Non Solum: The Consecration and Distribution of Low-Gluten Hosts

A reader writes in:

I am a bit obsessed with hospitality, it must be my inner Benedictine! As the parish secretary, I get to do a lot of things that focus on ways that “welcome Christ.” One of these things is making low-gluten hosts available. We have a number of elderly people with celiac, as well as kids.

We don’t have a refrigerator in the sacristy and the rectory is a separate building, so we can’t keep the low gluten bread at church. I give out small supplies to those who need it, along with a pyx. They bring the host to church, placing it in Father’s paten when they arrive. Then they must go to his line in order to receive. When it was one or two people, it was easier, but now that we have more it grows more complicated. Plus, it is not possible to accommodate people who show up spontaneously.

I just reread the 2012 thread on the topic, but I am wondering if there would be any chance of having a conversation around it on Pray Tell again. What are people doing? What are their procedures?

In my perfect liturgy, in addition to a sacristy with a fridge, I would have a smaller second paten/bowl for consecration. When people in need of low gluten arrive, they could go to the sacristy and let the head Eucharistic minister know. The head Eucharistic minister would then place the appropriate amount of hosts in that bowl alone.

Now the problem is that if there were only one or two people, which might be the case, there would be one Eucharistic minister with nothing to do.

Follow up to this – Celiac and First Eucharist. That’s another iron in my fire right now.

A lot has changed in the last few years and the distribution of low-gluten hosts has become more common in parishes. Often times the low-gluten hosts are placed on the altar and consecrated in a pyx next to the paten. I have also seen the pyx placed on the paten with the other hosts during consecration. This practice attempts to maintain the symbolic unity of the one bread broken for us.

Despite the many good practices I have seen, I think that we have not yet discovered the best practice for the consecration and distribution of low-gluten hosts. The best practice must strike a balance between pastoral necessity, Eucharistic symbolism, and sheer practicality.

How does your community consecrate and distribute low-gluten hosts?


Note: The link to the USCCB’s article “A Short Introduction to Holy Communion and Celiac Sprue Disease” in the 2012 post is no longer active. To go to the updated page, click here.


  1. Our hosts are placed in small glassine (stamp-collecting) envelopes to minimize contamination. These are now kept in the credence cabinet rather than the sacristy. About eight or nine people receive these hosts.

    We are revisiting procedures at the moment. The priests want to be free to distribute wherever they want–they used to be the only distributor of these. In the past, the cup minister with the bit of consecrated altar bread was told not to serve “with” the priest. But new proposals might cut that out. One suggestion has the sacristan responsible for distributing these. My sense is that’s overthinking a bit.

    Another proposal was to leave the consecrated low gluten hosts on the altar, and when the communicant asked for one, the minister would retrieve one from the ciborium there. Liturgy commission has asked for substantial input from celiac sufferers to tweak current procedures. Not sure if the clergy will like what they come up with, but they’ll likely get used to it.

  2. This is a conundrum of sorts for me, but mostly just a philosophical exercise: I don’t have any responsibility for managing distribution, and indeed, if that option is available in my parish it’s a well kept secret.

    I do know that people who have celiac disease must avoid gluten, and further, not addressing the disease leads to other complications which can be fatal. At the same time, the actual disease is rare (1 in 133 people in the general population) so if more than 1% of your parishioners are wanting the hosts I’d say there’s a good chance that some them are not celiac sufferers, but gluten free faddists. A good number of these don’t even know what gluten is – a Jimmy Kimmel YouTube makes this point very well. If you’re a faddist and won’t accept a normal host in deference to your fad choice, I think that trivializes the Eucharist. And I have a problem with that.

    I don’t know what you should do. I don’t like the idea – more to the point, I don’t think Jesus likes the idea – of shutting out actual sufferers of the disease. But I would worry about the trivialization if I were the pastor, bishop or someone setting policy.

  3. I get the sense that most places do something similar to what is described above, where the person with coeliac or gluten allergy takes responsibility for their own hosts/pyx.

    My wife, on the other hand, has developed an allergy to wheat itself (not to gluten, but to the essential matter of the Eucharistic bread!), and so she now simply receives only from the cup. This, of course, only works when both species are offered at Mass. Our parish, and most every parish we’ve visited, always offers both species on Sundays; the difficulty arises most often when we attend a weekday mass. The other thing is that she sometimes gets puzzled looks from priests and EMHC’s when she watches our daughter receive the Bread of Life, doesn’t Communicate herself, and then proceeds to receive the Precious Blood. Once explained, though, everyone seems to understand!

    She will also be the first to tell anyone that the full Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is present in both species. She has told me that she is just as spiritually nourished even though she only receives from the cup. So, perhaps, along with some kind of better practice of offering low-gluten hosts, parishes would also do well to make the effort and offer both species every Sunday and even at weekday masses. Granted, some catechesis may be necessary to help folks understand that what is in the cup is just as much the Eucharist as what is on the paten!

    1. @Philip Spaeth – comment #3:
      Thanks for this thoughtful reply Phil. We are neighbors of sorts, although we have never met. We do have a number of mutual friends, and I believe you may belong to the parish where you work, a place I am familiar with.

      That said, I love that your wife has such a full understanding of Christ’s presence in both species of the Eucharist. That is a challenge all around I find.

