Celiac disease and Communion

I cannot believe that after nearly four years of blogging I have not written about celiac (coeliac) disease (and other gluten-intolerance diseases) with respect to Communion. (Perhaps I did; several of my early posts were completely destroyed by Internet worms.) Hubby and I talked about this last Saturday over sandwiches and some yummy chickpea-flour crisps, marketed as gluten-free.

In short: persons with celiac disease have a “lifelong autoimmune intestinal disorder” where gluten — the springy protein in wheat, rye, barley and triticale, and perhaps oats — destroys the part of the intestines that absorbs nutrition. (Source.) All of these grains must be carefully avoided, even in small trace amounts. No bread, no pasta, no beer, no malted milk. I’d want to curl up in a ball and hide in a hole. But friends want friends to be included, also at church.

This means making an accommodation for Communion, which has been received with different levels of success in various churches. I experimented with an accommodation in my last pastorate, even though there were no known celiacs in the congregation, using cubes gluten-free rice bread in foil. (Site where I got the idea.) I had hoped to make a targeted outreach. Why? Catholic (the “non-independent” kind) canon law is clear that communion hosts (bread) made without wheat is invalid. And there’s no way to guarantee perfectly gluten-free hosts. A segment in this week’s Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly reminded me that some Catholics are trying to accomodate, but there continue to be some people who cannot be helped as canon law is written.

I’m not talking about a tiny number of people; the NIH estimates that about two million Americans have the disease.

Sensible people should be aware of gluten-immune disorders, even if Communion is their last worry. Friendship and community is linked to food, and food generally and wheat are intertwined. Good to know that formula doesn’t work for many people.

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