March 4, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Helping more celiacs receive the Eucharist

Last fall in an Indianapolis “superstore,” I met a longtime Catholic friend with whom I had not spoken with for months. While chatting, I learned she had undergone serious medical procedures and treatments, some of them unwarranted had she been diagnosed properly earlier. Eventually, she learned she suffered from celiac disease.

Also known as an autoimmune non-tropical sprue, celiac causes severe abdominal distress. It is aggravated by gluten, which is found in most grains, but in many other foods, too. Fortunately, in the United States, food labels must state clearly whether gluten or other allergens are present, but imported products can be a danger.

Also problematic is the fact that those with celiac disease cannot receive the same Eucharist—our spiritual “Bread of Life”—in the form most of us do. Although some can tolerate a tiny part of the host that the priest or an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist breaks off, others cannot without serious effects. Since many children also suffer celiac, first Holy Communion becomes a stumbling block, too.

Shortly after learning about this problem, I read “New gluten-free hosts help people with celiac disease” in Father John Dietzen’s column, “Question Corner,” in the Dec. 3 issue of The Criterion. By that time, however, I had already researched other solution-sources my friend shared, plus several on my own. (Father Dietzen, by the way, is the author of Catholic Life in a New Century Guildhall Publishers, Peoria, Ill. or 309-693-9232, and he has often written about celiac disease.)

I already read about an alternative “host” that allowed celiac communicants to receive the Eucharist—a virtually gluten-free host that has been approved for eucharistic use by the Vatican and American bishops. It was developed by Benedictine Sister Jeanne Patricia Crowe and is available through the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Mo. Three members of this religious community have celiac disease so they were the first to test the new host. The hosts can be ordered by calling 800-223-2772 or by e-mail at ­

Another excellent source is Gluten Free Living, the national magazine for people with gluten sensitivity, which published an article by Sister Jeanne Crowe in Vol. 9, No. 2, as well as other commentaries on the subject. This is available by going to There also is a Catholic Celiac Society Web site at and a general information site at

Celiac disease affects about one in 2,500 men, women and children in the United States. Just think how many in our own archdiocese are affected as well as Catholics throughout the state and nation! Perhaps Criterion readers can get the word out so that those not receiving the Eucharist can now do so.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

Local site Links: