I got an unusual email yesterday from a new member in the Gluten Free Club. Most of the time when people email me it’s to ask for recipes or advice on how to prepare food for a trip they’re planning to take soon. This time the email was about a religious service!
The woman who called me is Catholic and she was really upset. She had been faithfully following a gluten-free diet and was still getting sick. She finally realized the problem was the communion wafer. It hadn’t even occurred to her until one day she was discussing the problem with a friend who goes to the same church. They were going through the food diary the lady with Celiac disease keeps and her friend asked about the host eaten at Mass. She said it was like a light went on.
I am not a religious expert or counselor, but I wanted to share this incident for a reason. If you’re a newly diagnosed Celiac, you’re going to discover you’ll find gluten in the most unexpected places. It happens to everyone. You can be so careful to avoid all known foods with gluten and then inadvertently take a pill with a gluten coating, or in this case, take communion bread made with gluten.
Catholic hosts are made with unleavened bread, and so are many other church wafers. Some Jewish ceremonies include unleavened bread as an important food item also. The problem is that taking communion for many Christian and Jewish ceremonies is considered essential for full participation. It can be a very distressing dilemma when you can’t eat the wafer or bread.
The lady who called me had been criticized by other church members for not taking communion. She talked to the priest when she realized the communion wafer probably had gluten. They called the monastery that makes the hosts, and sure enough, the host contains wheat starch.
The priest the woman called was very understanding, and they worked out a solution. She is allowed to drink just the wine and it represents the body and blood of Christ for her. If she goes to another church when out of town, she skips communion. I have since learned after some research the Catholic Church has approved a low-gluten host that may be acceptable to many Celiacs if the doctor approves.
This is certainly not a problem just for Catholics. Whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, you need to discuss the wafer content before you take communion. Many churches have become aware of the gluten intolerant community and offer gluten-free communion wafers. But you have to ask for them before you attend the service in most cases. The church office can help you locate gluten free hosts if you have to buy them yourself.
Most priests and pastors will be very helpful. As ministers, they don’t want to see you get sick, and they certainly want you to continue attending services. So learn a lesson from this woman’s story and make sure your religious service participation isn’t making you sick. And don’t use gluten as an excuse to sleep in on Sunday morning either!