Go into your local supermarket and check out the food section. You’ll be amazed at the selection available for coeliacs. Business people know the statistics: more that one in every 200 Irish people is coeliac and needs a gluten-free diet. This fact poses a challenge for churches: one in 200 people makes for a sizeable cohort of our parishes, many of which contain thousands of residents.
When knowledge of this condition first became widely known, ‘gluten-free’ hosts were manufactured. These hosts, containing not a scrap of gluten, were perfect for coeliacs and could be consumed without fear of ill-effects.
Unfortunately, this position did not last. The Vatican ruled that bread that didn’t contain gluten wasn’t really bread, and thus couldn’t validly be turned into the Body of Christ. The response of manufacturers was to make ‘low-gluten hosts’ instead, containing a tiny amount of gluten; they continue to provide these today. Many churches still promote these hosts as ‘gluten-free’, which they are not. We do not provide them in the parish where I minister.
Occasionally I say Mass in other churches. In some places, a ciborium or pyx containing low-gluten hosts is held by the celebrant at Communion time. Coeliacs mix with the general body of communicants and indicate to the priest that they want the special hosts. The result is that the celebrant has hands covered in gluten (from the regular Communion hosts) as he distributes low-gluten hosts masquerading as gluten-free hosts to coeliacs.
This practice is highly dangerous. Not every coeliac would be affected by this practice, but some with a high sensitivity to gluten could have their health badly damaged by it. And the outcome may be that coeliacs might avoid Communion altogether, such is the variation in practice. Anyone who believes that Holy Communion is food for the journey through life would be very upset by this.
The only solution for coeliacs, I believe, is to have a specially dedicated chalice containing the Precious Blood, available solely for them. A segment of the celebrant’s host cannot be mingled with this chalice, nor can the celebrant drink from it, nor anyone else who has consumed a glutened host.
How does it work out in the church where I minister? Very well, as long as I am the celebrant (other priests can be ‘harder to train’!) When the eucharistic ministers come to the altar, they put a small table in place near the altar steps, and place on it a special chalice from the altar, with its own purifier. When a coeliac comes to the Communion station, he or she points to the small chalice and the Minister says “The Body and Blood of Christ”, which indeed it is. The coeliac receives from the chalice and wipes it with the cloth. Thus all are preserved healthy! Coeliacs are encouraged to receive in this way from First Communion onwards.
I recommend that all parishes get the advice of local experts when they put arrangements in place that will suit all their local coeliacs.
Thanks to the kind people who emailed me in response to my request for feedback. I got a lovely email from a man who passed a reflection on family life to his own family and got a reaction that delighted him, signing himself “an oul’ lad of 89” (called Maurice).
Another correspondent had a word of affirmation for everyone who contributes to the Notebook: “I enjoy reading all contributors to the back page. All of you have something interesting to say and always it is succinct, to the point and relevant. Well done! Keep writing!” (says Eddie).
‘Woman without her man is nothing’
Your challenge: punctuate the heading above – it’s a classic test. It also makes the point about the importance of punctuation, even when we send text messages or emails. Punctuation can be the difference between a message that is highly offensive, or quite benign.
Here’s one way of punctuating the sentence:
‘Woman, without her man, is nothing.
Now there’s a sentiment to get the blood racing and tempers flaring.
Look at the alternative, a more true message:
“Woman: with her, man is nothing!’
Never forget to use punctuation when you communicate in any written medium.