Gluten-free Communion

A reader sent me a question about being gluten-free and taking communion.  It’s such an interesting topic, I decided to make a whole blog post about it.  First, I’ll write what I do, then follow that up with a number of alternate ideas.

My church celebrates communion only once a month.  We pass plates containing wafers — which are really oyster crackers — and mini-cups of grape juice.  (Vineyards aren’t known for their formality, after all!!)  I partake.  Here are the things that led me to my decision:

  1. I pick one out that is broken.  I literally pray as I do, “I believe; help my unbelief.”  In other words, I so want to take the Body of Christ into mine, and I have faith that He’s not going to do me harm.  But, at the same time, I don’t want to go foolishly ingesting a bunch of gluten.  So, each time I take communion, I pray — right then — that the Father would protect me from its ill effects, or quickly heal any adverse reaction.
  2. I have read (though I can’t find it right now) that a healthy celiac’s body can typically weather a storm of 1/8 gram of gluten and not suffer ill effects.  A whole saltine is roughly 3 grams.  Imagine a saltine cut into 24 pieces.  My broken piece of oyster cracker is likely not much larger than that.  I figure that communion is one more reason for me to be 100% faithful to the gluten-free diet, so incidental exposure, like in communion, isn’t difficult on my body.
  3. Plus… once a month, tops, is not much exposure, even if it does do me harm!  I sometimes miss communion anyways, due to taking care of my crying baby in the nursery, or I’m off in the children’s ministry leading worship, or I’m home that Sunday with a sick child…  So, I probably only take communion twice every three months, at most.
Ener-G gluten-free communion wafers

Ener-G gluten-free communion wafers

By nature, I’m the sort who doesn’t like to raise a fuss over myself.  If I were, I might insist on gluten-free communion wafers.  Here in the U.S., the easiest brand to find is Ener-G, and they’re available from many online retailers.  They’re about $8-9 for a pack of 50.  Alternately, if I went to a smaller church, I would probably buy them myself for everyone to take.

(I’ve also been to two different Lutheran churches who — as their own standard — have g.f. communion wafers.)

I’ve also read that a number of other people take their own bit of wafer, g.f. bread, or just a piece of rice cake with them, and use that for the Eucharist — either serving themselves in their own seat, or giving it to the pastor/priest beforehand, or whatever fits in with the communion protocol of their particular church.  (There are some ideas here.)

However, it just might not be something that you can work out with your priest/pastor.  In other words s/he might be unable or unwilling to make an exception for your diet.  In the mid-1990’s, the Vatican barred celiacs from serving as priests (really!) because according to the Catholic church, communion wafers must contain gluten.  (Read more about celiac Catholicism here.)

If some apparently unworkable situation is the case with you, don’t let it stumble you.  God the Father knows your heart.  Pray about it, and I’m sure you can come to peace before Him regarding communion.

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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on February 9, 2009, in Celiac Disease, Christian Living, Christianity, Encouragement, Giving searchers answers, gluten-free, Gluten-Free and Food Allergy Resources, God/Christianity/Church, Medical Stuff, Vineyard, Vineyard Phoenix, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Who knew…GF communion wafers! Thanks for addressing this for me. I’m still praying my boys grow out of their wheat allergy by the time communion is appropriate for them…but this gives me some ideas until then.
    Tina

  2. Having taken communion many places around the world, I’m not so hung up on what the elements are as I am that the symbolism is understood.

    I remember in Mongolia taking communion with Russian black bread and strawberry soda. That’s what the people had, that’s what we ate!

    And I totally believe that God honored that.

    I’ve heard that in places that do not have bread (like in Paupa New Guinea) they take it with fruit and water.

    I had never heard that the bread must contain gluten! I’m going to have to go read that. Sounds so strange!

  3. I was actually just thinking about this THIS morning. I don’t know why it popped into my head but it got me wondering just the same. How strange that you post about it on the same day.

    My church (protestant) uses actual loaves of bread (breaking bread together) so it would be more dicey for a celiac (I’m just intolerant so I’m okay for a bite or two). However, we either break off our own piece or a neighbor breaks one for you, so it is possible to get a VERY small piece.

    I’d think that it would be more tricky in Catholic mass with the Host and usually a whole lot more people than my tiny congregation has on a Sunday.

  4. The idea of communion wafers called Ener-G does my head in a little! The Catholic problem is one of those occasions when the Vatican cleaves relentlessly and literally the word of the Bible (the link is weirdly fascinating for me as an unrepentant apostate).

  5. As a Catholic (with a celiac child rapidly approaching First Communion) I’ve researched this issue a lot.

    Catholics take communion every week (and can daily if you go to mass that frequently).

    We believe in transfiguration, through which the Holy Spirit actually enters the host (wafers and wine). We do not believe that communion is symbolic or simply a (prayerful)reminder of the Last Supper.

