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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gfree Communion Hosts for Catholics

Hi everyone!

I hope all of you are enjoying the 3 day weekend and getting a well deserved rest from your busy schedules. :) 

As you may or may not already know, there's been a crazy amount of media covering the sudden resignation of Pope Benedict that came as a surprise to Catholics all around the world. Now the Vatican is facing the decision to possibly move the date of conclave earlier than March 15 in order to have a leader by mid-March, especially with the recent beginning of Lent and the fast approach of Easter. 

With all this news coverage on the Catholic church, I thought it would be as fitting a time as ever to talk about my experience with gluten free hosts and the controversies behind it. 
Image credit: The Gluten Free Traveller 
I recently came back to my Catholic roots in the summer of 2012 and found myself starting from Square 1. I was baptized in high school and went through the RCIA program at St. Johns in Folsom, CA. But after that, I never went to church, never read the bible, and really didn't have anything to do with religion. I really don't know what was going on in my mind during that time, but after facing a low period in my life and having a faith crisis, I found myself needing the support that religion gave me. 

And now that I have fully immersed myself in my faith and God, life has only gotten better. Of course, there will always be good and bad days and times when I feel that I am experiencing a spiritual dryness, but I always seem to come back- wounded and weak but stronger in faith than before and hopeful in God's forgiveness and promises. 

One of the biggest struggles I had in transitioning back into the Catholic swing of things was the issue with communion and the Eucharist. For Catholics, the Eucharist is the most sacred part of mass and has the power to forgive venial sins. The only problem is that it's made 100% of wheat. 

So, I'm standing at a crossroads: either I take the host and feel sick afterward or I sit passively in the pews watching everyone else receiving the body and blood of Christ even though I am baptized. 

It's kind of a strange position to be in and it's always awkward when you're the only person left sitting and everyone has to try and shuffle past you to get out and get back in. Yeah.... 

Anyway, after attending several masses in which I chose to not go up for communion, I decided that when I joined the church at my college I would do something about this. 

Luckily, the church that I attend in Berkeley is aware of gluten allergies and I was introduced to a nice lady who shared her hosts with me and gave me an extra pyx. The hosts are made by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. You can check out their website here: http://www.altarbreadsbspa.com/lowgluten.php

They are advertised as having 0.01% or 100 PPM (parts per million) of gluten. It is deemed necessary by the church that all hosts must have wheat/gluten in them since it is believed that Jesus used wheat bread at the Last Supper and so hosts must have the gluten component. 

So what happens if you're super sensitive to gluten and even a minuscule amount will send you flying to the restroom? There have been many hopeful and creative gfreers that have made their own gluten free wafers in their kitchen that they hoped would be acceptable to take during communion. However, there are some church leaders who believe that these hosts cannot count as true hosts and actually forbid their use in certain churches (most notably in Ohio). They rather have Catholic gfreers only take the blood of Christ rather than consume 100% gfree hosts. 

Now, in my opinion, that's a little insensitive to all us gfreers out there that just want to take a full communion like everyone else and not feel awful afterward. But, I also understand and respect their concerns and viewpoints. [Just FYI, in Ohio, the gfree hosts from the Benedictine Sisters are acceptable hosts as deemed by the Catholic diocese in that region].  

Don't you kinda wish God would help eradicate celiac disease so we Catholic gfreers wouldn't have this problem?? (haha) 

But, in all seriousness, we are what we are and we eat what we can eat. I'm already very fortunate that my church is aware of gluten allergies and has supported me in this regard. 

However, this is not the case in many churches in the U.S. and even overseas. 

I may or may not have mentioned in my previous posts on eating gluten free in HK that I had a difficult time taking communion while I was there. In fact, the church I went to flat out rejected my request to take the host during the mass. The Father there kept repeating to me that he was not aware of gluten or wheat allergies and simply could not accommodate me. Well, it was wishful thinking on my part that I would be able to take my hosts in HK, but in all fairness to him, I did go last minute before mass and ask and since he was unfamiliar with the protocol we have in my church, he just didn't want to risk doing something wrong and be downright confused as to what to do with my pyx. 

Yes, I admit I was frustrated as hell and I was thinking some pretty hateful things in my mind IN CHURCH (I was staring at the confession booth feeling guilty the whole time during mass). Needless to say, I never went back to that church during the rest of my vacation and skipped out on mass. 

So if you're planning on vacationing overseas and wish to take your pyx and gfree hosts with you, just know that most churches are unfamiliar with the words "gluten free" combined with "host". They often times think your pyx is for someone else and will just make you more frustrated than not. I would just recommend taking the wine or just being at mass is good enough too. 

I'm really just thankful at the end of the day that, even though I was frustrated and angry for that one moment, I was able to tell someone about gluten free hosts and the prevalence of celiac disease. Heck, who knows if I go back in another 10 years, they may have more knowledge about it! 

If you're Catholic, on a gfree diet, and haven't been taking the host because you weren't aware of gfree hosts, here's what I recommend: 

1) Get in contact with the Father at your church diocese. You may get lucky like I did and some are aware of gfree hosts, but just in case they are not, they can still help you make special arrangements so that you can take part in the Eucharist. 

2) If you have been strictly taking the wine, try to sit near the front or volunteer to be a Eucharistic minister so you can get first dibs on the wine. You want to minimize or eliminate the cross contamination from all the other people who eat the host and then drink the wine. As gross as this sounds, crumbs and particles of gluten from the hosts will fall in the wine and you drink just a tiny sip and if you're super sensitive... let's just say you won't be spending the rest of your time sitting in the pews but rather sitting in the bathroom. 

3) If your church is aware or willing to accommodate you and your gfree pyx (awesome for you!), then usually what you can do is that you put your pyx up on the alter before mass starts and inform the Father who will be presiding over the mass that you are taking a special host. What he will do is that during communion, he will put your pyx with the rest of the hosts in the bowl and when you come up to him, he'll either give you the whole pyx (with the host inside) or will put the host in your hand or mouth and then give you your pyx back. It's really not as complicated as I make it sound and once you've gone a couple times, they recognize you and your signature pyx. It's helpful to put your name on the bottom and introduce yourself to the Fathers at your church so they associate you with the special host that magically appears on the alter whenever you're present at mass. 

There have been times when this system has not worked out for me- I like to think of it as some minor troubleshoot problems. Sometimes the Fathers forget to put the pyx into the bowl and walk away from the alter so when you come up, you stand there awkwardly and say, "Uhh, can I get my pyx?" while stalling the huge line behind you or someone besides the Father gives you communion and then says they can't accommodate you until they finish giving the host to everyone else (this happened to me and let's just say this was another one of those unhappy Kris moments...) or you talked to the Father before mass started and made sure they knew that that pyx was yours and when you went up, they proceeded to give you the regular host. 

All of these I've experienced first hand-which is why I can explain them in crystal clear detail. All have varying levels of unpleasant feelings, but hey, I try my best and they try their best. You gotta cut them some slack... and so I do. It's a hit or miss, but most times, I hope for a hit. 

Anyway, I would love to hear from you guys about your experiences or lack thereof regarding gfree hosts. Let me know if you have any questions/comments and I would be happy to give you my honest opinion or at the very least try to help a fellow gfreer out. 

God bless all of you during the Lenten season- may we all learn to love more, bear less negativity in our lives, and give more than we receive. I will be praying for all of you and I ask that you will pray for me too!