergies, there are approved hosts which are not gluten free, but contain very low gluten content, which most pastors can easily obtain. It is a common practice in many parishes that persons who are gluten-intolerant simply make themselves known to the celebrant before Mass. One of those distributing communion is designated to give communion under the form of a low-gluten host to that person. These are often reserved in a separate ciborium in the tabernacle.

The same principle holds true for the wine. For alcoholic priests, or in places like Muslim countries, where wine is forbidden, the Church permits the use of mustum. A document from the liturgical commission of the USCCB states on April 20, 2016:

Mustum is defined as grape juice in which fermentation has begun, but has been suspended with the result that its alcohol content (usually less than 1.0%) does not reach the levels found in most table wines. It should not contain additives, and may be stored through freezing, or other means. The process used for the suspension of fermentation must not alter the nature of the juice in any way. The amount of alcohol needed for validity in mustum is not determined by a minimum percentage or weight. Pasteurized grape juice, in which all alcohol has been evaporated through high temperature preparations, is invalid matter for Mass. In the United States, it is forbidden to sell wine without the addition of sulfates as preservatives. The Church has determined that the very small amount of sulfates is acceptable, and does not make the matter invalid.

Additionally, the questioner’s problem is easily solved as the only person who must receive both forms of the Eucharist is the priest celebrating Mass. Anyone else who has a celiac allergy can receive only the Precious Blood.

The lay faithful who are not able to receive Holy Communion at all under the species of bread, even of low-gluten hosts, may receive Holy Communion under the species of wine only, regardless of whether the Precious Blood is offered to the rest of the faithful present at a given celebration of Mass. (USCCB Instruction)

This can even be done from a separate chalice, even if no else in the congregation receives communion under both kinds.

Similarly, it might be necessary for someone who has permission to receive Holy Communion under the species of wine alone, to prepare before Mass a chalice, which will not be part of the commingling rite, and from which either they alone will receive, or from which they will be the first to receive. Such precautions are not only medically necessary, but they demonstrate compassion to avoid singling out those who want to receive Communion but are unable to receive one or the other species. (USCCB, Instruction)

There is no reason, therefore, for anyone to stay away from Church, or communion, even with a severe allergy. Such a person should bring their situation to the attention of the pastor, who will resolve it easily.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, "Questions Answered".

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Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
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  1. Avatar Giovanni Serafino says:

    It has long been the practice in the USA to only use sacramental wine for the celebration of Holy Mass. In other words, wines which meet the necessary canonical requirements for validity. St Thomas Aquinas indicates what is commonly considered by men as bread and wine is valid matter for the Eucharist. There is a table wine produced by a famous Vineyard in California which has on its label the statement, ” 100% grape wine.” It is my understanding, that California has very strict laws concerning the making of wine. I have tasted it, and in my estimation it is wine. In fact, just as good as my grandfather’s homemade Italian wine. Would this wine be valid for he celebration of Holy Mass?