Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Years ago there was a large article in the newspaper about a family who left the Catholic Church just as their daughter was about to receive her First Communion. The girl had celiac disease, a disease that is just starting to come into the public conscience now but was virtually unheard of then. If you want to know more about the disease please look here – but the long and short of it is that celiac cannot have any gluten which is part of wheat, rye, and barely. If you know someone who has this disease you know that there are significant lifestyle changes that are required of this person. Think of everything we eat that is made of these grains and think of a restaurant menu and consider how difficult it would be for this person to enjoy going out with friends. Think of going on a picnic and not eating the chips and salsa, the birthday cake, drinking a beer, or many of the processed foods that most people don’t think twice about eating unless they are watching their waist line. And this list doesn’t even include other things to look out for such as medicines, lip balms, and vitamins which often contain gluten.

So back to the little girl. The family left the Catholic Church because at the time there was no alternative to receiving the host except for receiving the Precious Blood alone (which is perfectly acceptable.) But not wanting their daughter to stick out, they chose to leave the Church and go to a Protestant Church that did celebrate communion but was not so picky about of what it was made.

I remember thinking, “How could someone leave Jesus for a symbol?” It was beyond my ken and I partially wrote it off thinking, “If they truly knew what they were giving up, this would not have happened.” Well, that may be theologically true, but like trying to take a celiac to a fast food restaurant, the stress that the situation can cause may be quite trying for them. For that family it was easier to leave.

One of the biggest problems is that celiacs and their doctors are largely flying blind. There just isn’t enough known. Can the itsiest, teeniest, tiny bit of glutton be Okay? “Probably,” says one doctor. “Probably?” Would you be comfortable with “Probably?” If someone handed you a pill and said, “It probably won’t kill you,” would you take it? At least you would think twice. There is a question as to whether beer is safe. Can celiacs drink beer? We don’t know for absolute sure

Now the Catholic celiac comes to Mass. One option is of course to only receive from the chalice. Fine. As long as it isn’t the chalice into which the priests puts a crumb of the host during the fraction rite. (This is not something to worry about at Saint Sebastian.)

Another option is a gluten free host – which I believe is actually a virtually glutton free host. Is it Okay? Maybe. But here is the trick – how do you get the gluten free host the Catholic celiac? You cannot put their host in among the other hosts (there is less gluten in a gluten free host than there is in a tiny crumb of a regular host.) It had been our practice to have persons with celiac disease to come up into the sanctuary with the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to receive – which worked great with those we had who are rather self-confident people and have no problem standing up in front of so many people. But now we have a few more joining us – some kids – and this is not such a great option.

HERE IS WHERE I COULD USE SOME HELP: Do you have any suggestion as to the best way to get gluten free hosts to Catholic celiacs? The first trick is making sure you show up on time to warn the priest that one is needed. Then where are they distributed? One should not be handling regular hosts and then when the person comes forward, wash your hands, dig out a pyx (setting the ciborium down somewhere,) distribute, and then go back to what you were doing before. (Or do you?) If a separate line is needed how do you keep non-celiacs from receiving thereby short changing someone who needs it? It may be that I am over thinking it. *sigh* But just the same – if you have any ideas I would greatly appreciate hearing about it.



Adoro said...

OK, two things:

The first is this: there are different degrees of celiac disease. I know a religious sister who has it but can receive Holy Communion just fine with no problems. She can also occasionally have bread (although that will "cost" her!)

The second is this, and it's what Father does at the parish where I work.

He asks people who have celiac to tell him prior to Mass so that he can put the hosts in a little pix which he sets on the altar near but separate from the other hosts.

When that person arrives for Communion (they are instructed to receive only from him), if he doesn't remember they should whisper "gluten free" and he will offer the pix. The unfortunate part here is that then they must, in a way, self-communicate since he can't touch that host. However by offering it in the pix he still says "The body of Christ", and I think there might only be at most, one person per Mass who need this.

It's not ideal, but it seems to work, they don't stand out, etc. And it could be that most simply receive the Precious Blood.

I so far have not had any children with celiac come through 1st Communion, although some of their parents are and highly sensitive. one leaving the Church for it.

lgreen515 said...

Have the celiacs receive at the back of the church from the EMHCs who are going up to the choir loft. Perhaps a special station could be set up so that they would have someplace to put the ciborium while offering the non-gluten host.

Karen said...

What seems to happen in my parish is that a supply of consecrated hosts are kept in the tabernacle. People who need these wait until communion is almost over and go wait by the tabernacle (which is kind of off to the side at a side altar). There is also a dish of water there for all the EMHCs/ priests to rinse their fingers, so they rinse their fingers and retrieve the hosts and give communion.

It seems to work quite well in my parish as there is already a communion line there anyway, so you only notice what is happening if you are watching and have some knowledge. But this plan may not work quite as well in parishes with other setups.

Anonymous said...

Are you saying gluten free hosts or low gluten? My understanding was that the host HAD to be made of wheat - no wheat - no body of Christ .
My friends recieve from the chalice - no host!

Gabriel said...

I've been diagnosed with celiac disease for about four years now and, as a daily communicant, have had to deal with it a few different ways.

