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Catholicism and Celiac Disease

Celiac.com 12/09/2009 - I vividly recall the day I received my First Communion, the Sacrament a young Catholic child waits years to make.  I still have the group picture of my second grade Catholic School Class; the girls all wearing white dresses with veils, and the boys, suits with clip on neckties.  I stood in the front row beside my friends, excited that our time had arrived—the moment when we were finally able to join our parents in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.

In my family we went to Church every Sunday morning, and celebrated Holy Days, while my parents struggled to put us through Catholic School; paying for our education so we’d learn religious studies along with math, reading, and science.  Both of my parents also attended Catholic School, in a time where most of the educators were Nuns and Brothers.  When I was born, after Vatican 2, the Catholic Church had evolved, in an attempt to grow with a changing society.  The Nuns who taught me in school no long wore their religious habits, but rather, the same clothing as lay teachers; yet always with a crucifix worn over their sweaters and dress shirts.

One of my favorite Church songs was titled Gift of Finest Wheat.  The lines I distinctly remember, and continue singing along with at Church as an adult are, “you satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat,” and “come give to us, oh saving Lord, the Bread of Life to eat.”  Perhaps my second grade class sang Gift of Finest Wheat before receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion, that spring day, many years ago.  I followed the rest of my class toward our Parish Priest, prepared to hear the words, “The Body of Christ,” before I responded with nervousness and reverence, “Amen.”  My hands probably shook while placing the Communion Host in my mouth, tasting the dry unleavened wheat bread.

Twenty five years after receiving my First Holy Communion, I was diagnosed with celiac disease.  In the weeks following this life changing diagnosis, my focus was on the dietary restrictions I would now need to follow in order to heal my body.  Not once did I contemplate the ramifications of my Catholic faith.  In fact, I continued receiving the Communion host for several months, refusing to alter my reception of this central part of my religious life.  When I continued to remain ill, particularly after receiving my weekly Eucharist, I asked a dietitian if I should forgo Communion.  She answered with a sympathetic, “Yes.”  

So what happens when a practicing Catholic learns that the Communion Host, the Body of Christ, the pinnacle of Mass, is making them sick?  According to Cannon 935 of the 1983 Cannon Law, “bread for Communion must be made of wheat alone, and no substitutes which would invalidate the Sacrament.”  In short, the Catholic Church forbids the use of Communion Hosts not made of wheat.  A practicing Catholic may continue to receive Communion through the Blood, or wine, alone—without the Host.  It is also advised that a Parishioner speak with their Priest to see if a separate Chalice is available to avoid cross-contamination, as some still dip the Host into the wine during the sacrament.

The answer seems simple, doesn’t it?  Go to Church and receive Eucharist though the Blood of Christ.  But really—how simple is it to forgo on what always seemed to be an essential part of your upbringing, your past, your faith?  Communicate with your Priest, educate your Eucharistic Ministers, and continue to practice what you believe in.

A helpful website for Catholics with Celiac Disease: www.catholicceliacs.org

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19 Responses:

 
Francie Kelley
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said this on
10 Dec 2009 4:37:49 AM PST
Thank your for your article. So many articles on celiac Catholics and communion focus on rules and not the whole communion experience. From the discussion about nuns without habits I would guess that I am older than you. Therefore, I clearly remember when Catholics were not allowed to receive from the Chalice. I also remember when the rules changed and so many people went to Communion, received the Host and totally bypassed the Chalice. Many older Catholics still do. I have always rationalized that we are doing much the same thing, bypassing the Host and only receiving from the Chalice.

 
Lisa
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said this on
10 Dec 2009 11:17:00 AM PST
You can get low-gluten hosts from The Benedictine Sisters. I use them for holy communion and they don't bother me at all. They are made with less than 0.01% gluten content. Most people with Celiac can have them. For more information contact www.benedictinesisters.org

 
Mary Beth
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said this on
02 Jan 2010 5:53:24 AM PST
About five years ago, I introduced our parish to using these hosts for two members of my family. My husband and daughter have no problem with them, and our priests are very aware and careful not to contaminate them. They (the low-gluten hosts) are always consecrated in a separate pyx on the altar.

