Our pastor did a lovely job using Sparky's special circumstances as a teaching moment. In his homily he spoke of how Jesus, Body and Blood, is present in both the form of bread and wine.
Below is an article that I wrote five years ago on this topic for OSV. It is interesting for me to reread it now. In it I mention how my heart ached. But on Sunday, my heart lept for joy. I wept joyfully as my son took the chalice into his hands. All that mattered was that Sparky really loves Jesus and was thrilled to be partaking in Holy Communion. The wheat thing didn't matter at all.
“Come into my heart Lord Jesus and stay with me forever.”
As I sit at my computer, my seven-year-old daughter is teaching this prayer to her 32-month-old brother. It is a prayer of spiritual communion; a prayer to be said when one cannot partake in Holy Communion. Although it is very sweet to see my little ones praying together, my heart is aching. It aches because I know that there will be times in my son’s life when he will not be able to take Jesus in the Eucharist.
My son has celiac disease, a lifelong disease with no cure. Fortunately, there is a treatment: a change in diet. Persons with celiac have an intolerance to gluten found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. As a result they must adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Rice and corn are safe substitutes.
Recently, a Boston family made national news as they left the Catholic Church when they were told that their 5-year-old daughter, who suffers from celiac, would not be able to use a rice wafer when she received first Communion. The family instead chose to join the Methodist church, leaving the Real Presence behind.
I understand this family’s frustration, but leaving the Catholic Church is not an option for us.
This is not a disease to be taken lightly. Gluten damages the intestinal lining so that it cannot properly absorb nutrients. Even the smallest trace of gluten can lead to future illnesses, such as lymphoma.
At twenty months, my son was malnourished even though he ate a well-balanced diet and took a daily vitamin. He suffered serious weight loss, developmental delays, and cried constantly because of abdominal pain.
After he began the gluten-free diet, my husband and I saw wonderful changes in our son. We were thrilled. Then one day we realized that he would never be able to digest a communion wafer.
We asked our parish priest what we should do when the time came for our child to receive his First Holy Communion. In his forty years as a priest he had never encountered this situation and was unsure of how to proceed. So I sought the advice of Catholic adults with celiac. I had already begun networking through a local support group and the Internet, so I added Holy Communion to my list of questions.
I soon learned that a host made of rice flour was not a legitimate substitute for a wheat host. I am not a theologian, and cannot begin to lay out the theological argument for this, but 2,000 years of tradition appears to insist that the host must contain gluten in order to be a valid consecration.
The pastor of my in-law’s parish uses a low-gluten host, which is valid. This still causes some damage to the celiac priest, but he chooses to take the risk.
One woman told me that her husband receives Communion in the hand and brings it back to the pew, where he breaks off a very small piece to share with her, since even the smallest crumb is still in essence Our Lord. Most people that I talked to take communion under the species of wine and forgo the bread altogether.
Young children need only touch the wine to their lips. Since the particle of host that is dropped into the wine by the priest contaminates the entire chalice with gluten, a separate chalice is provided for the celiac individual.
Life is unfair, especially to little children who suffer from incurable diseases. My son will never share a pizza with his buddies, walk into a McDonalds to order his heart’s desire, eat birthday cake with his schoolmates, or take Communion under the species of bread.
As he will have to do with many other situations in his life, he will make special arrangements in advance in order to take Jesus into his body. When such accommodations cannot be made, he will ask his Lord for a spiritual communion.
Even when he cannot take Jesus into his body, he can take Him into his heart. And he can offer up his sacrifice in love.