At my family's parish in Cleveland and at my own parish in Toledo, I simply receive from the chalice. Despite my theological formation, I found this to still be a frustrating arrangement at first, but it has really made me appreciate the Precious Blood poured out for us on the cross in a way that I had not before.
Latin Masses are unsurprisingly harder to handle. These work best with the priest holding a small pix under the ciborium and administering the low-gluten host from there as he works his way down the communion rail. The downside with this is that there is no hand-washing, so an extremely sensitive celiac would have problems.
It was until I started teaching and was attending daily Mass at the school that I've really been pleased with the solution found. Each day, the priest consecrates only one low-gluten host for me in a medicine cup in his ciborium (I suppose some priests might not be pleased with this - but the Jesuits don't mind). When I come forward, he simply takes the host from the medicine cup and administers it to me. Because I'm not extremely sensitive, he can touch it with unwashed hands and I can receive on the tongue. A more sensitive celiac could receive by simply having the host "poured" from the cup into their hands or onto their tongue. Having gotten used to this, I really miss being able to receive under both species when I am not at school. The downside here is that this method would be fair more difficult if I was not the only celiac at Mass.
The least ideal approach is probably having the celiacs come forward with the EMs. My brother was diagnosed at birth and he really didn't feel comfortable doing that when he was younger.

I don't really think there's an easy solution here. Whatever effort the parish or priest makes to be hospitable, some sacrifice is probably still necessary on the part of the celiac. The size of the parish and the number of celiacs should guide what approach is taken. The Holy Spirit always has a plan!

Anonymous said...

At my parish (I'm in New Jersey) people who have Celiac's receive before the rest of the congregation. They are instructed to come to the foot of the altar as the priest is distributing the Eucharist to the EM's. Once the Celiac parishioners receive, the rest of us begin to come to the altar.

It works out really well. We've had more people approach the altar for communion since we started doing it that way. (we used to have people with Celiac's join the EM's on the altar - that was very uncomfortable for some, especially the kids.)

Our priests always have about 6 or 7 low gluten hosts at each Sunday Mass. Any hosts that are left are kept in a special pyx in tabernacle.

If you do have people with Celiac's receive first, make sure you explain the procedure once in awhile. If not, you will hear some comments from people who are wondering why a certain group always gets in front of the line.

If someone with Celiac's is extremely sensitive, it might be best for them to receive the precious blood.

Sharon said...

How do the Orthodox churches deal with this problem?

Anonymous said...


I forgot to add something that you might find helpful. My pastor invited everyone with Celiac's to come to a meeting where they discussed the best way to distribute the low gluten hosts.

Anonymous said...

The diocesan website (CLE) has information on this. The hosts to be used can be low gluten (00.01% gluten) but not zero gluten.

The most obvious solution is for the gluten intolerant person to receive only from the cup. This should be a fairly easy thing to do.

Some gluten intolerant people also have a reaction from the wine for some reason. Something to do with the mold that grows on grape skins. For them the low-gluten host might be the only alternative.

The discussion with the presider, sacristan or parish liturgist should take place during the week and not "right before mass," because that is a very busy time.

Interestingly, we have an old unused "intinction set" here. When you remove the little cup from the middle it looks like a segmented or partitioned place. We could put the normal hosts around the outside and put the low gluten host in the middle. It would not touch the other hosts. If the person is so intolerant and he/she could not even have the EM's hands touch the low gluten host, it seems to be a fairly serious enough situation to permit the person to self-communicate.

Fr. V said...

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who responded to this post either here or in private. It is a GREAT help.

God bless!

Fr. V

Anonymous said...

When I was younger I use to go up with the EMs, but then my parish decided to start distributing the Precious Blood, and I was told just to receive with the rest of the congregation.
This was fine at first, but then other communicants started to move out of the way, so that I could recieve first and that makes me feel really awkward and like Im messing everything up.
When I go to Latin Mass, the preist will have a low-gluten host in a small pix which he holds under the ciborium and I just recieve from that. I guess this would not work for extremely sensitive celiacs who cannot have the priest touch the host.

Anonymous said...

I know some have mentioned that people could just recieve the Precious Blood but my sisiter has celiac and she can't do this unless she is the very first person to recieve because even a few crumbs from someone elses mouth can leave her with stomach pains for days. She still goes to Mass but basically has stopped recieveing which makes me very sad.

Carol said...

I'm thinking a Spiritual Communion is no less holy (to the LORD, that is --after all, millions of dead to whom He descended never received Him in the two Species!) and could thus both sustain and act as Viaticum for the most sensitive celiac sprue sufferers. For Pete's sake, the Cross was 50,000 times humanly worse than an allergic reaction. If I were a celiac sufferer, I'd get to Mass early, be the first in line by prior notification, and partake of His Precious Blood-- only on Sunday (to decrease chances of a reaction). Millions of Catholics at one time could not communicate daily, after all.

I'm sorry, someone had to say this, and I'm surprised no one did.

Unknown said...

I have a very serious case of Celiac disease. A small crumb will make me very sick. However, from the very beginning I have always been able to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. I am a daily communicant and I have no difficulties. After all, once the host is consecrated it is no longer bread, it is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord. Now maybe it is just a special grace for me because I am allergic to red wine, but again, I can receive the Precious Blood with no problems. I know many others who also have no difficulty in receiving Holy Communion, but have Celiac disease. I think it is very sad to see people leave the Church over this issue. Maybe that is the reason for this daily miracle, to show that He takes care of everything.

Celiac disease home test said...

Well said! Love the picture at the end! Having celiac doesn't give us the right to be mean.

Celiac Disease Home Test said...

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