Catholics, Celiac, and the Dread Pirate Roberts

by | Dec 12, 2014 | Catholic Living, Sacraments | 31 comments

I’m turning the blog over today to reader Sarah Kaye, who has had an Advent to remember this year as she and her family learn to cope with a diagnosis of celiac disease and what that means for their Catholic faith, particularly reception of the Eucharist. With 0.5 – 1% of the world’s population suffering from celiac disease and 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide . . . Sarah’s is a struggle potentially facing over six million Catholics! I’ll let her take it from here . . . 

Today, Kendra has graciously allowed her fantastic blogspace to be invaded by a fellow mother-in-the-trenches, partially due to the fact that I share so many of her likes and dislikes.  Take for instance this iconic movie:

She may have mentioned it once or twice here on the blog; but I caught sight of it listed among her faves, and I knew right away we were of the same generation.  (note from Kendra: I am winning over a new generation to the Princess Bride!)

But the reason I have been thinking about this guy

lately is not really related to Kendra at all, but rather to his fascinating defeat of the dreadful villain, Vizzini, which we come to realize he achieves because he was able to drink poison and survive.  How had he done this?

By simply conditioning himself; by building up an immunity for the odorless, tasteless yet deadly iocane powder, reaching the point of being able to survive the same dose of poison that killed his enemy.

But unlike the Dread Pirate Roberts, my family has been unable to build up a tolerance to a very ordinary substance in our daily lives: gluten.

No iocane powder necessary here; we were in fact poisoning ourselves every day by our morning  Cheerios.

Gluten is somewhat of a current “food fad bad guy.” Many people choose to avoid gluten because of various levels of sensitivity to it, or to try to lose weight or have more energy. But we recently received the news that I, and much of my family, suffer from celiac disease.  Whereas intolerances can develop to any number of food substances, causing significant and uncomfortable digestive symptoms, celiac disease is quite different.  It is an incurable, hereditary, and often irreparable autoimmune reaction by the body to the protein found in a majority of our American dietary grains.

When a person with celiac disease ingests gluten, it attacks the lining of the small intestine, impairs normal digestion of food, and leads to an assortment of gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, endocrinal, and neurological symptoms.  The vast array of symptoms it produces is dizzying, and can result in patients like myself being misdiagnosed until well into adulthood, despite a barrage of random complaints for poor health since childhood.

via purplecactusdesign on etsy

But back to the Dread Pirate Roberts.  The point of my mulling on his ability to tolerate his own brand of self-poisoning, is in the decisions we as a family have had to make regarding our reception of the Holy Eucharist.  Just as in this season of Advent we are reveling in the approaching arrival of the infant Jesus at Christmas, so too do we normally await His coming into our bodies and souls through the act of Holy Communion with great peace and eagerness, so much so that we have been a daily Mass family since I was a single, collegiate coed.

Now suddenly, the “advent” which brought us such daily joy and manifold grace has become tainted through fear of gluten.  Not only for us, but for our children.  While we have always striven since early childhood to stress that it is “really Jesus” they see us consume, our current predicament of, “yes, but there is still gluten in it” has opened a portal through which doubt of the real Presence could creep in. But doesn’t, thanks to this guy:

Thomas Aquinas would say that the accidental properties of the gluten are still active. Hence, someone with an allergy to gluten will still react to the accidental property of this grain protein even though the substance of bread has changed . . . The accidents remain while the substance changes. The physiological human response to the properties of alcohol or gluten remain even after transubstantiation. Likewise, our physiological response to the calories (also accidental properties of bread and wine) are real. We truly receive natural nourishment from the Holy Eucharist, although the purpose of the Blessed Sacrament is to provide supernatural and sacramental nourishment through habitual grace.

So just as we taught our kids, “Yes, it still looks like bread, smells like bread, and tastes like bread, but it is not really bread anymore,” we simply need to add, “Oh yeah, it works like bread in our bodies . . . but still, not really bread anymore.  Just Jesus.”

More questions easily follow though:
Why does the host have to be made of wheat? Answered here.

What about a low-gluten option? Answered here.

How much gluten is actually okay? Answer: no one really knows, and even more confusingly, it varies from person to person.

It this last question that caused me to ponder iocane powder.  Real poison can be given little by little, hardly detectable to the human body, building to a point of immunity.  That is, if fairy tales are to be believed.

Unfortunately, for the reality of celiac disease in which we now live, the accidental property that allows the precious Body of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to still behave in our bodies as gluten does, means that even the smallest amount has the potential to set off the chain reaction of silent, imperceptible damage to one of our most vital organs, with wide-reaching consequences.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that we now appreciate more fully God’s providential Wisdom that ordained the holy sacrifice of the Mass to be performed under not just one, but two species: bread AND wine, becoming Body AND Blood.  We are so grateful that the body that is sacrificed on Calvary is separated during death from the blood that pours from His side; enabling us, these nearly 2000 years later, to remain able to receive our Lord fully in sacramental Communion.