    We also can take either wafer or wine as a complete communion. Celiacs have to be extra careful to not take the wine from the Priests chalice because it will have the crumb residue from the wafers (we do not waste or throw out even the crumbs during communion because of transfiguration). However, it is possible to safely take the communion wine and remain in full communion.

    Also, the Benedictine Sisters (http://www.benedictinesisters.org/bread/low_gluten.php) make a VERY low gluten host which is made from using water and wheat starch. The resulting gluten content is .01%. This wafer qualifies under Vatican guidelines for a gluten containing host. For new celiacs, or those not yet healed, only the wine should be consummed. Once a celiac is healthy, this low gluten host should work out well.

    I struggle at Hubs church (where we also go weekly), they do communion only once a month and that goes against the very core of my beliefs. I also have a difficult time with broken crackers (which aren’t blessed) and juice being used in communion. Communion seems impersonal and symbolic instead of a sacrament.

    • I think its odd how the Catholic Church must stick to a gluten based wafer during mass, without providing the option of a simple rice based wafer for those who are gluten intolerant.

      I think its also funny how they are so rigid in that point, but yet consider receiving the bread by itself, or the wine by itself, as complete communion!

      Jesus served both to his disciples!

  6. In our church–Eastern Catholic–we use leavened bread, which is put in a cup with the wine during the transubstantiation.

    The bread is called ‘prosphora’ and is usually baked by a parishioner. I was recently asked by my priest to try to devise a gluten-free prosphora loaf, which is tricky, because the recipe calls for flour, water, salt and yeast. That’s it. One is not supposed to put in additives such as eggs or oil, which are common in gluten-free breads. Additionally, the loaf is “stamped” before baking, and are supposed to keep the impression of the stamp during baking, and GF breads are often batter breads, which would not take to the stamping! I’m still puzzling over how to do this, exactly.

    I simply ask the priest to give me the wine from the cup (we receive fropm a spoon), and though the wine has been co-mingled with bread, i have yet to have a reaction. But then, I am gluten-intolerant, not celiac, as far as I know.

  7. Karen, I just learned today at church that our deacon board has approved a complete switch to GF wafers for the whole church for communion. I was thrilled when I heard that! I had brought it to someone’s attention at the end of January, just in case we could get it addressed before communion, which is the first Sunday evening every month, but it didn’t happen. Hopefully we’ll be able to get all of the product needed for next Sunday. If not, I’m still thrilled that they recommended making the switch as a congregation! 🙂

  8. Hi — So I am not Catholic… but I did go to some great Catholic Schools and currently live in the Rio Grand Valley which is probably 60% Catholic…
    Anyway, was wondering if you heard about the Corpus Christi Bishop’s recent blurb regarding “People with Celiac”, which he placed on his list regarding temporary Clergy practice directives due to the Flu scare.
    I have posted it on my site at: http://www.gluten-freesimplicity.com/?p=2110
    I would be interested to hear your thoughts…

  9. My girls just celebrated Catholic-Christian First Communion with our special Low Gluten Hosts (less than .01ppm), it is made by the Benedictine Sisters for parishioners who have Celiac. At our parish, the gf peeps use a PYX (a small, metal container) to place their low gluten host in prior to transubstantiation (the Vatican requires, due to tradition that all host contain gluten… this is so low that it doesn’t seem to bother even some of the most sensitive people and still meets Vatican requirements and is approved for use in Catholic Eucharist). Anyway, for anyone wondering about this, you can find the low gluten hosts at http://altarbreadsbspa.com/lowgluten.php
    All I had to do was talk with our parish, which already had plans in place including pyx (http://www.catholiccompany.com/catholic-catalog/886/Pyx/?aid=117) and low gluten hosts.

    Anyway, I hope this helps any other Catholic-Christians out there wondering how to handle communion.

    • Thanks for the info, Jamie!!! I had heard about the low-gluten hosts… How wonderful that your church was able to accomodate your needs! And congrats to your girls, as well. 🙂

  10. Do I think that Christians should try to follow communion/mass/eucharist closely to how Christ implemented it? Yes.
    Unleavened bread and grape wine? Yes.
    Do I think God honours the act if it is not exactly the same? … Rice wafers and Welch’s Grape Juice? Yes !
    Why? Because of our Faith! “Do this in rememberance of Me.” …. Key word being, ……… REMEMBERANCE.
    Christ wasn’t about the picky religiousness we have today over whether the host has to have gluten or not.
    Are Protestant Christians passionate about Christ? Yes!
    Are Catholic Christians passionate about Christ? Yes!

    Are we all going to be rejoicing in heaven together someday, whether we used gluten wafers or rice wafers? Yes!

