Holy Communion and Celiac Disease

A Pray Tell reader writes:

I’ve been approached recently by a new parishioner about providing low-gluten hosts.  I’m curious how other parishes manage distribution of low-gluten hosts when you only have one of two folks who need a low-gluten host.

In the recent years, many more people have become aware of celiac sprue disease — the inability of people to ingest gluten, a key ingredient in wheat flour. Restaurants are adding, or noting, gluten-free items on their menus; schools are taking steps to accommodate students who can’t eat bread, or pasta, or the surprising number of foods of which wheat flour is an ingredient.

For Roman Catholics with this condition, the act of taking holy Communion would risk serious health complications. Some people with celiac disease are able to receive from the Cup; for others, the trace amount of gluten present (from the piece of the Eucharistic host) makes this impossible. And, unlike other traditions, using a host made from rice is not an option.

The U.S. conference of Catholic bishops has a document titled “A Short Introduction to Holy Communion and Celiac Sprue Disease” which notes that the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri have produced a very low-gluten host that is said to be safe for sufferers of Celiac Sprue disease.

I know of a few parishes where the entire parish simply uses low-gluten hosts. There are other parishes where a parishioner who needs a low-gluten host is able to check in with a sacristan before Mass, who will add a gluten-free host to those to be consecrated; the parishioner then sits in a certain spot of the church so that they receive this special host.

Some information and articles are online at www.catholicceliacs.org.  Are there other resources that Pray Tell readers know about? What are the best ways to handle this situation pastorally?


  1. It should be noted that, if sacramental wine is used (which would be assured not to be adulterated with sugars from glutinous grains), and chalices are filled at the preparation of the gifts, then segregating the celebrant’s chalice with the fraction should be a piece of cake, pardon the pun, and eliminate the risk of the faithful receiving gluten in the Precious Blood.

  2. The Italians are very gluten aware. The pharmacies provide the easiest means of finding gluten free products. The classier restaurants are accommodating. Costanza’s which is favored by the great Xavier, showed my wife their gluten free pasta, both corn and rice. As an added treat they offered rice cakes with chocolate. She was ecstatic.

    The next day I was pleased to find gluten free hosts in a shop just across from Da Roberto’s in the Borgo Pio. Thirty for three plus Euro.

    Hope these comments are useful for any Pray Tellers visiting Rome.

  3. We are exploring the best ways to handle this at the parish where I am employed. We keep a smalls supply of low-gluten hosts on hand, which are often used with the children.

    We also have a handful of parishioners, most of whom attend the same weekend mass (for whatever reason) and our thought was that we will explore having the hosts in a pyx for them, and we already have a procedure to make sure that one of the communion stations has a chalice that has no chance of having the fraction present.

    At the parish where I worship, and frequently coordinate liturgies, people usually bring their own hosts in a pyx, which I or other coordinators make sure ends up in the presider’s paten. The person or people then knows to make sure that they are in line for his station for eucharist.

  4. At the small country parish on PEI where we worship during the summer it is noted that if you need to receive gluten-free hosts that you should go to the presider…regular hosts are used by the eucharistic ministers. It has been this way for many years.

  5. Our youth director has celiac disease and we have purchased low gluten hosts for her from the Benedictine Sisters noted in the post. I’ve given them to her to be stored in her freezer at home as these do not have a long shelf life apart from the freezer. Then she, using a pyx, brings it to mass and places it with the other hosts (in the pyx, though) and it is brought in procession or she places it on the credence table and it is brought over during the preparation of the altar. She knows which line to be in in order to receive. Just as an aside, a few years back a new parishioner moved into our parish and approached me the first time he was at Mass with his homemade non-gluten host and asked me to consecrate it for him during Mass and that it was okay since his previous pastor allowed him to do this. I had no clue as to whether it was valid material for consecration or not and it looked to me to have leaven in it. I did it for him not to be rude, but indicated that the parish would purchase the hosts in the future and make them available to him. Since we have a large church and four hosts stations it was a bit difficult to figure out who was suppose to get it, so we settled on the priest’s station and that he would indicate to the priest at communion time, that he was the person for whom the host was consecrated.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #5:

      All bread has leaven in it – wild yeast is ubiquitous in the environment, it’s just whether you give it time to cause the bread to rise. We use added yeast these days because we (a) have no patience and (b) it’s more reliable. (There’s a reason that the word for a yeast mixture in England was “goddes god”: God’s gift!)

  6. In our parish school, we had a young boy who was SEVERELY celiac. Along with our regular communion cups, a small cup with just a swallow of wine was consecrated. Michael would tell the pastor when he arrived and the cup was used at that liturgy.
    We have several others who are not quite so seriously impaired and they just receive from the cup, as we have both species offered at all Masses.

  7. In the Catholic context, would be good to avoid referring to very low gluten hosts as gluten free hosts. It’s an important distinction: the latter are incapable of being confected sacramentally (and if a parish were actually using truly gluten free hosts, it’s one of those things most likely to draw bolts from bishops and Rome, as invalid sacraments are wont to draw), and the former, which are, may still present issues (even if just issues of peace of mind) for the extreme cases of celiac disease.