 
Ken
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said this on
13 Dec 2009 8:57:54 PM PST
I was raised Roman Catholic, pre-Vatican 2, Catholic school to 10th grade with two years in a preparatory seminary. I became Christian six years ago. You should understand that Jesus is with you regardless of the host being wheat or rice. I go to communion at my church and pass the wafer. I don't feel like I've missed anything. It's coming to dinner with Jesus and my faith tells me he is with me.

 
Isabel
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said this on
18 Dec 2009 11:29:00 AM PST
I have celiac. It's really difficult for others to understand that it is not a matter of being picky about food. It's really frustrating at times.
Nonetheless, I agree with Ken. Your heart is the temple of God and whether you eat the wafer or not, what matters is your relationship with Jesus Christ.

 
Diana
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said this on
01 Jan 2010 10:17:14 PM PST
I am working to have this acceptance as well. I know that holy communion, just as the first Last Supper, is all about being with Jesus. Yet, the author's words echo my silent feelings...it isn't always simple to forgo a practice that has been such a meaningful affirmation of my faith. It does help to know that others who love God are having to make the same adjustment! Thanks for the article!

 
Bull
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said this on
14 Dec 2009 2:55:32 PM PST
There is so much more that you could write about here. The last paragraph sounds a bit more bitter about the Church than the previous ones. For instance, what would you want to discuss when you go to "Communicate with your Priest," or to "educate your Eucharistic Ministers?" What are you referring to when you end with "continue to practice what you believe in."
What about personal experience with pursuing the issue? What did your pastor say to you when you spoke to him about this? Were you the first to identify yourself to him as a person with Celiac Disease? Had he never heard of it before? Did you find your experience with the Catholic Celiacs organization to be adequate?
I worked in the church for years in a prior career and Celiac Disease was something discussed even at a modest-sized parish fifteen years ago. When I first approached our priest this year about my daughter's Celiac Disease, he instantly recognized it and started discussing the specific protocol for taking a low-gluten host at our parish, what to do before Mass, and how to best keep contamination to a minimum. Could you share your story? Is my parish priest an anomoly?
To some of the specifics that you mention, there have been some changes in the past five years with chalices and cups that are of specific interest to Celiac Catholics. The only cup that should come into contact with a host is the chalice that, unless the congregation is quite small, remains on the altar and is not shared. There are specific instances of something called "intinction," which would contaminate a cup for the people, but that's rare and only done with the Presider's specific say so. Also, there is to be no pouring of the Precious Blood after consecration (fair enough if you point out that as a redundant statement), meaning that the Body of Christ will only touch the chalice on the altar. There are issues to discuss here, I'm not trying to gloss over that. But you make it sound like there aren't any answers, or that they are grossly incomplete.

 
Bull
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said this on
17 Dec 2009 2:06:27 PM PST
I need to apologize. My comment came across as much too negative. I'm thankful that you've opened up a huge issue for many folks, our family included. The quote marks were definitely over the top. In my self-centeredness, I think I wanted to direct your article more toward what I would have written. Apparently that's how narcissistic I was feeling that day. I was out of line in my tone and my negative rating. I am still interested in what resolutions you have (or haven't) come to and how you have (or haven't) been accepted by others at your parish.

 
Diana
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said this on
01 Jan 2010 10:09:59 PM PST
Thank you for apologizing. Melissa wrote about a sensitive subject in a sensitive way.

 
Donna
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said this on
03 Jan 2010 7:48:08 AM PST
How good of you to correct yourself. Not many would be so humble. Kudos!

 
Isabel
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said this on
18 Dec 2009 11:30:24 AM PST
Good article. Thanks for your insight.

 
mark
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said this on
02 Jan 2010 10:14:13 AM PST
Thanks for your article. I enjoyed reading it. I grew up catholic and hearing your memory of first communion made me smile. Thanks. More than the technical issues of "not receiving the body", I have always been uncomfortable socially about the issue. I go to a large church and most folks don't know why I'm not taking the host or the bread.... Its always awkward when someone offers and I have to politely turn it down... not sure why. I still participate and know that my heart is right, but it's an interesting social issue for us to deal with.

