Parishes provide Communion options to those with gluten intolerance

ROOSEVELT, N.Y. (CNS) -- At Christ the King Church in Commack, a man receives Communion only in the form of wine. At St. Christopher's Church in Baldwin, a girl does the same.

They are only two of many Catholics on Long Island who are taking advantage of the Communion options available to people living with celiac disease or other gluten intolerances.

People who live with celiac disease are unable to digest gluten, a type of protein commonly found in grains such as rye, barley and wheat. There also are people who live with nonceliac gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity whose health can be adversely affected by gluten.

Guidance from the Secretariat of Divine Worship at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains that "from the time that the Lord Jesus took bread and wine and told his disciples, 'Do this in memory of me,'" the church "has tried faithfully to fulfill Christ's command by taking unleavened bread made from water and wheat flour, and wine made from grapes for use at the Eucharist."

Although canon law requires that the host be made with wheat flour, which contains gluten, the church makes it possible for most people with gluten intolerance to receive the Eucharist in a way that is not harmful to them.

According to guidelines adopted by the Rockville Centre Diocese in 2004, people with celiac disease or other forms of gluten intolerance might receive a small amount of a regular host; use a low-gluten host; or receive Communion under the form of wine only. Those who cannot risk ingesting even a tiny bit of gluten can ask the priest to consecrate some wine in a separate chalice.

Father Brian McQuade, parochial vicar at Christ the King, put an announcement in the bulletin inviting any parishioners with a gluten intolerance to speak to a priest. "My goal was to welcome people to come up to us" and figure something out together, he said.

It's important for Catholics "to know they have an option," he told The Long Island Catholic, Rockville Centre's diocesan newspaper.

At St. Lawrence the Martyr Church in Sayville, "we have been offering low-gluten hosts for only a few months now," said Father Brian Ingram, "but the parishioners who receive them have expressed a genuine gratitude that the parish is trying to respond to their medical condition.

"It seems that in recent years, a greater number of people are being diagnosed with either celiac disease or some form of gluten intolerance, so the staff at St. Lawrence thought it important to offer a Communion host that these parishioners could receive without aggravating their symptoms," he said.

"The church does insist that at least a minute amount of wheat flour be used in the host in order for it to be considered valid matter for the sacrament," Father Ingram added. "The (low-gluten) hosts we purchase come from a group of Benedictine sisters in the Midwest. They contain only a fractional amount of wheat flour, less than 1 percent, and are approved by the USCCB."

Anyone who cannot consume a regular wheat host can receive Communion only from the chalice, Father Ingram said, since "the eucharistic Lord is entirely present in either the consecrated bread or wine."

Father McQuade said that in his previous assignment at St. Christopher's Church in Baldwin, "we did keep a supply of low-gluten hosts on hand" and there were several parishioners who took advantage of it, stopping by the rectory ahead of Mass to let the parish priests know they would be receiving Communion.

For those who could not consume even a minute amount of gluten, "we also gave them the option to receive only from the chalice if they wanted," he said.

"I had a young lady who from the fourth grade on (had a severe gluten intolerance) and she had her very own chalice," Father McQuade said. "Eventually she became an altar server and she would come up and receive with the extraordinary ministers."

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