  8. I work at St. James Cathedral in Seattle. Every Saturday afternoon we put about 25-30 low-gluten hosts (from the Benedictine sisters in Clyde, MO) in a special pyx which is then brought up to the altar for consecration at the vigil Mass. At communion, one minister is assigned to stand with the pyx in a designated location in the cathedral. A notice in each weekend’s bulletin alerts congregants that low-gluten hosts are available and where. The pyx is kept in the tabernacle between Masses. The 25 hosts are usually enough to get us through the weekend.

  9. The requirement that the host must be made with wheat and must have a trace of gluten is totally a man-made requirement. It is absolutely ridiculous, and sacrilegious, to place a man made custom above the health and safety of someone trying to share Eucharist!

    A lot of people self diagnose with celiac disease who really don’t have any problem. But for those with celiac disease, there is no such thing as a safe dose of gluten. Sipping wine that has been contaminated inadvertently or by someone using intinction is enough to cause severe pain and permanent damage! I hope the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have a good liability policyshould someone ever be hospitalized after consuming one of their hosts!

    Metaphor and poetry are all very fine, but do we even know what grains were used at the Last Supper? Could it have been barley, or a type of wheat no longer planted? Was it red winter wheat, soft wheat, hard wheat?

    “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? ”

    It’s pious foolishness and nasty rules like this that are driving people from the Church!

  10. Practically, I side with Brigid. In instances like this, clearly, the people are adjusted for the rules, not the rules for the people. It’s another case, perhaps, where the metaphor is driving sacramental practice, not spiritual need.

    However, the gluten content of the hosts provided by the Benedictine sisters is vanishingly small. I explain it to our parishioners with celiac allergies, and I assume they are competent to make their own determination.

    Anyone who is as sensitive as Brigid relates is in much more danger from stray grains floating into “gluten free” food in a restaurant, store, processing plant, or even the dust in the air.

    In our parish, the priest distributes the special host. The cup with the particle is never in the queue next to the priest.

      1. @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #30:
        The sisters have told me that legally they are obligated to report 1/10,000 normal gluten content, as that is the reliable industrial limit of measuring devices. However, they tell me privately that the actual gluten content is likely even lower than that.

        We are also concerned about contamination. We use philatelic envelopes (stamp collecting) rather than pyxes. The host is visible and the seams are crisp.

        However, the “bread” has more the consistency of a potato chip, and they have a curious-sounding “clatter” when they are in a bag together. I believe the Clyde Sisters received approval for their recipe about ten years ago. The last “concerned” mother I spoke with was before the Clyde recipe. I offer a sample for anyone who wishes to “taste-test.”

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #31:
        Philatelic envelopes – that is great and I will propose that at work! Thank you.

        We too offer the sampling if people ask.

        And I still do have this one gentleman who says no to the host, who uses the chalice that has no chance of a fraction. Thanks again!

  11. I will note that the first part of Brigid’s reaction here is mirror-image absolutism. And, pace Todd, it’s not merely a metaphor at work here, but re-presentation (though the Christian sacramental tradition does not have this as re-presenting only one episode of the larger Paschal mystery et cet.)

    I find it interesting that the Jewish tradition recognized as valid only certain grains for the Pescah matzot*: wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats. The first four contain gluten, in different degrees; the last does not usually on its own, but may by cross-contamination with other grains in the field, and has its own protein aversion issue (also, oats are more of a moist/cold-climate crop and I wonder how frequently they appeared in Judaea in the time of our Lord). In any event, the universe of matzot was essentially limited to grain substance that could in fact be leavened (to different degrees) by the miracle of yeast and gluten.

    Putting aside speculation in sacramental theology on this point, the huge practical obstacle to any change in requirements would be ecumenical: Rome simply could not do it without buy-in from the Orthodox and Oriental churches, and that’s not going to happen unless and until there’s a real ecumenical council of a kind we’ve not seen since the 5th century. If Rome did this unilaterally, there would be quite the nasty and prolonged ecumenical fracas. As it turns out, progressive principles are therefore deeply conflicted in this area.

    In any event, there are solutions: the Precious Blood. (As for alcoholic celiacs who cannot or will not tolerate very low gluten hosts: One modification to the RULES I’d suggest is that the permission for reception of mustum by the faithful be available at a lower level of authority than is currently the case.)

    * Even if the Last Supper occurred the evening before the evening Pesach fell, there were limits on what would have been eaten by that point in the preparations for Pesach.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #12:
      I would suggest that Jewish tradition stretched itself to accommodate oats and rye when Jews found themselves living in lands where these grains were more commonly used; an example of practicality that we could learn from.

      Saying that we can’t change because it might disturb the Orthodox and Oriental churches is a stretch. We certainly haven’t allowed ecumenical considerations keep us from imposing mandatory celibacy on our clergy, for example. And in fact, the argument boils down to ” well, we’d like to do the right thing but then the other kids won’t play with us.”

  12. Brigid

    But, outside of Matrimony, we’ve avoided doing so regarding the matter of *sacraments*. That’s a different category altogether, the third rail of ecumenical relations.

    That said, decrying the Church’s position in the absolutist manner you did earlier does nothing to undermine absolutism; it merely reinforces it. If the Church is faced with a choice between an old absolutism or a new one, it’s likely going to stick with the one it knows.

    It would be more helpful to propose questions to the church (and not questions that presuppose an answer) rather than conclusions that will short-circuit inquiry. An example of the question:

    Under what circumstances might the Church need to develop its canon law regarding the matter for Eucharistic bread? What if, for example, a global pathogen developed that created a severe and chronic shortage of wheat species?