A second coincidence I take great peace in realizing is the fact that about six years ago, our children noticed the Anima Christi prayer on the back of the missal in the pew.  Seizing a moment of inspiration, this prayer became our post-Communion act of thanksgiving, especially for the youngest ones who had not yet received their sacraments.  Learning later that this prayer was an act of Spiritual Communion, we are now grateful to have a dearly loved prayer available to us for those instances where, despite our best efforts to be prepared, we will not be able to participate in the reception of Holy Communion.  Once again, the providence of our heavenly Father is making sure that neither knowledge (“Yes, it is really Jesus”) nor grace (which is present in, but not limited to, the sacraments) is kept from us as we seek to welcome Christ into our souls at each and every Mass.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me; 
Body of Christ, save me; 
Blood of Christ, inebriate me; 
Water from the side of Christ, wash me; 
Passion of Christ, strengthen me; 
O good Jesus hear me; 
Within your wounds hide me; 
separated from you, let me never be; 
From the evil one protect me; 
At the hour of my death, call me; 
And close to you bid me; That with your saints, 
I may be praising you forever and ever. 


As the celebration of Christmas approaches, let’s be grateful to be able to take a few moments to recalibrate our own sense of awe and wonder at the gift of the Holy Eucharist, and give great thanks for each and every opportunity to welcome Jesus anew into our lives, whether you are blessed to physically receive Him, or whether you must suffer the sacrifice of praying for Spiritual Communion.  Jesus seeks us out . . . let us be ready to receive Him.


Sarah Kaye is a homeschooling mother of seven (so far) who spends her free time consulting with the great folks at Memoria Press. Find her on the Member Forum at under the title, KF2000.

p.s. from Kendra: The winner of the Liturgical Living giveaway is . . . Ashley Strukel! Please email me at by Monday to claim your prize! Ashley wins either a printable pdf OR a spiral bound hardcopy of Kelly’s planner: The Best Laid Plans AND an ebook copy of Haley and Daniel Stewart’s new liturgical living cookbook: More Feasts! 

And, in a pretty awesome coincidence ALL the recipes in More Feasts! are gluten free.

SOOOOO . . . I talked with Haley, and she wants to offer my readers another ebook copy of More Feasts! PLUS an ebook copy of the first book, Feast! That’s 33 recipes based on Saints’ feast days that are perfect for all the gluten-free Catholics in your life.

I’d love these books to benefit someone who is gluten-free. So, if you’d like to win them, please leave a comment telling me who you know who’s gluten-free who will either receive the books, or at least something you’ll cook from the books if you win them!  The person can be you, that’s allowed. And since they are ebooks, all you internationals are eligible to win!

I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, so be sure to check back then to see if you won.

And the Advent giveaways don’t stop, Sarah got the fine folks at Memoria Press to offer a giveaway you homeschool types will love. Check back for that next week.

In the meantime, enjoy the great feasts this weekend. We’re braiding our hair and having Tamale Pie for Our Lady of Guadalupe today.

Then (if this very-welcome-but-still-very-inconvenient rain ever stops) we’ll put up our Christmas lights on Saturday for St. Lucy’s day. And eat these, which are either supposed to be cats or eyeballs, depending on whom you ask. But *I* am going to make them out of a pop-tube of cinnamon roll dough. Please don’t tell Norway.


  1. Jamie Lee

    This is so edifying to read! I've known I was a celiac for years now, and I know the logistical struggle to get to Mass early enough and explain to the priest celiac disease so he can include us in wine distribution. Thank you for your post!! I'm also very excited about the Feast! Gluten Free book giveaway. What a cool way to celebrate the Liturgical Season! I just had our first baby, and I cannot wait to celebrate the life of the church with her!

  2. Amelia Bentrup

    I have a bunch of family members who eat gluten-free (including myself). None of us are diagnosed celiac but we all have had various condition (depression, eczema, digestive issues) improved by the elimination of gluten from our diets. Although we all still receive the regulat Eucharist. I know at least for me, I can handle a tiny amount of gluten, but consuming on a daily basis affects me negatively.

  3. Katie

    I don't have a gluten free entry – but every time I see the sushi on the cover of "More Feasts" I am so intrigued by who's feast that is and if Haley gives step by step directions for how to make sushi – my newest DIY food item at home!

    • Ali

      Haha! Me too! Maybe Haley will just share with us.