    Therefore does it matter if the host has gluten in it or rice? Only if you want to make a big deal out of it!

    God honours the motives of our hearts! Let us all honour Christ in our own way and tradition, but lets not get too hung up on the microscopic details!

    God is a merciful, understanding, and LOVING God!

    • Would you honour your young child if they gave you a mess of a crayon scribble drawing as a gift to you?

      Or if they picked a handful of dandelions to give as a gift of flowers?

      Would you HONOUR and thank your young child if they made you orange juice by way of a pitcher of water and 3 floating oranges? And cornflour pancakes because they mistook the cornflour for baking flour?

      Of course you would!

      If we as humans in our understanding can accept a gift like this from our own children, how much more would GOD honour us with our motives and intentions if we serve communion with crackers and grape juice in rememberance of Christ!

      GOD loves us so infinetly that we can’t even comprehend the fullness of it!

      This is why Protestant Christians and Catholic Christians will rejoice together in heaven someday!

      How awesome is that!

      • Jordan… I’m not quite certain what to think about this barrage of comments.

        But you may want to consider getting your own blog. 😉

        When one fills a comment (or three) with lots of caps, exclamation points, and pointed, challenging questions, it can be read as being imflammatory and/or argumentative. I do agree with everything you’ve written. But tone, body language (when applicable!), punctuation (when applicable!), word choice, phrasing, etc., also plays into what you say. I have no issue with your passion, but I would caution you to be mindful that when you speak, passion can often trample over people with… more delicate personalities than yours. People tend to get turned off from content, and not unreasonably so, because of the method of delivery.

        ~Karen

        • Perhaps you should re-read my posts.
          I can’t imagine phrasing what I said any more gently and accomodating, as well as decribing my views on the issue of communion from a protestant standpoint.

          • Then it’s a good thing we agree on the core of what you postulate. I would hate to hear how you speak to your detractors.

            Here are my “problems” with the way you’ve written, and what you’ve written:

            It seems to me as if you’re not conversing; you’re preaching. You’re correcting. You’re asserting. Blog comments are generally for people to share their thoughts regarding the topic at hand, moderated by the person who owns the blog. Most of the comments you made, and the questions you posed, and the challenges you made were tangential to the purpose of the original post.

            It’s pretty standard net etiquette not to pose new questions and then answer them yourself. Nor is it particularly proper — at least not on my blog! — to undermine the basis of the comments of others; I’m not holding debate here. Discussion, yes. Debate, no.

            I also consider it of concern when you refuse to understand that your comments are inflammatory. For instance, directly in response to Jamie, a Catholic Christian, you referred to the Catholic church as “odd”, “funny”, and “rigid” (in quotes, because those are the words you chose). Not cool.

            My point of this post was not to decide which “stream” or denomination of Christianity has it “right”. My desire was to encourage communicants to find a way to partake, even if it means jumping through a few hurdles to do so. In fact, please re-read my last sentences:

            If some apparently unworkable situation is the case with you, don’t let it stumble you. God the Father knows your heart. Pray about it, and I’m sure you can come to peace before Him regarding communion.

        • Hello again Karen.

          I should apologize, perhaps in my haste to explain my opinions, I had gone a wee bit off to the side.

          Its just that I felt bothered by the fact that our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ who are gluten/celiac have been put in this situation where Church Authorities demand that communion wafers HAVE to contain wheat.
          It makes it unfair to these guys, and it bothers me that they have to find an alternative, such as .01% gluten wafers.

          Personally I don’t think Christ would have had a big issue about it. But it sorta has become an issue, and it really doesn’t need to be an issue for our celiac/gluten friends. It just seems that it has been made an issue by the Church Authorities.
          Do I respect these Church Authorities, absolutely.
          Do I disagree with them, sure, but with a valid reason in my personal opinion.

          As for the comment about the Catholic Church being “odd” “rigid” and “funny” , this was in respect to the rules of partaking in mass.
          Respectfully, I really think I had a good point there. Taking wine without the host? Or vice versa?
          It just makes me uncomfortable and I think Christ would want our catholic friends to receive both.
          This wasn’t meant to be an insult, and I’m sorry if you perceived it as such. However, it is my opinion and I’ll stick to that.

          But anyways, I think its great that the Catholic Church has worked a way for our celiac/gluten sensitive friends to partake in mass fully.
          I’m sure it has been a blessing for those folks who were searching for it!

          So with that said, again I apologize to you Karen,
          and for not staying with the original point of the post.

          Blessings,

          Jordan

  11. Thanks for the info. I would like to link this to my blog.

  1. Pingback: Texas Bishop Includes “Celiac” in Special “Swine Flue Directive” - Gluten-Free Simplicity

  2. Pingback: What About Church? | Celia Celiac | CeliaCeliac.com

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