Wednesday, December 6

Low-Gluten Hosts for First Communion with Food Allergies or Celiac Disease

First Holy Communion and the Catholic Church have been in the news a lot this past year. I’ve read many articles about how the Catholic Church doesn’t allow the use of a gluten-free Eucharist. However, this really isn’t NEW news as you can read in this article on The gluten-free host problem is also something that people with food allergies and celiac disease have been dealing with for a while.

Little Guy is currently going to “Sunday School” every week to prepare for this First Communion this spring. Although we used to avoid gluten a few years ago, Little Guy passed his gluten food challenge and he now eats it regularly. Still, I know many adults and children with a wheat allergy or celiac disease who can’t eat the Eucharist since it’s made out of wheat.

That’s why I asked a fellow food allergy mom (and really, all around food allergy EXPERT), Jenine Lawton, to write this guest post! Jenine’s daughter, Shea, has a wheat allergy, and Jenine did a ton of research before Shea’s First Communion to make sure Shea could eat a safe Communion wafer.

I’m honored to have Jenine guest post today!

Catholic First Holy Communion and Low Gluten Host
Jenine and her daughter, Shea, during First Holy Communion
Low-Gluten Hosts for First Communion with Food Allergies or Celiac Disease
Q&A with Jenine Lawton

What was your first step in finding an allergy friendly host?
My first step was contacting my church. I contacted my pastor, then met with a parish coordinator who purchases the hosts for the parish Then I started my quest to contact the companies who make the hosts, check websites, and find local retailers.

Who did you have to call to get the ingredients and baking information for the First Communion hosts?
I called the companies to ask questions first hand like:
  1. How much wheat (ppm – parts per million) is in their low gluten host
  2. Where does the wheat come from (the US or Germany)?
  3. How is it packaged?
Did you do a food challenge with a low gluten host?
I took my daughter to the allergist to do the food challenge with the host that I found to be the lowest ppm gluten host in America (less than 20 ppm).

What about drinking the wine at communion?
We chose to not do the wine. Our parish is VERY large and typically does not do wine at communion for the congregation. Shea would have needed a specially cleaned chalice each week for just her (so as not to risk cross contamination from others drinking from same chalice).

How does your church know when to have the safe host ready every Sunday?  
For those who need the regular low gluten host (less than 100 ppm), they will take the low gluten host out of the package (in the room in the back) and place into the low gluten vessel. (This is another risk though for those who are sensitive, since you can’t always be sure that those doing this have clean hands).

Do you have to let your church know which mass you'll be attending every Sunday?
Thankfully, our pastor has taught the other 2 priests our special procedure for Shea.   However, we do get to mass 15 minutes early and let the priest know that we are there and Shea’s pyx (the container that carries the host) will be on the altar table. 

Do you have to sit in a special spot?
We sit close to the front right, near to where my daughter will walk to stand and wait for her special pyx with her host.

How do you prevent cross contact at First Communion and at every mass moving forward?
I purchased the package of low gluten (less than 20ppm) Cavannagh hosts from a local supplier in Philadelphia. They are individually wrapped and I keep them in my refrigerator. I put her low gluten Eucharist in Shea’s special pyx prior to mass. I then place that pyx (which has a special teal ribbon tied in a very small bow) on the altar table. The priest opens the pyx and does not handle the host. Shea then takes her pyx back to the pew after putting the host in her mouth. After mass, I take the pyx to the special sink to clean it in the back of the church.

In case it helps anyone, below are the details of some of my research into the companies that make low-gluten hosts. Please make sure to call these companies directly yourself as information and suppliers may change.

  1. The number of boxes of low gluten hosts has increased in the past few years.
  2. The wonderful sister who answered the phone the day I called was EXTREMELY knowledgeable about manufacturing as well as even the specs on the wheat starch raw product that they receive.   
  3. While they state it is under 100 ppm (parts per million) gluten/wheat protein, they batch test and the highest it has been is 60 ppm with the lowest around 30 ppm.
  4. I did pick up a few from my parish to take to my allergist, but my allergist chose NOT to use these.
  1. They are a distributor of low gluten hosts. The supplier of the hosts is Parish Crossroads which is made in Germany. I wanted to buy hosts from a U.S. based company so I did not choose them.
  1. They are a distributor of low gluten hosts. Peggy Moroney is fantastic! (I had spoken to her before because I had to ask about the wine).
  2. They carry the Cavagnah brand of wafers AND I was able to order them (I could not order directly from Cavagnah because I am the “public”. The wafers are individually wrapped. Then there is no issue with cross contact from anyone else handling them because they can stay in the wrapper until unwrapped by the person taking the low gluten communion.
In the end, we did a food challenge at the allergists with the Cavagnah brand – and Shea passed! The allergist stated she is currently allowed only one host a week even if it is less than 20ppm. That is fine with us since we only do mass once a week.  

We know that this solution may not work for everyone because they may be even more sensitive than my daughter. Or, their parish may not be as accommodating about arrangements for a special pyx. Plus, the child must have a willingness to stand near front of the church each week waiting for the priest to give them a special pyx. 

I continue to ask for prayer that Pope Francis hears my plea to go back to the truly gluten free hosts (even if it is just for those that present a letter from a doctor). I have learned a lot about wheat in the process. The sister that I spoke to at the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration discussed how VERY different the wheat is now from what it was at the time of Jesus.   

Prayers are also continued that God may help the researchers and doctors find a cure for food allergies or possibly even that my daughter may "outgrow" her food allergies.  

I hope this information helps others. Please ask any question in the comments below, or tell us more about your experience with low gluten hosts and First Communion.

Here are some pictures from Shea’s Holy Communion:   
First Holy Communion and Low Gluten Host
Shea looking beautiful in her First Communion dress!
First Communion with Food Allergies
Shea's allergy friendly First Communion cake!
Holy Communion and Gluten Free Host
Shea receiving her First Holy Communion with the low-gluten Eucharist

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Diane said...

This is very informative, thank you for posting, Shea looks so pretty!

Kathryn @ Mamacado said...

She sure does! Thanks for the feedback Diane!

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