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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
Celiac.com 01/06/2010 - I’ve always loved the season of Advent—the beauty of a new beginning—of celebrating the birth of Jesus. Each Sunday of December, as I watch another candle burning within the Advent wreath, I am reminded of those early years in my youth when I anticipated Christmas by observing the candles on the wreath; two purples, a pink, and lastly, another purple. As children, we always knew, when the final purple candle was lit, Christmas would soon arrive. As I sat in my Church pew this Christmas Eve, I marveled at the large trees lit by white lights, amid a backdrop of fresh poinsettias, along with the smell of incense accompanying our Parish Priest to the altar. I joined the Children’s Choir in singing the beautiful Christmas Carols I still remember brilliantly from my Catholic School days—“Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” and “We Three Kings.” I found my eyes filling with tears thinking of family members who live far away, loved ones who have gone before us, and those of our military who are celebrating the holidays away from their spouses and children. I smiled watching youth from the Faith Formation program convene on the Altar dressed as Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, and the three wise men, one of which had a very impressive beard attached to his innocent face. After publishing my article titled, Catholicism and Celiac Disease, I was amazed and humbled by the number of responses received from celiac sufferers and their family members. I realized that my first article was just that—a first article—because a second one became necessary in order to pass on information which so many other Catholic celiacs deserve the opportunity to hear. What began as a very personal and profound journey for me has become a chance to help others who are finding peace amid a life altering diagnosis. The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, in an effort to help Catholics with celiac disease, have developed a low gluten communion host which still satisfies the Code of Cannon Law stating that Eucharist hosts must be made of water and wheat. Their website states, “Our low gluten bread is made with wheat starch and water. The gluten content is 0.01%. It is made, stored, and shipped in a dedicated gluten-free environment.” The Benedictine Sisters have served over 2,000 Catholics with gluten intolerance, and because of the extremely low gluten content, it appears to be perfectly safe for most celiacs. Their website contains a link to their low gluten host order form. Many Priests, Parishes, and Diocese are now accepting the substitution of traditional Eucharist with these low gluten hosts, developed by the Benedictine Sisters. I advise anyone desiring to receive Eucharist through both the Body and Blood of Christ to speak with your Pastor, and share your diagnosis to find if this option is possible in your Parish. What an amazing opportunity for Catholic Celiacs. I thank those who commented on my first article—noting that their bodies tolerated the low gluten host, and their Priests were open to offering this special host at Holy Communion. If the low gluten host is not an option for your weekly sacrament, please remember some other important advice I was given, Jesus knows your body and what is in your heart. Partaking of Communion through the Blood of Christ is still a full participation of the Holy Sacrament. This spring I will proudly stand behind my son as he receives his First Holy Communion. I am once again reminded of that day long ago when I received the Sacrament for the first time. I pray that he will always find the comfort I have in the love surrounding him each week when he attends Mass. Helpful websites for Catholics with Celiac Disease: Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration : www.benedictinesisters.org Catholic Celiac Society: www.catholicceliacs.org