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  • Melissa Blanco
    Melissa Blanco

    Catholicism and Celiac Disease

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    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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    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.

    How good of you to correct yourself. Not many would be so humble. Kudos!

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    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.

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    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"

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    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.

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    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.

    Thank you for posting about the fullness of the Eucharist, left to us by Christ Himself.

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  • About Me

    Melissa Blanco is a freelance writer and blogger who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007.  You can visit her website at www.melissablanco.com.

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