The Armchair Liturgist: Managing Low Gluten Hosts at Mass

armchair1.jpgThis topic was inspired by a parishioner at my new parish who has an extreme sensitivity to wheat gluten. We use the special low-gluten hosts baked by the wonderful Benedictine community in Clyde, Missouri.

But let’s get practical.

Sit in the purple chair, and dictate how you think it should go in the parish:

– Should the burden be placed on the allergic person to inform the priest, and possibly other Communion ministers when the low gluten host is in the mix?

– How should the low-gluten host be handled for the ultra-sensitive? Remember, even wheat dust is a problem and even the Benedictines prepare their special bread and ship it from totally separate rooms.

– Do you use a separate ciborium or paten?

– If not, would use use a pyx or an envelope in the mix of ordinary bread?

– What level of complexity do you introduce to the lay ministers, or do you just let the presider handle it?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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15 Responses to The Armchair Liturgist: Managing Low Gluten Hosts at Mass

  1. Katherine says:

    We face this in our parish. Here’s what we do:
    *The allergic person has responsibility for managing the situation. *The low-gluten host is put in a separate pyx (reserved for the purpose) on the altar.
    *The allergic person sits in the front row, comes to communion first.
    *The presider takes care of this — no EMCH’s need to worry about it.

    This works for us, but this is at a Saturday evening Mass, so there’s minimum commotion, and the allergic person is a thoughtful, well-organized adult, and doesn’t have any problem with explaining the situation to new or visiting priests, etc.

    It seems to me that low-gluten hosts should be kept separate, for safety’s sake; err on the side of caution, since sensitivity varies. Unless you need a lot of them, a pyx seems the best solution — safe without being unduly conspicuous.

    I think the allergic folks really need to take the responsibility to make sure priests or others know what’s going on, and what they need.
    Presumably they need to do this in many other areas of their lives; this is probably one of the easier ones. Especially with priests often having several communities under their care, to expect them to just know/remember is asking for trouble. When the allergic person has the responsibility, s/he also has some control.

    A sacristan’s two cents’ worth …

  2. Liam says:

    Is it financially feasible simply to use low-gluten hosts exclusively?

  3. FrMichael says:

    One of my parishioners is ultra-sensitive: he receives under one Species only, the Precious Blood, from a small chalice reserved only for him. Seems to work well.

  4. DG says:

    I’ve seen the small chalice in use before. Seems much easier than managing a single (or small number of) low-gluten hosts, unless, like Liam suggests, they become a feasible norm for the parish.

  5. Kraft says:

    Looking at the good Sisters’ website, it looks like they charge just between $5 and $7 for 500 pieces of regular hosts, but $5 for 20 pieces of low-gluten hosts.

    Look like it is cost-prohibitive for exclusive use in a parish.

  6. Chase says:

    I’ve seen it done a number of times where the allergic person receives solely from the cup immediately after the presider. It makes for a somewhat disorganized appearance, but it seems to work well especially if the person is visiting a parish that doesn’t have gluten-free hosts or if a priest is visiting.

  7. It’s good that the question of low-gluten hosts has been raised because it gets us within striking distance of another important question.

    We are so accustomed to pre-cut individual hosts that we easily lose a sense of the breaking of bread as a sign that we though many share in the one loaf.

    To consecrate a host or hosts which cannot even come in contact with the bread broken at the fraction solves one problem but raises another.

    I don’t write this as an argument against low-gluten hosts but simply to point out that such hosts do not resolve all the issues.

    In circumstances where only the priest and one or two others receive communion in the form of bread broken from a larger whole, what I pose as a dilemma may be difficult to perceive.

  8. Liam says:


    The sign value is not unimportant, but yields to greater importance of the sacramental necessity here. So I would not characterize it as a problem, but more as something to be aware of.

  9. In our parish it works this way:

    The one regular parishioner with gluten intolerance (we’ll have a second making his first communion next year) puts a host on a small paten on the credence table before Mass begins.

    At the preparation of the gifts, the deacon places the small paten beside the large paten with the bread for everyone else.

    At communion, the presider takes the small paten along with the large paten to his communion station, where he places the small paten on a little table beside him, and administers the gluten-free host to the parishioner when he comes up.

    It is a little bit of extra effort, but it works smoothly.

    As for the one-loaf objection, I think Liam has that about right.

  10. My observations:

    > I agree, the recipient takes responsibility, for reasons stated.

