MORGAN PARK — The Body of Christ is available in a low-gluten form and demand is on the rise.
Todd Williamson, director of the office of divine worship for the Archdiocese of Chicago, answers calls from parishes throughout the area with questions regarding low-gluten hosts and other aspects of Catholic life.
In recent months, his phone has been ringing steadily as Chicago Catholics increasingly request low-gluten Communion bread. The low-gluten hosts, though, have actually been available for 10 years, Williamson said.
"I think food allergies and food intolerance, that is more and more coming to the forefront," he said.
Catholics suffering from celiac disease are most likely to request the low-gluten hosts, Williamson said. This disease is triggered by gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. For sufferers, consuming gluten leads to small intestine damage and can result in malnourishment.
Williamson believes increased awareness of gluten intolerance has led to the surge in Catholic churches at his doorstep. And he predicts more and more parishes will add low-gluten hosts into their religious ritual.
The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Mo., are among the few suppliers of low-gluten hosts. Their specialty hosts are made with water and wheat starch, which is wheat that has had most of the gluten removed.
In fact, the gluten content of their low-gluten hosts is less than 0.01 percent. The round, flat hosts have a darker appearance and firmer texture than traditional hosts — more like a corn chip.
Gluten-free hosts are also available. But those altar breads are not in accordance with Canon Law and cannot be used in Catholic ritual, Williamson said.
"Christ took bread. And that, by definition, is made of wheat, which is gluten," he said, adding that traditional hosts are made by combining wheat flour and water.
St. Cajetan Parish in Morgan Park has offered low-gluten hosts for more than nine years. Only three of the roughly 5,000 parishioners at the Southwest Side parish regularly request the low-gluten wafers, said the Rev. Frank A. Kurucz.
The pastor has written about the low-gluten hosts several times in the church bulletin for his parish at 2445 W. 112th St., but requests for the specialty hosts typically come from parishioners who hear about the program through friends, family or neighbors.
Each parish has its own system for distributing the low-gluten hosts. St. Cajetan parishioners are asked to alert the celebrant before the start of Mass.
The low-gluten host is then consecrated with the other Communion bread, but it's kept within a pyx. This small receptacle prevents the low-gluten hosts from being contaminated by the traditional hosts, Kurucz said.
Those requesting a low-gluten host must receive Communion from the celebrant rather than a Eucharistic minister at St. Cajetan. The priest removes the host from the pyx and presents it to the parishioner.
Both Kurucz and Williamson said Catholics who cannot consume the host can still fully participate in Mass by drinking from the cup, but they acknowledged that bread is most commonly associated with the sacrament of Holy Communion.
"People have it in the back of their mind that they aren't really receiving the Eucharist if they are not receiving the host," Kurucz said.