Thanks again for writing about the issue... it helps to know you're not alone in struggling with the issue and faith.

 
Jill
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said this on
02 Jan 2010 1:31:14 PM PST
Please, please contact the Benedictine Sisters, who provide very-low-gluten communion wafers made entirely from de-glutened wheat starch and water. There is no reason for you to forgo the host.

When I was living in the USA, I didn't go to the same mass every week. The parish priest gave me a pyx, and when I came to mass I took a host from the bag of unconsecrated wafers in my freezer and put it in the pyx, then left the pyx on the altar. When Father saw it there he knew I was in the congregation, included my host in the consecration, and put the entire pyx (avoiding cross-contamination) into the bowl of consecrated hosts. When I came for communion he opened the pyx and upended it to put the host into my hand, and I took the pyx with me. It was elegant, simple for both him and me, and didn't single me out in an embarrassingly obvious way.

Please talk with your parish priest, and don't deprive yourself of Communion!

 
Tracy
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said this on
02 Jan 2010 9:57:39 PM PST
For us Protestants out there, a gluten free communion wafer is available. Ask your priest or pastor.

 
Jennifer
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said this on
03 Jan 2010 6:37:18 PM PST
I am a Catholic Christian daily communicant with Celiac and allergy to wine. It is very important to find a way of receiving Holy Communion. There is a great difference between receiving the Eucharist (the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus) and only having the spiritual presence of Jesus in our hearts. Reception of the Eucharist is the closest union with Jesus which we can experience in this earthly life, and it nourishes and strengthens our union with Him in our hearts.

I use the low-gluten hosts that Lisa mentioned above made by the Benedictine Sisters in Clyde, MO. I have ordered them in some cases, and in other cases the Church office orders them. They are the only ones made in the U.S. approved by the U.S. Bishops for consecration. That a host must be made only of wheat has to do with sacramental theology and the way Jesus instituted the Sacrament, and it is not something the Church can decide differently ... only a host made of wheat will 'work' ... only such a host can actually undergo transubstantiation when the priest says the words of consecration. The low-gluten hosts are shipped with a paper testifying to their legitimacy to use for consecration that you can bring with you when speaking with your parish priest if he has questions. It is only made of wheat (wheat starch - the part of wheat with less gluten), and most of the volume is air bubbles. www.benedictinesisters.org/bread/low_gluten.php 800-223-2772

Some priests are familiar and will tell me just where to put my pyx containing the low gluten host and where to stand to receive. Some are unfamiliar and I explain to keep the host in the pyx and separate from the others. Whether a low-gluten host is used in a parish is a decision left to the pastor, but it is unlikely that once they learn about it they'd choose not to offer you this option. If that were the case (and if you can't receive under the other species), go to the next nearest parish. To receive under the one species or the other is equivalent (either way It is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus). The symbolism is greater if you are able to receive under both Eucharistic species, but there is not a 'splitting' or 'halving' or 'partial' of Jesus if you only receive from the cup or only receive the Host.

 
Maureen
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said this on
29 Aug 2012 8:45:14 AM PST
Thank you for posting about the fullness of the Eucharist, left to us by Christ Himself.

 
Vicki
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said this on
04 Jan 2010 6:47:48 AM PST
My son has celiac and made his first communion this past May. Our priest/church purchased Gluten Free Hosts for us. However, as Lisa indicated above, they may have a very small amount of wheat in them. They are labeled "Gluten Free"

 
Lisa
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said this on
07 Jan 2010 9:31:06 AM PST
Vicki, these hosts made by the Benedictine Sisters are not labeled "gluten free". If they were gluten free they would not be valid for consecration and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops would not approve them for Holy Communion. They are made of wheat starch and water at a dedicated gluten-free facility and contain 0.01% gluten. I hope your pastor isn't ordering "gluten-free" hosts for your son because the lack of wheat/gluten would make it impossible for the pastor to consecrate the hosts validly according to the Catholic Church.

 
Paul
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said this on
08 Jan 2010 10:44:50 PM PST
The Blood of Christ is no less Christ than the Body of Christ.




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