    • Kendra

      The sushi is for St. Paul Miki, and step by step instructions are in there. I'm looking forward to trying it!

  4. Carolyn_Svellinger

    I am so glad you had Sarah on your blog! This is a question I've often wondered: about gluten and even alcohol for pregnant mothers who carry the MTHFR gene mutation, which I've read that even a sip can be harmful. Thank you! (Sorry typo in first comment)

  5. Elizabeth

    My mother is gluten-free, and not super excited that I'm converting to the Catholic Church, so it would be neat to share this cookbook with her. She loves following the liturgical year, so it would be a way to connect something she loves to something that would help make a difficult thing a bit easier. Thanks to you and Haley for the giveaway!

  6. Jules

    I've only been able to receive spiritual communion for 5 years now (since my Celiac diagnosis). I am also unable to tolerate any amount of alcohol, so during communion I go up with everyone else, cross my arms across my chest, and receive a blessing (if I'm in the priest's line). If I find myself in an ME's line it can get awkward, lol. I've had the Host brandished at me a few times, like "just take it, why are you here?". Sigh. My kids have Celiac too, and the oldest is having his First Communion this year. I wish things were simpler, and we didn't have to feel so separate at times with this.

  7. Jacqueline Novak

    Sarah I feel you! I recently found out that I have Celiac and have contemplated all of this. I am working on figuring out the balance between taking care of my body and trusting God for it. Celiac can create such paranoia!

  8. Amanda

    Good post, thanks Sarah for sharing! I often hear misinformation about this from non-Catholics and now I have a resource I can point them to 🙂 Somehow I've not seen the Anima Christi prayer before but I love it! I might make some cards for my kids with the prayer on it, my 6 year old has been begging for communion since he was 2 and I bet he'd really like that. Also, I was really excited to hear that you're working with Memoria Press, we enjoy some of their curriculum and Cheryl Lowe, their special needs consultant, has been a big help in working with my daughter!

  9. Becky

    As improbable as it seems, my husband is gluten free now, which has dramatically improved (not cured) terrible, chronic back problems he's had for a few years. Looks like the winner would have it by Christmas! I'd love to try the baked apple recipe!

  10. Mary

    We eat dinner every week with a friend and her daughter, who both have celiac. This shared time has been a huge gift, and it has also helped me learn about celiac and how to cook for it. (Ask me for my recipe for gluten-free, dairy-free brownies!) Although the little girl is baptized Catholic, they are not church-goers. I have tried to encourage them, but was not sure how much I should press, especially due to difficulties around a person with celiac receiving communion. Thank you so much for you wonderful reflection and explanation!

  11. Kristen

    I loved this post! My son and suffer from celiac disease and as I pondered transubstantiation I asked my local catholic librarian about this very topic. I had a hard time getting a solid answer to my questions, but Sarah did well satisfying my questions. What a lovely idea to give these books away to those who could really use their insight. Thank you, Haley!

  12. Stephanie

    My daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease via biopsy when she was three. This past summer she received her First Holy Communion using a low-gluten host (<20ppm). After lots of praying and worrying and studying and praying more, we chose this option for her, informing her that it wasn't 100% GF but asking Our Lord to let it sustain her without harming her. (Our holy priest consecrates the host in her pyx, then when she goes to receive he turns the pyx over on her hand so that he doesn't cross-contaminate the consecrated host by touching it with his hands.) Still, I was a little concerned. Several months later we went to check her growth on the growth chart, and she had skyrocketed up- her most noticeable growth in years- and I took this as an answer to my prayers that it wasn't affecting her growth. I know this is a very personal decision but I wanted to share my own little answered prayer! Many prayers to you and your family, Sarah.

  13. Ali

    Thank you so much for this guest post. My daughter has a diagnosed intolerance to certain fermentable sugars, including the sugar in gluten and fructose. Her gastroenterologist has been great in helping us figure out what she can eat, but it has been a big adjustment for our family. This will be our first Christmas cooking and baking gluten free.
    It also is a huge eye opener…I'm not sure if she will be able to have either the Precious Blood or the Host. Unlike Celiac, she can have tolerate a tiny amount of gluten from cross contamination, etc., but she has severe GI symptoms if she has much. I'm so glad I'm reading this a year and a half before we have to address it.
    Sarah, this may sound odd, but I'm also very glad to hear that you've found out about Celiac's and can now treat it. It is difficult to know something is wrong and not have an answer for it. God Bless you and your family!

  14. Mary Lenaburg

    Our parish offers a chalice of Our Lords Precious Blood for those who are gluten intolerant. I am so grateful for it.

