Churches help worshipers seeking gluten-free communion

2014-02-23T07:00:00Z Churches help worshipers seeking gluten-free communionDAVID WAHLBERG | Wisconsin State Journal | dwahlberg@madison.com | 608-252-6125 madison.com

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.”

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(7) Comments

  1. LEEM
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    LEEM - February 27, 2014 8:57 am
    Ok everyone - I'm putting this to rest. I have been receiving The Holy Eucharist via consecrated wine for 22 years. Juan Diego is correct with what he has last posted. However, I also made a choice not to have a low gluten host due to other gut issues. I have never been denied the Holy Eucharist as all churches in the Diocese of Madison will offer that or, as the article says, a low gluten host. Although the bread and wine are consecrated and become the Body and Blood of Christ, they also retain their physical components. That is from my pastor 22 years ago. And, yes, there is Spiritual Communion which I have made as well. This article was written to give an overview of how people of various Christian churches receive Holy Communion. A traditional Passover meal (including the Last Supper) uses unleavened wheat bread and wine. That is in the Bible. The early Christian Church did the same. As tradition was handed down to the Catholic Church and then to other religions, this is what we as Catholics have continued to follow - other churches do not necessarily do the same. In my Catholic Christian upbringing, I was taught to respect all faith/religious backgrounds. Many do not respect mine. No one is being forced and no one is being denied. God bless you all!

    The author of this article spoke with me directly for this article and did a wonderful job with it.
  2. Juan Diego
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    Juan Diego - February 24, 2014 7:09 am
    @coinreach: Christ is present in the Sacrament in a supernatural (which is to say, super-real) way. "Literally" doesn't even begin to cover it.
    @jimatmadison: Your comment appears sincerely curious about this. Yes, the "recipe" is derived from what Israel was commanded to prepare and eat at Passover. No, it's not explicitly in the Bible, but our Church follows it anyway as a Sacred Tradition, to help us recognize what is happening at Mass (i.e, Christ the Lamb of God died to lead us out of sin and death, as Israel escaped slavery by the blood of a lamb). Third, no believing Catholic is denied the Holy Eucharist if they meet certain conditions- even those who cannot receive are encouraged to pray to make what's called a "spiritual Communion."
  3. Coinneach
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    Coinneach - February 24, 2014 1:00 am
    Since the wafer transforms into the literal body of Christ, it shouldn't be a problem for gluten-intolerant people, unless they're vegetarian as well.
  4. woodysguitar
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    woodysguitar - February 23, 2014 11:55 pm
    Shirley Jesus can solve this problem.
  5. jimatmadison
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    jimatmadison - February 23, 2014 10:44 pm
    Nowhere does the Bible describe the recipe for a communion wafer.

    The Last Supper was at Passover, which by Jewish tradition was carried out with unleavened wheat bread, but that seems to be a pretty lame reason to deny a Sacrament to a believer. Christ often broke with Jewish traditions.
  6. Juan Diego
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    Juan Diego - February 23, 2014 3:20 pm
    Here's the Catholic explanation. The Sacraments require both proper form (words and actions used) and matter (that which is acted on). In the case of the Most Holy Eucharist, unleavened bread made only with wheat and water is the only proper matter. Any other matter means that no Sacrament occurs. If removing every last trace of gluten means the host contains no wheat, it would be improper matter, no consecration would occur, and the Sacrament would be absent.
  7. overpar
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    overpar - February 23, 2014 8:33 am
    "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."

    All things are possible with God, except for consecrating gluten free bread. Even our magic spells have their limits.
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