If you're following a gluten free diet out of medical necessity (Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity), fully participating in communion at your church can be tricky. Communion wafers, or hosts, are made using wheat. Some churches even use regular bread instead. So what's a Celiac or gluten sensitive individual to do?
Fortunately, you have several options. Some people choose to bring their own special chalice and only take the wine. Even for Catholics, this is considered acceptable practice, because they believe both the bread (body) and wine (blood) contain the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. You can talk with your pastor or priest about using your own chalice and having the wine in your chalice consecrated alongside the wine in the main chalice.
Another option that's become available in the past few years is purchasing gluten free hosts from the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. This is a group of nuns who, after many years of research, have discovered a way to offer a "low gluten" host that is approved by both the Celiac community and the Catholic Church.
Why not just use gluten free bread or a gluten free cracker, you may wonder? Well, the Catholic Church, in keeping with the belief that Jesus used wheaten bread at the Last Supper, requires that breads used for communion be made with wheat and contain at least a small amount of gluten. What the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have been able to do is find a company that produces wheat starch, which is wheat that has had most of its gluten removed. After much trial-and-error, the Sisters were able to make a wafer with water and this special wheat starch, which contains only the tiniest trace of wheat/gluten. Even the Center for Celiac Research, led by Dr. Alessio Fasano (arguably the world's foremost Celiac expert), has given these "low gluten" hosts their "blessing," since they have been tested and found that the gluten content is less than 0.01%. this represents 100 parts per million, but the more important number is 37 micrograms, because it is a daily exposure to gluten that is relevant. The best current information shows that 10 milligrams per day should be safe, according to the Center. And 10 milligrams is the same as 10,000 micrograms. If you divide 37 micrograms into 10,000 micrograms, you'd find you would have to eat 270 wafers each day to reach the danger point. With one wafer, even daily, you would be consuming only about 0.04% (four tenths of one percent) of the amount considered dangerous. The gluten free wafers are made, stored, and shipped in a designated area free from wheat products.
The cost to purchase these "low gluten" hosts is minimal -- only $5.25 for a bag of 30 (they are also available in quantities of 500). We have been purchasing them for our Celiac son ever since he made his First Communion 3 years ago. My mother-in-law gave him a beautiful, small round case (pyx) to put the host in, and our son places it on the table with all of the other objects for the altar servers to take to the priest at the altar. The priest then consecrates this "low gluten" host during the Mass. If he isn't altar serving himself, our son Ryan will sit with us in the front row of the church to receive communion first from the priest, before he has touched the regular hosts.
Obviously, this involves working closely with your pastor or priest to come up with a system that's best for you. Perhaps your minister prefers to serve the "regular" communion wafers or bread, clean his hands, and serve you or your gluten free family member at the end of communion.
When we travel or visit a church other than our home parish, we aren't always able to talk to a priest before the Mass, and Ryan doesn't go up to take communion. But certainly, with advance planning, it's possible to make things work with either your own chalice or a gluten free host that you bring and pass along to the clergy before the service begins.
As far as I know, there is only one source for these gluten free communion wafers/hosts. We purchase them for ourselves, even though our church typically has their own supply on hand. It just gives us more control and the peace of mind knowing there will be a gluten free host for our son. We keep them stored in our freezer, but they can also be stored at room temperature until the expiration date. You can either take matters into your own hands and order a supply for yourself -- or request that your church purchase them directly through the website above. You can call 800-223-2772 or order right from the website. Have any questions? You can email them at [email protected]
We are encouraging anyone whose church offers gluten free communion (even if you bring the GF wafers yourself) to let others know by sharing a quick "review" on our website, GlutenFreeTravelSite. You'd submit a review just as if you were reviewing a restaurant. Go to Submit Review, choose the location where the church is located, and follow the prompts from there. When you get to the review form, you'll choose "Church" when asked for the type of venue. Then, just fill in the name, address, and phone number of the church -- as well as a couple sentences about how things are handled for gluten free parishoners. This will help Celiacs new to your area, newly diagnosed Celiacs, and gluten free travelers visiting from out of town find a place where they can fully participate in communion.