    > In my last parish, we had such a person, and we had a pyx, which the celebrant took care of. I did not even handle it, but when the communicant came forward, I opened the pyx upside-down over her palm, so there was no mingling. As far as I can see, it worked well. She had to check in before Mass to trigger this.

    > The low gluten hosts are not very appealing to look at, and don’t look like they’d be very pleasant to eat, so aside from the cost factor, that would be a reason not to use them for anyone else. They seem a move away from being “breadlike.”

    > I appreciate what the Concord Pastor says about breaking the consecrated bread, but with communion in the hand, this presents the problem of fragments that are hard to treat reverently. Sign value is important, but not more important than actual reverence to the substance of the Eucharist, so I have minimized the breaking of hosts in my parishes (i.e., no more of the really large hosts). It reminds me of the efforts I’ve made to fulfill VII’s encouragement of people receiving the Eucharist consecrated at the Mass they attend; good idea, but I have not found it easy to avoid resorting to the reserved Eucharist, as I am not content to have the tabernacle filled with several hundred hosts after the last Sunday Mass, which is the practical consequence of trying to consecrate enough for all stations at all Sunday Masses. So we accomplish that objective at several Masses each week, but not all.

  11. A simpler solution (quite literally) presents itself: The Sacred Body and Blood appear to us in the form of bread and wine. Thus, for those who have a gluten intolerance (and so far, our parish has not seen any), our priest administers a spoonful of the Sacred Blood alone, rather than a sop of both the Body and the Blood.

    On the other hand, we have a number of parishioners who are recovering alcoholics, and for them, Fr. Alexei administers the Sacred Body alone.

    Really, Todd, you are making this a lot more complex than it really needs to be.

  12. Ellen Conti says:

    I AM a Catholic with Celiac and I can tell you one thing that has not come up in this discussion. If the celebrant or EM touches a regular host and then touches a low gluten host, he has contaminated the low gluten host. I know that seems extreme but it is the truth. The Celiac sufferer will face the physical consequences.
    There should be a separate EM for the low gluten hosts. You are all lucky not to have more than 1 Celiac parishioner. Celaic sufferers are 1 in every 130 people, Catholics and non-Catholics.I feel certain that what you have are Celiac parishioners who no longer receive or even attend Mass because of the isolation this disease causes.It is very difficult not to be able to do something so easy and something that has been a part of your religious belief since childhood.It is especially difficult when others see you as causing a problem or making extra work for them. You become a burden.
    I am fortunate to have a pastor who responded quickly when I (at 60) was diagnosed and started asking questions. In making arrangements for me to receive we discovered other “silent” parishioners who gladly stepped up when low gluten hosts were introduced. Before Mass we notify the sacristan that we are there. LG hosts are consecrated on a separate paten. We have found that a separate Communion line for the LG hosts was the solution. We know where the LG EM is-same place every Mass- and we go there to receive.(Sitting in the first row forced us to all sit away from our families).After the LG hosts are distributed, the EM can start distributing regular hosts (there is no threat of contamination). This solution has worked well for us.

  13. jf says:

    I too am a newly diagnosed celiac Catholic at age 65. Our parish is quite small and I am not terribly sensitive, so I sit near the front and receive from the cup only, which works well for me.

    I would like to raise two other issues:
    1. I am also a Eucharistic minister which could have become quite awkward when I stopped receiving the host while standing with the other ministers in the sanctuary. My pastor was willing to allow me to continue and my husband and I explained the situation to a number of friends in the congregation.

    2. I was recently hospitalized for a couple of days. I received a visit from a minister (of another parish) but was not able to receive communion from her.
    I know that it would require a lot of coordination (registering with the hospital as both Catholic and celiac) but it would be wonderful to be able to offer that comfort to someone who is hurting.

  14. Michael Bane says:

    I attend Mass in the “Extraordinary Form”, which is the Vatican’s official term for Latin Mass – they way Mass was done before Vatican 2 changed things. In the older form of the Mass, there is no reception of the Precious Blood. We have a parishioner who has just discovered she is gluten intolerant. She will have no choice but to ask for accomodations with a low gluten host.

    • Actually, Michael Bane, the priest in the EF must be told by him/her that is afflicted with this before Mass, and by canon law, both before and after the Council V2, the afflicted communicant ABSOLUTELY MUST be given the Precious Blood from the priest’s chalice by the priest. She does not have to ask for a low-gluten host. Of course she still has to be in a state of grace and want to receive it.

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