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #14:
      Suggesting that a norm can be lifted or adjusted in the case of medical necessity hardly seems like absolutism to me. Given how little a typical host resembles bread of any type, including matzoh, it seems to be straining at gnats to insist that a small white disk of wheat flour is valid and a small white disk of rice flour is not.

      This entire topic is a pet peeve of mine, largely because of this:

      Norms For Use of
      Low-gluten Bread and Mustum

      On Facilitating Reception Of Communion In Certain Circumstances

      Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
      August 22, 1994


      Given the centrality of the celebration of the eucharist in the life of the priest, candidates for the priesthood who are affected by celiac disease or suffer from alcoholism or similar conditions may not be admitted to holy orders.


      With warm regards and best wishes, I am
      Sincerely yours in Christ,
      Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect

      So now, only celibate males free of celiac disease are suitable as priests.

      1. @Brigid Rauch – comment #18:
        The 1994 norms were changed in 2003. From Wikipedia:

        On 22 August 1994, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith apparently barred coeliacs from ordination, stating, “Given the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist in the life of the priest, candidates for the priesthood who are affected by coeliac disease or suffer from alcoholism or similar conditions may not be admitted to holy orders.” After considerable debate, the congregation softened the ruling on 24 July 2003 to “Given the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist in the life of a priest, one must proceed with great caution before admitting to Holy Orders those candidates unable to ingest gluten or alcohol without serious harm.”

      2. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #24:

        Thank you Jeff. This partially answers a question I have about low-gluten hosts. The CDF’s responsum suggests that a celebrant-presider could fraction a low-gluten host (perhaps the host elevated at the consecration) and admix a particle from this host into the cup at the fraction rite. Does this indult for the use of a low-gluten “altar host” apply only to a priest with a celiac disorder, just as consecrated mustum must only be consumed by a priest with an low tolerance for alcohol and not administered to the assembly? If any priest, gluten-tolerant or not, may use a low-gluten altar host for the fraction, then certain perhaps less-gluten-sensitive celiac sufferers could simply partake of the cup which has contained the fractioned low-gluten particle so long as nobody but the priest and the celiac sufferer have partaken of this cup. I do not know if it is liturgically hospitable to reserve the cup for only certain people, but in extremis this might be the only option.

        I do hope that the Vatican would simply permit the use of low-gluten altar breads and mustum for all priests and for every assembly. I do not see how, for example, the administration of mustum to the laity would be a cause for scandal. Indeed, is it not best to open the administration of both species to all the faithful, including those with celiac disorders and those in recovery? Perhaps a more liberal indult for mustum would result in more invalid Masses “celebrated” with pasteurized grape juice. I am certain that the Vatican knows better than I do on this matter.

  13. It is unfortunate that some persons including priests cannot consume bread with any gluten in it or drink wine due to severe alcoholism. I believe mustum which is wine with alcohol removed or where the fermentation process is arrested can be substituted for actual wine as well as the low gluten hosts already described.
    But there are many people who come to Mass everyday and every Sunday who never receive Holy Communion. Is their going to Mass in vain? Are there other ways to receive the benefits of graces beyond comprehension simply by being at Mass and participating attentively? Is there such a thing as spiritual communion at the time of Holy Communion for those who can’t receive due to one reason or another. Has our post-Vatican II theology of receiving Holy Communion at every Mass made not receiving Holy Communion second class citizens of those who can’t? I remember my aunt in Canada saying to me when I was in the seminary that she was receiving Holy Communion for me, as though I was the one benefiting from it rather than she and this was her gift to me! I had never heard of such a thing until she offered me her gift! Our Catholic theology says that of the priest celebrating Mass that His consumption of the Holocaust has benefits for those for whom he (as the sacramental Christ) serves. There are many people who are driven away from the Church not only by misunderstanding the “man made” laws of the Church but by being contentious about any and everything that isn’t Biblical fundamentalism. Who wants to be in a contentious parish?

  14. Fr Allan

    One problem with the thrust of what you outline is that we are talking a chronic, life-long situation, not an episodic one. Obviously, there are people have chronic life-long conditions that make oral ingestion of food dangerous or impossible, but that category of people is not as populated as the universe of celiacs and other allergic or auto-immune food-related diseases.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #16:
      True, but I have had and currently have adult Catholics with psychological scrupulosity/obsession and being treated for such by professionals who simply cannot approach the altar for Holy Communion and for most of their adult life and are at Mass more frequently than most Catholics. We also have divorced and remarried Catholics who do not receive Holy Communion. But it is very rare that someone with celiac disease cannot receive in one way or another today, either the Precious Blood only or a low gluten host. Ireland for some reason has a higher number of people afflicted by this disease and one of our diocesan priests from Ireland was severely afflicted and could not be treated here in the USA and returned to Ireland and was responding well to what was offered there for treatment. I’m not sure what he did about the gulten content of hosts even low gulten but as far as I know he still celebrates Mass.

