Mary Lee Rossmaessler — who has celiac disease, a problem with gluten — has a special arrangement for communion at St. Dennis Catholic Church in Madison.
She avoids taking a wafer and drinks out of a separate cup. Sometimes other people dip wafers, containing gluten, in the common cup or discharge particles into it. “That contaminates the wine for a celiac,” Rossmaessler said.
Providing communion to worshipers who avoid gluten for medical reasons has become a delicate balance for churches, which address the issue in a variety of ways.
Catholic churches aren’t allowed to use gluten-free bread or wafers because “it is impossible to consecrate a host made of something other than wheat and water,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Low-gluten wafers approved by the Catholic church are available at some places, including the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Missouri. The wafers contain trace amounts of gluten, which some people with gluten intolerance can eat but others still avoid.
Some parishes, such as St. Maria Goretti and Our Lady Queen of Peace in Madison, offer low-gluten wafers purchased from the Benedictine Sisters.
“We always have them on hand,” said Renee Forrest, director of liturgy and pastoral music at Our Lady Queen of Peace. About 10 people take low-gluten wafers each weekend, she said.
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Waunakee doesn’t provide low-gluten wafers. But it reserves the chalice, containing wine considered precious blood after consecration, for people with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities, said the Rev. Jim Gunn.
Other worshipers at St. John receive only the host, Gunn said. Having either the body or blood of Christ is considered a full communion, he said.
Other denominations, such as Lutherans and Methodists, permit gluten-free bread or wafers.
Asbury United Methodist Church in Madison has provided gluten-free bread for at least a year, with a handful of people requesting it each monthly communion, said Terry Hummel, administrative assistant to the pastor.
Lakeview Lutheran Church in Madison, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, started providing gluten-free wafers about two years ago, said the Rev. Dean Kirst. Six regular worshipers take them, he said.
Augsburg Fortress, the ELCA publishing house in Minneapolis, sells gluten-free wafers.
“But I buy them on Amazon.com,” Kirst said. “It’s cheaper.”