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Great Bend First Communion sheds

light on celiac disease

By David Myers
Southwest Kansas Register

Editor’s Note: While most sufferers of celiac disease can ingest the .01 percent of gluten in the low-gluten hosts described below, some sufferers of the disease have sensitivity such that it precludes them from even this amount. Individuals should consult their physician before receiving the low-gluten bread.
In April, three children preparing for their First Communion at Prince of Peace Parish in Great Bend were noted to have gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, which prohibits them from being able to ingest altar bread.

“People with celiac cannot ingest gluten without causing damage to their intestines,” said Prince of Peace DRE Pam Vainer, who has celiac. “It can make us pretty sick. The disease can manifest in different ways in different people. I had migraines all the time. It affected my heart; and caused chronic ear and bladder infections.”
Gluten is a compound that can be found in some form in many foods – this includes wheat, which is used in the making of altar bread. One of the steps the parish took was to be sure it always has low-gluten bread available, purchased from the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Mo.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (on its website http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/celiasprue.shtml) presents, “A Short Introduction to Holy Communion and Celiac Sprue Disease”.  The Conference makes it clear that “while many doctors advise patients with this condition to adopt a totally gluten-free diet, others merely restrict gluten intake.
“As a result,” the bishops’ state, “the common advice given to many celiac patients is to receive only the Precious Blood at Holy Communion.”
The bishops stress that “whoever receives Holy Communion only under the form of bread or only under the form of wine still receives the whole Christ, in his Body and Blood, soul and divinity.”
It should be noted that often one chalice used at Mass may contain a small piece of the Sacred Body of Christ, so a separate chalice may have to be used for the benefit of those unable to ingest any amount of gluten.
According to Vainer, the .01 percent of gluten in the low-gluten hosts is not enough to cause her distress. But as the bishops’ mention, this is not necessarily the case for everyone. Each individual should consult a physician before eating the low-gluten bread.
“If it were one percent, I couldn’t ingest it,” Vainer said.
 According to Father Reggie Urban, pastor of Prince of Peace, “This disease just hasn’t been made public to the point where people are aware that right next to them in the pew could be someone who can’t receive the Eucharist because they have this disease.”  
According to the USCCB, “This is a particular challenge to Catholics, who believe that the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the reception of Holy Communion are the very source and summit of the Christian life. Priests should show great pastoral sensitivity and compassion to anyone afflicted with this disease, but especially to the parents of children with a gluten intolerance at the time of their first Holy Communion.”
The discovery that three children had celiac spurred Michelle Moshier, DRE for the younger students, Father Urban, Father Floyd McKinney, Vainer and several parents, to respond to the issue in an effort to ensure that people with celiac always have access to Holy Communion, whether it be under the form of the wine or the low-gluten bread.
Vainer has suffered from celiac all her life. She explained that celiac disease is a genetic disorder that can remain fairly dormant for years before being detected.
“We can be perfectly healthy if we don’t have gluten,” she said -- which is difficult, considering it can be in “gum, almost everything canned, anything fried, even certain cheeses. We really have to read labels a lot,” she said with a chuckle.
Vainer suffered with the symptoms for most of her life until she was finally diagnosed seven years ago.
“They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me,” she said. “You’re born with it; it’s genetic. It can be mostly dormant and then an accident can wake it up and it can become full blown.”
Years ago while on a ski trip, Vainer took a bad fall. The fall sent her celiac into “full blown” celiac, in which the symptoms become far worse. Although she was able to adjust her diet, she then had to deal with the damage done by the disease before it was diagnosed, including a heart valve replacement.
For more information about celiac disease, contact your health provider. The website of the Celiac Disease Foundation is www.celiac.org.  The US Bishops’ website about Holy Communion and celiac disease is www.usccb.org/liturgy/celiasprue.shtml.  Vainer is willing to share her experience with celiac; contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (620) 792-1396.

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