  15. Like it or not, the call to Holy Orders is not biblical fundamentalism of the Jesus and me theology, but includes also the Church and specifically the divine and human laws of the Church and the call of the bishop acting in the person of Christ. Ordination is not a right no matter how much one thinks they are called and those who think they are called and not open to the fact that they aren’t are the ones who shouldn’t be ordained. If a celibate male asks to be a priest and he can’t drink wine or eat bread then he should consider some other vocation in the Church, no bishop in his right mind should admit him to Holy Orders.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #19:
      So, if the college of bishops had decreed that sons of Canadian fathers and Italian mothers were ineligible for the priesthood….?

      If we never bent human laws, Isaac Jogues would never have said Mass again after his mutilation by the Mohawks.

      1. @Brigid Rauch – comment #20:
        This good Italian who appreciates the Italian approach to law more than many people give me credit, although with a tinge of Celtic rigidity would say that in many cases dispensations are allowed but only when granted by the bishop or pope which then would apply to low or no gluten hosts and mustum.

      2. @Brigid Rauch – comment #20:
        The restriction on celiacs being ordained is a human law and can indeed be bent, just as St. Isaac Jogues was given an indult to say Mass despite his mutilation. But two things 1) as I understand it, Jogues didn’t say Mass until he received the indult and 2) the use of wheat bread in the Eucharist is not considered by the Church to be a human law, but a divine law and thus no dispensation is possible. It’s not in the same category as Jogues’s situation.

  16. I’m far from advocating an all-out abandonment of wheat. Let’s be clear on that.

    However, count me in the skeptic camp with Brigid on the ecumenical concerns. Unless and until our Eastern sisters and brothers are willing to concede mutual sacramental validity, I’d say the grain issue seems to be a non-starter for them.

    That bit of ecumenical blundering on my part aside, the Church may indeed have to deal with some near or far future in which regional famine, space colonization, or even the extinction of wheat forces the Church to, say, use the power of the keys and make an executive decision it seems to embrace in some circumstances, and is skittish about applying in others.

    Non-Middle Eastern grains may well be a proper food for the constitution of authentic bread. The focus of Jesus’ Last Supper narratives, after all, focuses on bread, not the grain from which it was made. Some Christians are concerned about valid matter, and in ordinary circumstances, they should be. I join them. However, the tradition of wheat-only is not of the Lord, nor is it Biblical, given the more liberal position of the Jewish tradition on the Passover.

    I’ve yet to encounter a situation in which an allergy sufferer was unable to physically receive one species or the other. But I have known a few sets of parents who were extremely protective of their very sensitive children. It requires considerable diplomacy and pastoral understanding to navigate these situations. As long as the CDWDS is aware of this pastoral responsibility, I can continue to support their sturdy advocacy of wheat bread and grape wine.

  17. Brigid

    If you had merely suggested, I would have characterized your comment the way I did. You did more than suggest. You treated the opposing view with pure contempt. That’s not the tone of suggestion. And it’s an important distinction. Suggestions and questions can move things along; contempt, less so.

    1. I am more and more frustrated at the imposition of rules that seem to be imposed to prove the right of some to impose rules on the rest of us. You are correct. I do have contempt for such rules, and regret that people are being driven away by them. How many families have opted to join a denomination more concerned with preaching and living the Gospel than debating the required percentage of gluten in altar hosts? How many families have walked away to no Church at all?

  18. Quotes from (as yet) unpublished national norms for receiving Holy Communion:

    (a) Circumstances in which Holy Communion under the form of wine alone may be desirable or essential include Communion for those who cannot take solids, those suffering from a coeliac condition, etc.

    (b) There are different levels of tolerance for those suffering from a coeliac condition. For some, low-gluten hosts may be suitable. However, for others with this condition Holy Communion under the form of wine may be the only way in which they can receive at all.
    It is important to realise that a chalice into which a particle of non-gluten-free host has been dropped can be life-threatening to many coeliacs, as the consecrated wine may thereby be ‘contaminated’. The Roman Rite does not oblige the priest at the Commingling to drop a particle of consecrated bread into every chalice if there is more than one, and it should be easy to reserve a special chalice for the purposes of coeliac communicants.
    It should also be noted that some communion wines are risky for coeliac sufferers, and table wines are generally safer.

    Although communion wines from the church suppliers are supposed to be pure and free from preservatives, in practice this is not always the case. One preservative used in some communion wines is grain spirit, which is sufficient to trigger a reaction in some coeliacs.

    It is self-evident that this demonstrates another reason why the practice of intinction is not only inadvisable but even lethal.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #27:
      Paul wrote: “It is self-evident….(that) the practice of intinction is not only inadvisable but even lethal.”

      Of course intinction is always advisable because it is encouraged by the rubrics of the Roman Church (GIRM: #191, 245, 249, 285, 287, RS # 103 & US “Norms” 24, 49 & 50. Interestingly, it also seems that the biological experts, or at least some of them by means of their research, have determined that typically intinction is preferable to the common chalice. The abstract of the study linked below states: “From the hygienic point of view, the most favourable (sic) approaches to avoid infection would be the use of individual chalices for all participants in the communion or the immersion of wafers or bread in wine or in grape juice by the priest (intinction).”
      -Zentralblatt fur Hygiene und Umweltmedizin International journal of hygiene and environmental medicine (1998)
      Volume: 201, Issue: 2, Pages: 167-188

      Individual chalices can be provided for those suffering from celiac sensitivity but this study tells us that most people would be better off with intinction.

