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More Churches Offering Gluten-free Options at Altar 06/11/2012 - For many religious individuals, eating sacramental bread at the altar to commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus Christ is a cornerstone of religious practice.

Until very recently, nearly every church version of the Eucharist, the holy consumption of bread and wine to honor the body and blood of Christ, featured standard bread or communion wafers that contained gluten. The problem for many with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, is that the only known treatment is to avoid foods containing gluten. That includes bread, pasta, cakes, pizza dough, lunch meat, beer, as well as the bread for the Eucharist.

Photo: CC--York MinisterHowever, with celiac disease and gluten-intolerance on the rise, and with awareness of both of these condition also on the rise, many churches are moving to make accommodations for these people.

Led by a few churches at the vanguard, more and more churches are making moves to accommodate the growing numbers of people with gluten-intolerance by offering gluten-free variations on the traditional loaf of bread or communion wafer.

"It's another way we can welcome people to the table," said Glenn Catley, senior pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Salisbury, UK.

The church's annual meeting has offered a gluten-free bread for years, he said. But it wasn't until about a year ago that the church began doing the same during its Communion.

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In addition to the wheat or pita bread available at most of the serving stations, parishioners may also opt for rice cakes. Dietary accommodation is something of a tradition in the Methodist church, Catley noted.

Among Protestants, offering gluten-free bread for communion seems to pose little, if any, religious consternation, the bread and the wine merely represent the body and blood of Christ.

To Roman Catholics, however, who believe that the bread and wine, with the priest's blessing, are actually transformed into the savior's body and blood, the adoption of completely gluten-free offerings has caused issues.

That is because church doctrine requires bread made from unleavened wheat, as they believe Jesus used at the Last Supper.

Even though church advocates downplay any controversy, and note that parishioners may still receive the full sacrament by drinking the wine, efforts are being made to provide a full sacrament to those with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance.

To that end, nuns at the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri have created an extremely low-gluten wafer that is now being offered by numerous Catholic churches.

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7 Responses:

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said this on
11 Jun 2012 5:44:42 AM PST
O ye of little faith... We ask the Lord to bless the bread and wine. If He has truly blessed it -and why not if we ask in faith?- it won't harm us. When he fed the 5000 do you suppose some of the bread was gluten free? He blessed the fish and the loaves and the multitude was filled!

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said this on
20 Jun 2012 8:07:24 AM PST
I tried that but I became very sick with severe abdominal pain and nausea. I ended up in bed.

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said this on
11 Jun 2012 8:06:10 AM PST
This was not an issue when my youngest was diagnosed with celiac disease; prior to receiving her First Communion I asked our Parish Priest about the availability of gluten-free hosts. No mention of the Roman Catholic Church not allowing it; they provide it at Mass every week. He keeps it on the altar from the first Mass until he sees us.

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said this on
18 Jun 2012 2:24:39 PM PST
Good subject. Our church provides a gluten-free option, but there is always cross-contamination so I just don't do communion at church.

I've been working with Celebration Cups and Ener G Foods with the hope that they can make a gluten-free wafer in a sealed single serve container with grape juice that's totally safe from cross contamination.

Contact Celebration Cups if you'd like to see this happen. They need to know there is a need.

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said this on
18 Jun 2012 3:30:50 PM PST
Thanks for writing on this subject. I attend Greek Orthodox Services who seem to have similar viewpoint as Roman Catholics. I would like to learn if Orthodox churches have tried a gluten-free communion option.

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said this on
18 Jun 2012 5:45:41 PM PST
At my Catholic parish, we provide our own hosts from those nuns, and each of us is given the host in our own personal pyx (container) so that it does not get contaminated. Then those of us who have celiac drink from a specific cup of wine from which no one else has drunk, also to avoid contamination. It seems to work pretty well. There is still a lot of education needed among Catholic priests, however.

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said this on
20 Jun 2012 7:29:15 AM PST
The "sacrament" at my Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints avoids cross contamination by preparing ours first (gluten-free), before they break and bless the regular bread used.
It is handled so well. The Deacon with the gluten-free tray takes it around, (as others pass to the congregants) to those that have wheat issues. I'm so glad to receive it, a small piece of rice cake from a tray of broken pieces. Our tradition, that of "breaking" what is used, symbolizes Christ's flesh, of which we renew our remembrance. I am blessed by the sensitivity of leaders who have cared to make this easy for us.

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