By M. J. Joachim
There are two distinct parts to every Catholic Mass, the Liturgy of the Word & the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The faithful believe that God is truly present at both.
Anyone can receive the Eucharist spiritually simply by asking Christ to come into their hearts at any time. Some religions practice symbolic reception of the Eucharist, while others follow the guidelines of transubstantiation, encouraging members to physically receive Christ in their bodies by ingesting His body and blood.
As someone who has developed severe gluten intolerance, I can no longer receive the true body of Christ during Holy Communion. However, I can receive His blood. This is a bit awkward sometimes, because Eucharistic ministers distributing the host don’t always know what to do with me.
Some assume I’m in the process of converting to Catholicism. Others look at me and nod, when I come up with my arms crossed over my chest. The proper response is to bless me as I acknowledge Christ in my presence, before moving on to sip His blood.
For those of you who might be confused, Catholics receive Communion by following lines to Christ’s body first, before going to receive His blood. It’s a very orderly process, so bee lining it to Christ’s blood is not something one with a gluten allergy can just do.
You might be wondering why I would avoid receiving the host, when I believe in the true presence of Christ. It’s because even though He is truly present, the host still consist of the wheat that made it. It becomes flesh, but maintains its natural properties. This is a mystery of the faith, and that’s about the best explanation I have to offer presently.
It is much easier for alcoholics to avoid receiving the blood of Christ, than it is for people with gluten intolerance to avoid receiving Christ’s body. The reason being that Christ’s body is offered first. However, either is perfectly acceptable when receiving Christ physically in one’s being, and neither is considered more acceptable than the other.
I remember when I was a Eucharistic minister years ago. We took Eucharist to the homebound, and there was an elderly lady with Celiac Disease, something that happens when gluten intolerance continues to progress, without being diagnosed. She got sick and couldn’t attend Mass, but I couldn’t bring Eucharist to her because of her gluten allergy. At the time, I didn’t know gluten was an issue for me. This is one of those things that takes years, before being discovered and diagnosed. I felt bad that I couldn’t bring her any wine, the true presence of Christ’s blood, but that was the extent of it.
Today, I can’t help wondering what I would do if I ever ended up in a similar situation. Millions of people throughout the world suffer from gluten allergies. It would be wonderful if the Catholic Church would be able to offer them Christ’s blood when they are sick or dying.
Please read this follow-up post, which explains why I now faithfully receive the Body of Christ.
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Photo credit: Ultima Cena, Joan de Joanes (1510 – 1579), Prado Museum, PD-US