      1. @Shane Maher – comment #34:

        In response to my comment that intinction was potentially lethal to people with no gluten tolerance at all, Shane wrote: “Of course intinction is always advisable because it is encouraged by the rubrics of the Roman Church”

        The word “encouraged” is an interpretation not justified by the text. Intinction is permitted as an option, not encouraged. For many, it is not an option they wish to follow, since Jesus’s command was “Take this and eat it…. Take this and drink it”, not “Take this and dunk it”.

        GIRM 281 says “Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident…” This is a clear reference to eating and drinking. It is debatable whether intinction would stand as a sign of a banquet or, more likely, a sign of what some people do at their breakfast tables with cookies and coffee.

        When intinction first made its appearance in the Church, after the cup was increasingly denied to the laity from the 9th century onwards, it lasted for less than 200 years as a normative practice, and aroused much controversy. “The only person who dipped was Judas Iscariot, and we don’t want to be like him!” was a comment frequently met with.

        The arguments that intinction is healthier do not stand up. As practised, intinction adds many more pathogens to the consecrated wine, as multiple hosts (and even fingertips) come into contact with the liquid. When ministers of the cup are properly trained (and most, sadly, are not), receiving from the chalice is in fact almost risk-free, and demonstrably more hygienic than receiving under the form of bread. There is a large amount of data extant on the subject. What we need is a campaign to train our ministers.

        The three “mortal sins” that I see the vast majority of ministers committing all the time are
        (a) Not using a fresh piece of purificator for each communicant.
        (b) Not wiping the rim thoroughly, inside as well as out.
        (c) Not turning the chalice a quarter-turn for the next communicant.

        In my diocese, all new ministers are trained in the requisite techniques for doing all of these things well, but many existing ministers have either never been trained at all or were inadequately trained years ago.

      2. @Paul Inwood – comment #36:
        I think the rubrics you mention that include intinction as the second recommended method for distributing communion under both species coupled with RS and the US bishops’ “Norms” do amount to encouraging intinction. The American “Norms” just mentioned are pointed in explicitly recommending intinction over the common chalice in specific situations (#24).
        Contrasting examples of things permitted but not actually ecouraged in the GIRM would be reliance on Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion who are suggested only when enough ordinary ministers are not present, giving people communion using hosts consecrated at a different Mass, and the substitution of hymns for the propers of the Mass at the entrance, offertory, & communion. I know this last example is contentious for some people here but a comparison of the rubrics governing intinction to those providing for the substitution of hymns in place of the propers at different points in the Mass warrent the comparison. At the least, your interpretation of what is permitted vs. encouraged in the GIRM seems inconsistent because intinction is option #2 but the substitution of hymns for the proper chants is option #4.
        The debate you mention about whether the “sign” of banquet is apparent with intinction & the interpretation of the Scripture you offer above seem foreign to the Catholic tradition as represented by our own Latin rite Missal and the practice of the eastern Church.

      3. @Shane Maher – comment #53:

        Among the ways of ministering the Precious Blood as prescribed by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Communion from the chalice is generally the preferred form in the Latin Church, provided that it can be carried out properly according to the norms and without any risk of even apparent irreverence toward the Blood of Christ. from the US bishops’ Norms for the Distribution… 42

        I am not sure how this observation “encourages” intinction.

      4. @Jim McKay – comment #57:
        read #24 in the “Norms” & then consider what a tall order “without any risk of even apparent irreverence” actually call us toward.

      5. @Shane Maher – comment #59:

        I don’t see anything in 24 that suggests “any risk of even apparent irreverence toward the Blood of Christ.” so generally, the common cup is the preference.

        There is a specific exception when intinction might be used, but that could only be taken as encouraging intinction if you see that as a common occurrence. Is that what you are trying to say?

  19. Paul

    And, understanding the last paragraph that draft English norm as being cautionarily descriptive, grain spirits as a preservative should not be part of the practice of makers of sacramental wine: they can use spirits distilled purely from grapes, but someone needs to tell them squarely that grain spirit preservatives are a canonical no-no.


    I am actually quite sympathetic to your concern in the larger scheme of things, but I think it is not as well applied to this specific issue, and I think your contempt is an obstacle rather than a help. If we want the Church to learn the culture of taking things case by case, we must first model it ourselves. It’s assymetric, I grant you, but I don’t see a wiser or more prudent way.

  20. Karl Liam Saur : Paul And, understanding the last paragraph that draft English norm as being cautionarily descriptive, grain spirits as a preservative should not be part of the practice of makers of sacramental wine: they can use spirits distilled purely from grapes, but someone needs to tell them squarely that grain spirit preservatives are a canonical no-no.

    I agree absolutely. Unfortunately some manufacturers of altar wine continue in blissful ignorance, or simply won’t listen to what they are told…..

  21. After reading much of the material on this thread I can see a new venture for my Lord Milingo, to wit: The Celiac Catholic Church.

  22. Paul is quite right. Receiving from the cup is more hygenic. I recall a Canadian parish–not a Catholic one–in which a survey found particles of feces in the bottom dregs of wine cups.

    I received from the Cup from a priest today at a funeral who violated all three mortal sins: purificator neatly folded, outside of the rim only, no twist. Ew.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #37:
      Todd, you seem to be supportive of the common chalice, yet what you describe makes my stomach turn too and I’m already freaking out over so many people drinking from one chalice as it is and then having to cleanse them by drinking the ablutions. The problem is that you just don’t know which EM is doing the right thing or not with the chalice. The communicant is a sitting duck or standing duck. I don’t believe there is any contamination when it is the minister who is doing the intinction and knows how to do it without getting their fingers into the Precious Blood. It is when a communicant brings the host to a full chalice and self-intincts and in the process one’s finger(s) get into the Wine that the type of contamination you describe happens. We use an intinction set and a little wine goes a long way and it is almost impossible for the ministers to get their fingers into the wine as there is very little in the chalice. It is far more sanitary than what you have described.

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #38:
        I would think that Communion on the tongue has some of the same drawbacks – it’s hard to believe that the priest’s fingertips never touched anyone’s lips or tongue!

        I’m certain there are libraries written on the subject, but have we gotten out of balance here? It is the Body and Blood of Christ, but how necessary is it to serve the Blood out of several gold chalices rather than multiple individual glasses as many Protestant denominations do? How much of what we do is aimed at proving to “them” that “we” have the real thing and “they ” don’t? When the methods in which we distribute the Blood cause queasiness, it’s time to step back and take a good look at what we’re doing and why.

      2. @Brigid Rauch – comment #39:
        If the minister is careful fingers to lips is minimal but happens more easily when the communicant is standing and moving. When kneeling practically never happens.

      3. @Father Allan J. McDonald – comment #40:
        Communion ministers, ordinary and otherwise, are not always perfect in the application of procedures. Many priests, perhaps most of them, are a little too casual and speedy in the distribution of the Eucharist for my taste.

        That said, I still have no problem with a common cup, even when the priest in front of me violates all three principles. or when I’m not sure my training of newcomers to the ministry has taken root. Human beings, even clergy, are flawed. We urge better behavior, but people don’t always measure up. It doesn’t and shouldn’t damage our sacramental practices.

      4. @Todd Flowerday – comment #41:
        My last freaking statement on the issue, one of our permanent deacons in our deanery, who is also a gastroenterologist, contracted an intestinal bacteria which nearly killed him. He firmly believes that he contracted the bacteria doing the ablutions on the chalices at the altar after Holy Communion.

  23. In 2009 there was an outbreak of swine flu in Ireland. Many churches, to minimise the spread of infection, suspended the sign of peace. This matter was addressed by the Health Service Executive, who stated that communion on the tongue was a much more likely way of spreading infection than the handshake. Nonetheless, the handshake took a while in being reinstated, and at no stage did I hear anyone suggesting that they suspend communion on the tongue.

    1. @Michael Cooley – comment #42:
      In the USA we are far more germ conscious than we’ve ever been. I’ve celebrated a number of funerals in the eight years in my current ministry where parishioners have died from infections they got while in the local hospital. While on vacation last week, our parochial vicar had a funeral for a 56 year old parishioner who just back from a vacation and perfectly healthy contracted some kind of bacteria that went septic and he was dead in three days. I buried a 19 year old college woman who contracted spinal meningitis from drinking after her boyfriend from his can of Coke. It took three days and even the doctors were afraid to go into her isolation room (but I did to anoint her). She had no auto-immune disease and had been perfectly healthy.
      The hand has more germs of the type Todd describes and if the minister of Holy Communion is placing the host on the hand, it is quite easy to touch the palm or some part of the hand of the one receiving and thus contaminate subsequent Host being distributed.

    2. @Michael Cooley – comment #42:
      From Armagh diocese. Most dioceses gave similar guidelines.

      The Archdiocese of Armagh recommends the following:

      1. Those who have the flu or flu symptoms are requested not to attend Mass or other Church ceremonies.

      2. The handshake is to be discontinued as a means of offering the sign of peace. An appropriate alternative, e.g. a moment of silence, may be introduced.

      3. Sharing one chalice by concelebrating priests and Ministers of the Eucharist is to be discontinued. A possible alternative is intinction from a separate chalice.

      4. Clergy and Ministers of the Eucharist are required to wash their hands before and after distributing communion.

      5. It is highly recommended that receiving communion on the tongue be replaced by reception on the hand.

  24. Diocesan guidelines only are effectual insofar as they are practised on the ground at parish level. In parishes where I attend there were no guidelines given to parishioners during this period apart from the handshake suspension. As for clergy and ministers of the Eucharist washing their hands – the trend seems to be to dip the two “canonical digits” lightly in water before distribution. I’m not sure how effective that is. Hygiene and distribution of communion is something that should be a concern at every liturgy, as is the best way for celiacs to receive – still very much something that is puzzled over in parishes.

    1. @Michael Cooley – comment #46:
      In our country we have so many extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion some of whom only exercise this ministry infrequently, that it is impossible to supervise each one to make sure:
      1. That they know how to wipe the rim with a purificator properly as though anyone can tell from memory or sight what part of the purificator hasn’t already been contaminated with germs from a previous wipe.
      2. That they have washed their hands after the sign of peace or whatever they have done with their hands prior to coming to Mass
      3. That they actually know and believe what the Church teaches about the Most Holy Eucharist.
      4. Does lip stick contain more bacteria on chalices other than fragments of lip that might adhere to the chalice without lip stick? Any studies on that?