  15. Heather

    My son had to go gluten free for health reasons, but has not been tested for Celiacs. I decided to do it with him so he wouldn't feel like he stood out any more than he already did. Little did I know it was going to be a lifetime decision. I have since discovered that I am intolerant too; and since it can be hereditary, it would seem it passed from me to my son. Cooking for us is a challenge because we have had to eliminate so many other things from his diet due to other food allergies and his ASD.

  16. Micaela Darr

    What an interesting read. Thanks. Sarah! I'm sure you've done a ton of research, so perhaps this is redundant… My dad is a principal at a Catholic school, and he has a student with celiac who has a special chalice of gluten-free wine (Precious Blood, of course). I was visiting another church recently where they announced that the same option was available. I will pray for you and your family, your healing, and of course, that you have an opportunity to receive a Our Lord in the Eucharist.

  17. Lu

    Thank you so, so much for writing this. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in July, and I have wrestled with whether or not to receive the Eucharist when the precious blood is not available. I long for Him when I cannot, and feel guilty when I choose my own health over receiving Jesus (especially because I didn't have any debilitating symptoms at the time of my diagnosis, but was checked because my brother has it.) I'm thankful that I found out before I got terribly sick like my brother and others I know, but because of this, I have doubted myself – yes, my diagnosis was clearly confirmed, but I felt ok before so, why am I doing this again? So thank you for reminding me. Ps – I'm a homeschooling mom of 7, too! Thankfully my kids have tested negative so far. 🙂

    • Dixie

      In the case of celiac disease, my understanding is that consuming gluten even occasionally will damage your body, even if you appear asymptomatic. It's so hard to chose a spiritual communion when Christ is right there in the Host — but you are called to protect your health so that you can do the work Christ has set out for you, like homeschooling those precious children!! In a way, your denying yourself in order to protect your long-term health is one way you can help draw your children closer to Christ, by ensuring you are well enough to mother them.

  18. Shirelle Edghill

    My mother in law suffers from Celiac and diabetes. She lives alone and often joins us for meals. I'd love to have more recipes that she can enjoy with us!

  19. Adelaide

    I actually find the idea of receiving the Blessed Sacrament in the Host (when the Most Precious Blood is not available) quite touching and spiritually rich in light of the suffering that receiving Him would cause. I think it particularly brings home the idea that we are called to unite all of our suffering with His, especially during the moment of Communion. That the very act of receiving Jesus in the Host causes bodily suffering but spiritual healing is particularly poignant. I find it to be even more affirming of His True Presence. Of course, everyone must decide for themselves if they can make that sacrifice, and having the Most Precious Blood is truly a gift.

    • Kendra

      I see the appeal of what you're saying Adelaide, but a decision like this, or any decision to pursue voluntary physical mortification that could cause bodily harm, shouldn't be made except under the supervision of a priest who understands the particulars of your situation.

    • Adelaide

      Of course. Any mortification taken on should be under the council of a priest or spiritual director. It's definitely not for everyone, which makes me truly grateful that Jesus is available in the Most Precious Blood. It would be great if more parishes made both species available more readily.

  20. Julie Huebsch

    I would love to win Haley's book! I was diagnosed with celiac several years ago. At first, the priests at my parish would put out a second chalice (since the body and blood of Christ are commingled in the main chalice making it off-limits for me). For the past few years, they've ordered the VLG (very low gluten) hosts for those of us with celiac disease.

  21. Dr Mom

    Thank you Kendra for this guest post. One of my daughters was diagnosed with celiac disease just over a year ago. Given that she is just 6 years old we have not yet had to address the issue of the Blessed Sacrament yet, but it is something that I am thinking and praying about. Even though I am not celiac positive, because I have the CD gene and I am gluten sensitive, so I too am Gluten Free, but have chosen to take the host because I have the choice and am at this point not too sensitive. Eating gluten free has made a huge difference in our lives, but I know it will be hard for her to grow up without the Most Precious Body. I love that God, in his infinite wisdom gave us TWO forms in which to participate in communion – I am so happy that Sarah made this point and it will be one that I keep in mind when my daughter laments. Yeah for Haley too for making a cookbook with GF recipes! That is wonderful.

  22. Becky

    I am Pentecostal and still take communion. I also have Celiac Disease. There is so little gluten in those crackers. You’d have to eat 40 of them to even get a reaction according to my dietitian who also has Celiac Disease. They do sell gluten free crackers at the Bible Book Store. Just buy a box and keep them in your purse when you know you will be having communion. Then just take that one. I do hope this helps. God bless!

    • Kendra

      Thanks! The gluten-free crackers aren’t an option for Catholics, but there are low gluten options that are licit and can be tolerated by some with celiac.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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