|via Scientific American|
At first, giving up conventional pasta, bread, pizza, and baked goods seemed impossible. But really, it's not so bad being GF in the 21st century. There are far more GF products and menu items available today than ten years ago. Still, as with any food intolerance or allergy, you have to be very aware of everything you eat. When I read a restaurant menu or enter the office break room, I do a visual scan and mentally flag anything that is off limits - hamburger buns, sandwiches, muffins, frozen dinners, condensed canned soup, flour thickened gravies, etc. This survival technique is second nature to me now, and the memory of weekends curled up on the couch in pain keeps me from cheating.
Unfortunately, there is one other food on my off-limits list: the Eucharist. I'm not sure what one little host would do to me, but I'm positive that a Sunday habit of ingesting the "gift of finest wheat" would be bad for my body. There are some alternative options, praise God, but they all make receiving Communion a complicated operation.
Gluten-free Eucharist Option 1: Low-gluten hosts
Parishes can now offer Communion in the form of Vatican approved, extremely low-gluten hosts made by Benedictine sisters. This eliminates the need for any more kerfuffles about rice crackers. (Hallelujah). If you're curious, low-gluten hosts are lumpier, denser, and tougher than regulation altar bread, with a vague potato chip flavor. They take a long time to dissolve on your tongue.
Keeping the LG wafers in a separate pyx during Mass prevents cross-contamination. Of course, this means I need to alert the priest or sacristan to fill that pyx ahead of time. I always feel awkward poking my head in the sacristy before Mass - it's basically an ecclesiastical men's locker room in there. My home parish in Virginia distributes LG hosts before the general distribution of Communion- this means I usually spend the Agnus Dei worrying that the priest will remember and that I'll stand in the correct place this time.Maybe this all is God's way of teaching me to trade shyness for assertiveness.
Gluten-free Eucharist Option 2: Chalice only
I've found that if I ask, a priest is happy to save a sip of the Precious Blood for me. (The only exception was my first Extraordinary Form Mass, but that's a long story of liturgical red tape.) When I'm in a parish that offers Communion under both forms, I just make a beeline for the chalice line. I've developed a series of near-dance steps that allow me to skip out of the initial host line without tripping anyone. I've gotten a few dirty looks from confused extraordinary ministers, and I probably throw off the host line's momentum. Still, it's a practical solution, especially when I am visiting a new parish. So if you see someone jump the line next Sunday, don't freak out. Ditto if you see someone eyeing the priest's chalice warily to ensure she doesn't ingest the speck of Host floating about.
Will Both Species Be a Thing of the Past?
|Chalice by A.W.N. Pugin, 1851, via the V&A|
The Dioceses of Phoenix and Madison recently declared that Communion under both kinds would be reserved for special occasions only, such as First Communions, Confirmations, etc. Their bishops made this decision to align liturgical practices with the current General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM). Bishop Morlino of Madison has stated that the Papal indult for both species on a regular basis expired years ago.
I'm certainly not going to rebel against the GIRM, but I'm still slightly baffled by the attitude that a valid form of the Eucharist is too Protestant, too progressive. This detailed post at Chant Cafe helped me understand a little bit. Essentially, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the Medieval practice of offering only the Host to the laity. This reminded the Reformation world of the Catholic belief that Christ is fully present in both the host and the chalice - the Eucharist is not just some memorial meal in courses.
Chant Cafe makes a fascinating point that the Mass and the Eucharistic Sacrament are two distinct co-existing entities; one should not be confused for the other. It's absolutely true that a Novus Ordo Mass can get reduced to a Host assembly line staffed by an army of Extraordinary Ministers. The faithful show up to "get" their weekly wafer, not unlike the perennially popular ashes and palm branches. At times the concept of the Mass as divine sacrifice gets lost.
The Church's evolving customs for reception of Communion suggest that we are always readjusting, trying to find that Eucharistic sweet spot where everyone has the right blend of piety and theological understanding. Swing too much one direction, and the Real Presence/sacrifice/Christian unity equation gets unbalanced. In one extreme, pew sitters don't dare approach the Eucharist, receiving once a year and peeking a the priest through rood screens. On the other end, the Body of Christ gets passed around willy-nilly, lacking particular reverence and ignoring the significance of an ordained priesthood.
I would counter that intense catechesis is the key to sacramental understanding, not semi-condescending manipulation of the laity's experience. Drastic changes of customs do not always work out. For example, after Vatican II, the USCCB document Environment and Art in Catholic Worship promoted reservation of the Eucharist in a chapel separate from the sanctuary and main worship space. Why? To help the folks in the pews understand the difference between "active" liturgy and "passive" private adoration. Decades later it's clear that this compartmentalizing decreased reverence, often relegating tabernacles to closet-like annexes. Without pulpit emphasis on Eucharistic devotion, genuflection and holy hours fell by the wayside. In the same way, reverting to single-form Communion won't have the desired theological effects without clear explanations and much discussion of the theology at hand. Simply reviving the Council of Trent won't do; we can't rewind to the Church of the 1500s.
The Gluten-Free Bottom line: Compassion
While the American Church is figuring out Eucharistic rubrics, please don't forget those of us with a special dietary cross to bear. If both species again become a rarity, don't be unwilling to make exceptions when necessary. I don't want us GF Catholics to sound like a rabid special-interest group or high-maintenance devotees of a fad diet. We're just ordinary people whose own bodies can prevent us from receiving the Body of Christ. It's a painful experience to sit through a wedding or Confirmation wondering if the Sacrament will be accessible at this parish, or to look at a full ciborium and feel your mental danger signals going off. Jesus in the Eucharist will always be more elusive for me, and I'm eternally grateful to the patient and conscientious priests who have brought Him to me. Parishes don't mind the "extra trouble" of bringing Communion to the sick. Please remember those of us who can make it to Mass, but still need a little extra help approaching the Eucharist.