      In our parish we provide hand sanitizing stations with “gels” where the EM’s gather prior to approaching the altar to receive the vessel from which they will distribute Holy Communion. But who can watch to see if each and everyone is doing that and as the celebrant I just shaked the hands of two or three around the altar at the sign of peace and then immediately distribute the host.
      Celiac disease is of concern of course, but the least of our worries with the current method of distributing Holy Communion and all the glad handing by people before and during Mass that then contaminates the hands of those distributing Holy Communion, including the priest.

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #47:
        Oh God, Allan, I knew you were going to get into all this stuff. Just one reply out of many which could be made:

        “it is impossible to supervise each one to make sure:
        1. That they know how to wipe the rim with a purificator properly as though anyone can tell from memory or sight what part of the purificator hasn’t already been contaminated with germs from a previous wipe.”

        If you don’t know how to tell what part of the purificator hasn’t already been used, you clearly haven’t been trained in the proper techniques of using the purificator and, I would guess, any ministers that you have trained are also unaware of it. You are not alone in that, of course: almost all priests that I have seen administering the chalice are also untrained in this respect, and I am not aware of a single seminary that knows about this training. The thing is self-perpetuating, alas.

  25. It occurs to me that God sometimes has a wicked sense of humor. Perhaps the stories about what priests have found at the bottom of the Communion cup are God’s judgment on those who mock the little trays of cups used in some Protestant denominations!

  26. It’s my personal guess that more Catholics are concerned about the replacement of the prayer candles with those ridiculous electric flicker lights than would ever care if the wheat hosts were replaced with rice.

  27. “He firmly believes that he contracted the bacteria doing the ablutions on the chalices at the altar after Holy Communion.”

    I have no reason to believe this is untrue. However, scientists are not always the most rational of beings.

    If contracting diseases and living a safe life were the paramount concerns, we would tell all believers to stay home on Sunday for their physical and spiritual well-being.

    The chance of contracting a disease from working at or being a patient in a hospital are higher than from sharing a common cup.

    Denying the common cup for rational reasons is a mask for people with freaking impoverished theology, so to speak.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #50:
      On the other hand, getting first crack at the Communion cup as opposed to after everyone else may finally change the long established Catholic custom of sitting in the back rows as opposed to the front! 😉

      1. @Brigid Rauch – comment #51:
        Brigid, so true! I do think we’ve as Americans have become germ-a-phobic, or perhaps I should only speak for myself. Our media and the sale of antibacterial soaps, gels and cleansers have contributed to this mass hysteria and you can take mass in it many English meanings.
        But folks, common sense that I was taught by my humble parents and other parents in the 1950’s about not drinking after others still applies today. Liturgists who promote an unhealthy practice simply becasue of a literalistic view of the Last Supper being imposed upon a symbolic ritual act at Holy Communion time (the important aspect of which is receiving our Lord, not just eating and drinking as though eating and drinking is the more important sign value, which is symbolic after all) needs to come to a crashing halt before the laity put two and two together and find out that their illness or the illness and death of a loved one can be traced to the common chalice and lawyers get a hold of it and then start suing the Church, hopefully starting with the liturgists who shoved this method down our throats in the 1970’s.

      2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #52:
        There is vanishingly little danger from sharing a common cup if proper procedures are followed. This means clergy, too. This means not treating a purificator as a personal napkin. Or rushing through the distribution of Communion to get to a golf game or a post-liturgy cigar and brandy.

        Adults of the 50’s and 60’s, lol. They weren’t so squeamish that they didn’t indulge in the ritual in which boys spit into their mothers’ hands as part of a hair-smoothing process. My parents smoked like fiends. A number of my adult relatives drank themselves into oblivion.

        Common sense would also suggest we opt for self-preservation, and decline following this Jesus character, who actually promised bad things would happen to good people.

        I’m deeply skeptical of this line of thinking from a parish priest. It strikes me as a selective rationalism to permit him to run the Church the way he wants it run, using whatever justification he needs to suit the warp and weft of his personal impulses.

      3. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #52:
        The Anglicans have shared a common “cup” for a long time. No information I have ever heard about shows that it has caused a health problem.
        Just saying.
        Now, if you want to talk about another thing that was pushed in the reform: handshaking at the Peace. Now there is a problem.

        Mark Miller

      4. @Mark MIller – comment #60:
        This post of course started off with the health concerns of those with celiac disease and the legitimate care of those who have this disease in terms of our communion practices. In terms of generalized grievances, all of us have some when it comes to the liturgy but especially authority in the Church (which seems to get a pass when acknowledged here). But let’s put this another way. If a wine outlet was having a wine tasting day and they decided to allow people to taste wine as we distribute the consecration Wine at Mass, with a turn of the rim, a clean purificator, etc. I know the health department would step in and stop that practice, pure and simple. It would not happen for long.
        I’m certainly not indicating the health department intrude into the liturgical practices of the Church, but just saying.
        But my biggest grievance about this practice is the way in which we tried to convince our congregations in the 1970’s and 80’s and to this day to drink from the common chalice by saying that the alcohol content, (so no to mustum!) the turning of the cup and the wiping of the rim would make it okay. This is not conclusive in any way whatsoever. I must disclose that I used that meme over and over again to help people overcome any hesitancy in drinking from the common chalice. When our bishops banned the common chalice and the sign of peace over the H1N1Flu epidemic and stated that one could contract this disease from the common chalice, that should have been a wake up call. Just saying.