      As to this issue, I am the person who submitted the Non Solum question. About two months ago, about two weeks before First Eucharist, there was a challenge and some misunderstanding about this at my work parish – which restarted the question for me. For good or ill, some parents do not want their child consuming the cup.

  4. Father distributes alone at the altar rail, because the church only holds about 200 people, so we simply put out several low gluten hosts in a small pyx.

    Also, to the questioner, why not just get a small fridge? You don’t need s full sized one. Most sacristies I’ve seen have a small countertop fridge for wine and hosts.

  5. “Hosts” from the Latin ”hostia” refers to Christ, the Victim. What we put in fridges are called altar breads, what we put in tabernacles are “Hosts”. This distinction was often not made in the church before the Council. The people carry bread and wine to the altar not hosts and wine.

  6. I had a parishioner a few years back who had a legitimate allergy to gluten. However, she was a big pain in the backside.

    When offered to Consecrate a low gluten host, she refused. When I suggested that she receive from a cup normally given to a EM, she refused, even when I said she could Commune first. I offered to Consecrate a special chalice for her–that only she would use, even reassuring her that I would only touch the base. She refused. She said she wanted real Communion (the Host–I made a big sigh) and said didn’t want the wine (she wouldn’t listen to the catechesis I tried to give about the Eucharist).

    I bent over backward to help her. What she wanted were wafers made only from rice. I explained that it wasn’t possible. She threatened to call the Bishop.

    I gave her the number to the Diocesan Offices.

    p.s. For about a month, she kept pestering me. I kept asking if she called the Bishop. She wouldn’t answer me (I think she did and received the same solutions I suggested). I politely told her her options again, and said I wasn’t doing anything different until I received explicit permission from the Bishop (knowing that he wouldn’t give it). She stopped bothering me and went to the pastor (big mistake…[evil laugh]).

  7. As communion under both species is offered at all masses, we invite celiac sufferers to receive from the cup. To my knowledge, no one has complained. Only one woman’s affliction is so severe that she has to receive from a specially consecrated small cup.

  8. On a related note, why do we refrigerate the wine used for Mass? When I open a bottle of red wine in my home, we cap it and leave it on the counter for a day or two as we finish it. It would never occur to me to refrigerate red wine. Am I missing something?

    1. @Scott Pluff – comment #8:
      As a sensible precaution allowed by modern technology to reduce the chance for corruption, as corrupted wine is invalid (not merely illicit) matter (Canon 924 section 3).

  9. Scott – Your house (and mine) consume a bottle of red faster, I suspect, than a parish with a small number of daily mass participants. An open bottle here where we have 25 or so for mass each day, will last a week or 10 days. Keeping it in the fridge helps keep it from turning.

  10. As the person who submitted this, I am a bit late, but grateful to see the post. I wish I had known it was up! Thanks for posting it Nathan.

    While there are many thoughts and opinions about the necessity of this, I will point to two particular instances, one of which happened only one week ago.

    A woman at my work parish had not been receiving Eucharist for years due to an extreme case of celiac. When I first put it out there that we had low gluten hosts, she came in to see me. Ever since that time, she periodically stops in, often with tears in her eyes, to tell me how grateful she is for the hosts. Yes the wine does become the Precious Blood of Christ, but there is something to be said about the wholeness of her wanting both species – and her joy in the Eucharist.

    More recently, I connected with a gentleman at the parish where I worship. My pastor refers people in need of low gluten hosts to me, and I arrange getting a supply to them. Mostly I arrange, and then never hear from the person again – which is fine.

    Anyway, this man literally came running up to me recently, wanting to thank me. Leaving once more the species issue aside, he simply told me of his joy of going to Eucharist with his family now. He was especially happy to be able do so at his son’s First Eucharist.

    Our pastor at my worship parish preaches frequently and effectively on Eucharistic theology; I do think that most people there have some understanding of both species.

    In any case, that people are more fulfilled and connected in Christ is a good thing, and I am humbled to be a part of it. I just wish it were easier, process-wise, hence my question in the first place.

  11. We run regular notices in the Bulletin saying that those who need to receive low-gluten hosts should speak to one of the parish staff. An appropriate number of special hosts are placed on the altar in a small, separate bowl, and when, at the end of Communion, a minister goes to give Communion to the musicians, he or she takes that bowl along and those who need the special hosts present themselves along with the musicians.

    Until Bishop Morlino asked priests to limit the number of occasions when the laity may receive from the chalice, I believe that those with celiac disease simply received communion that way. The new system came into effect when the chalice was no longer offered at most Sunday Masses.

  12. Fran,

    I thought you might be a “local”, as I remember you mentioning the city in which I minister in a previous thread, and with obvious familiarity. Wonderful to know you’re close by… I will look you up! My apologies for not checking back on this thread sooner… Big parish anniversary coming up this weekend.

    As for the gluten question, good one-to-one catechesis the likes of which you offered your friend certainly helps, as does, I think, good liturgical praxis in which the cup is not made to seem “secondary”. The low-gluten hosts are a great blessing to those who need them, but some parishes seem more adept at their distribution than others.

    As for parents not wanting their kids to receive from the cup because of alcohol… A real pastoral situation to be sure, but, to my mind, just silly. We parents have enough real problems thrown at us these days without inventing our own!

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