      5. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #62:
        Your wine-tasting example seems unconvincing, as the distribution of the Eucharist is carefully monitored, and hundreds of glasses of potable, generally not.

        I perceive and understand your grievance. I’m not convinced it has more to do with hygiene than it does a busybody approach to authority.

        Health concerns about sharing food and other things like doorknobs, hands, lips, money, and such are serious concerns. Adults make choices to take risks. Clearly, many lay Catholics value the reception of the Eucharist under both forms as a higher good than safety from passing diseases from a common cup.

        We do not need the clergy dictating choices to us. We can receive sound advice from health professionals. But at the end of the day, our decision to stay an extra night in the hospital or to be the nth person to sip from a common cup is our own. And preferably not yours.

  28. Fr Allan

    ” . . . hopefully starting with the liturgists who shoved this method down our throats in the 1970′s”.

    Tell us how you really feel. How edifying.

    (Just so you know where I stand: I am fine with both intinction and receiving from the common chalice, as it were. I am deeply grateful that the Church has underscored the wisdom and value of the fuller sign of reception, all without denying the dogma of concomittance. I am less a fan of the cultivation of resentments over this issue, regardless of where it comes from.)

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #54:
      Just to be clear we offer the common chalice at all our Masses–but caveat redemptor needs to apply which means we as leaders of the Church need to speak not just about “fuller liturgical signs” but other considerations as well, including health considerations, especially for those who are already compromised health wise.

  29. Fr Allan

    Having been close to people who have had compromised immune systems (for a variety of reasons, including chemotherapy, age, and HIV-AIDs), I am already quite sensitive to this. But your generalized tone here of grievance serves you and your position very poorly.

  30. Mark

    Actually, those church door knobs are more guilty than a handshake…. It’s things that you tend to grasp firmly with your fingertips that are the worst offenders – worst of all, for example, are gasoline pump handles (really – it’s one fo the biggest vectors for spread, precisely because one must grip firmly and for a while).

  31. Well, I do sing and promote chant. And I certainly encourage people in my parish to suggest musical repertoire, including plainsong. They were largely unimpressed with the Missal chants, so I tried to convince them to consider the Ambrosian Sanctus in BFW, one of my favorites.

    The 1962 Missal, however, is unreformed and not in keeping with Vatican II. You know I think its use should be ended for the greater good of the Church.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #66:
      Todd writes: “We do not need the clergy dictating choices to us. We can receive sound advice from health professionals. But at the end of the day, our decision to stay an extra night in the hospital or to be the nth person to sip from a common [chalice] is our own. And preferably not yours.”

      Then he writes: “The 1962 Missal, however, is unreformed and not in keeping with Vatican II. You know I think its use should be ended for the greater good of the Church.”

      My comments: The truth is the common chalice is allowed but strictly speaking only by the bishop and the pastors he appoints. You certainly can have your “preferences” that these decisions aren’t mine, but they actually are my canonically. Fear not, though, the chalice is available to every parishioner at every Mass for those who choose it in my parish.

      But thanks be to God, the EF Mass is now a legitimate post-Vatican II option that the Holy Father has magnanimously allowed to the lay faithful who choose it and despite your skewed opinion of it and the lay faithful’s right to it under certain conditions, it’s their choice and thank God “And preferably not yours!”

    2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #66:
      Todd, you’re wrong about the 1982 RM being unreformed. The Good Friday prayers have been reformed, room is given to new saints and prefaces and SP provides for vernacular readings (Article 6).

      More to the point, however, is the fact that the council fathers don’t seem to agree that ancient or “unreformed” liturgies should be ended. Consider Sacrosanctum Concilium n.4:

      “Finally, in faithful obedience to tradition, the Sacred Council declares that Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognised rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.”
      Following your seeming logic Todd, we would see the ancient Byzantine, Syrian, and Coptic liturgies discarded because they are “unreformed”. That reasoning does not appear to connect to Vatican II. The most pastoral and contemporary approach would be to provide for at least one EF Mass in every parish.

      1. @Shane Maher – comment #69:
        Except that we have a Roman Rite, fully reformed and renewed. And we have a 1962 Missal in use that is not substantially reformed according to the many, many paragraphs of SC.

        SC 4 seems to be referring more to the various Eastern rites, as well as the Ambrosian, Gallican, etc., and not the liturgical practices of schismatics or others resistant to the council.

        I learned long ago I need not be responsible for every problem in the world and in the Church. Thank goodness for that, for all of us. But that still doesn’t prevent me from stating admittedly strong opinions about which rites are reformed and which not, about which practices should be decided by the laity and not by the clergy, and how to allow believers to deepen their relationship with God on their own terms, not by imposition. And when a nudge here and there might be needed.

        Rallying the followers of the Tridentine Mass under the banner of religious freedom has a certain danger on the hypocrisy front. Advocates of inclusive language, MR2, and any number of other serious, thoughtful, scholarly, and faithful developments might claim the same. And yet, they haven’t stomped off to Rome demanding an indult. Or more.

        At any rate, moving back to the theme of the thread, the good health of the faithful, I will concede no one has died because they celebrated according to the 1962 Missal. No one bothered with celiac allergy sufferers in the unreformed rite. If they reacted with illness to receiving the host, I’m sure the victim was blamed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *