Monday, October 25, 2010

What Shall We Do?

A phone call this week brought up one more question in a string of questions about what to do with folks who are allergic to the gluten in the host or unable to handle the alcohol in the wine.  To be honest, in more than 30 years as a Pastor, I have only had a handful of circumstances in which this question arose but it appears that either it is arising more frequently or congregations are attempting to be proactive in this question.

First a clarification:  dislike is not the same as a medical reason why a person cannot receive the wheat based host or the wine in the cup.  This is NOT about personal preference or taste.  So if someone comes to me and says "I really do not like the taste of (wheat bread) hosts or wine, so can I have a non-gluten host and grape juice?"  The answer is simple.  No.  This is not about taste or preference.  The only legitimate question here is what to do with those who cannot for legitimate medical reason eat the gluten in the host or the alcohol in the wine.

So what shall we do?  I know that there are many who are very quick to make a change in which a rice base host is offered as an option to the gluten based host and grape juice offered as a substitute for the wine in the cup.  Folks have brought me bulletins from Lutheran (and Missouri) parishes in which these options are noted so that people can make the choice for themselves.  Some are rather tastefully done and others simply embarrassing (the one in which a pregnant female Lutheran Pastor says to take the cups closest to her "belly" as the ones with grace juice).

I know that there are Roman Catholic supply stores where you can supply non-alcoholic wine (mustum) and non-gluten hosts (soy and rice flour based).  But, if you look you find a note of warning indicating that this is "not approved for use by the Holy See" or not legitimate to substitute for the ordinary elements of the gluten host and wine.  There is one company that produces a host nearly gluten free which Rome does allow.  There is also a provision for a non-alcoholic wine in which fermentation has been suspended but the essence unaltered.

Some of you are wondering now, what is the big deal?  I mean we have non-alcoholic beer, so why can't we substitute something else for the host and cup in order that the people may have what they want or need?  This is something that cannot be changed by preference or need. This is part of the divine constitution of the Eucharist, the matter of the sacrament that our Lord has given to us.  It is not that to use these substitutes means that Christ is not present but rather that we have no assurance that if we depart from His institution and command Christ will be present.  So, we keep to the elements of Christ just as we keep the Word of Christ, so that we may be assured that this bread is His body and this wine His blood as He has pledged and promised.

So what do I do?  If someone comes with a gluten issue, they commune under the cup only.  If someone comes with an alcohol intolerance (usually related to a medicine being taken), they commune under the host only.  We do NOT believe in a divided Christ.  Lutherans contended that to withhold the cup from the laity was a violation of Christ's command and intention but that this did not mean that those who had communed only under one species had somehow received no communion or only half of Christ.  This is not a case of either element being withheld but of medical necessity which precludes a communicant's participation in both.

So, there is my answer... what is yours?  What do YOU do?


Jason Zoske said...

My mom and brother are gluten intolerant(celiac disease). They are very sensitive to any gluten ingested. For a long time they refrained from taking the bread. At the same time they wanted to take the Lord's Supper as it was instituted. So they both began taking the bread again. They have not had any majors problems since. I don't know why they are very sensitive to gluten but seem to have no problems with communion. Not an answer to the issue, just my experience.

Rev. Kevin Jennings said...

When I arrived at Mt. Olive, the use of de-alcoholized wine was already in place, something we have maintained. The only change has been a switch from red to white wine. In the bulletin, in the communion practice statement, I say that individual cups containing dealcoholized white wine are available in the center of each tray.

On the gluten issue, there is one person who has the condition. I furnish the one person with the gluten-free host/wafer/bread/choose-your-favorite-label. This is not publicized to the congregation.

We do not use grape juice, except when there is a special breakfast - and that's in the fellowship hall, not the Divine Service - so that children may partake of the unofficial Lutheran sacrament, coffee and donuts.

Weslie O said...

Is de-alcholized wine still wine? Would the better practice be to have such a person refrain from the wine?

Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...

This conclusion seems to be in line with historical Lutheran thought. References to Christ's presence being whole in the host or chalice were not changed in an early Lutheran "corrected" form of the sequence for Corpus Christi, Lauda Syon Salvatorem, though other lines were altered to fit orthodox Lutheran teaching.

Rev. Robert Ferro said...

Throughout the N.T. the signs are the bread and cup, not bread and wine (look it up, wine is never once mentioned). The reference of Jesus to the "fruit of the vine" does not indicate that it was fermented (although that is the practice for Passover). Paul also says, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, your proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." No mention of wine per se.

Carl Vehse said...

It is not practical to removed all alcohol from wine.

According to the FDA Compliance Policy Guide Sec. 510.400:

"To ensure that consumers are not misled as to the alcohol content of the product, the statement of identity should be followed by the declaration, "contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume." FDA considers use of the terms 'dealcoholized' and 'alcohol-removed' in the statement of identity of a reduced alcohol wine product to be misleading if the alcohol content exceeds 0.5 percent by volume.

"We do not object to the presence of the additional label claim 'non-alcoholic' on labels of dealcoholized wines. However, the term 'non-alcoholic' should not be used in lieu of the term 'dealcoholized' or "alcohol-removed' as the sole qualifier in the statement of identity of the wine product."

ErnestO said...

"There seem to be a divine way of doing everything: a divine way to be.....It is so congruent with the way things are supposed to be that it can completely escape notice, unless there is someone there with the eyes of faith to perceive what is going on." by Thomas Keating

Sue said...

My church places about 6 cups in the center of each tray of individual cups that contain white grape juice. No big deal is made of it, it is mentioned discretely in the bulletin (none of the "toward my belly" nonsense)as being for those who hare "allergic" to wine. But a friend who is a recovering alcoholic takes the wine. She believes Jesus would not allow her to relapse over drinking his blood.

Anonymous said...

We didn't deal with this problem of the wine and a recovering alcoholic until earlier this year. Our minister was rather inventive, I thought, with his response. He took a normal communion cup, filled it with water and then took an eye-dropper and dropped one drop of wine into the water. Viola! Wine still present, not enough to taste as the water dilutes it, and the recovering parishoner is participating in the Holy Sacrament!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Although it has wheat, I don't think there is much gluten present in the typical communion wafer as it is such a tiny amount of wheat in the first place and I don't think the dough is highly kneeded (there isn't that raised structure that would call for gluten production).

Now, I haven't had either of these come up in my congregation, but here is what I generally would expect to suggest.

For the bread - take a smaller and smaller piece until it is what you can handle (and you can probably handle the whole host with no problem)
For wine - highly watered down wine. Not in grape juice, so it is distinguished from the others. That, or intinction.

Hemmer said...

There are low gluten breads available from that is approved by Roman canon lawyers and also Gluten Free Living magazine. Made with wheat and water makes it still bread.

I have a box of these in the freezer for the person who comes to me with Celiac's disease, but we have no such persons in our parish that I know of.

Those who have an intolerance toward alcohol I encourage to take small sips from the chalice (i.e. just let it touch your lips).

Anonymous said...

Rev. Ferro, by that logic we could all use strawberry or tomato juice in the Lord's Supper because that's the "fruit of the vine," too. It strikes me as an interpretation more in line with fundamentalism than Lutheranism. In the Bible, "fruit of the vine" is a phrase used to mean "wine," period. They are identical.

Unknown said...

I'm still trying to explain to a well meaning altar guild person who became part of the rotation of baking our communion bread that raisins are not appropriate for the Eucharist. Also, I'm still working on getting rid of those little shot glasses. After these two things, I am going to tackle the whole grape juice and gluten issue. :-)

Anonymous said...

A member at our congregation who has a terrible reaction to alcohol communed for the first time with us (we only have individual cups) and came out of church red faced and was out of commission the rest of the day. After that he told the pastor about his condition and came up with a good solution. He asked if he could take a sip of a individual cup, whet his whistle basically, and then let his wife finish the rest. They have been doing that since and he has had no problem. Since then, pregnant mothers with concern of having too much alcohol have been directed to the same practice. They sip from an individual cup and allow their husband to finish it. No change is made in what element is used, just a change in the amount taken. Which of course would be alot easier if there were no individual cups, only chalice, but that is another issue.

Rev. Robert Ferro said...

Dear Anonymous, I don't think tomatoes and strawberries are indiginous to Palestine.

My point is that if Jesus and Paul wanted to make sure that we only and always used wine for communion, then they would have said so. They could have very easily used the word "wine" instead of the cryptic "fruit of the wine". Instead they always and only point to the cup, and not to what the particular liquid that is in the cup. According to church tradition and the Confessions, wine is to be used, but that is not the Scriptural mandate. And given that we Lutherans are supposedly "sola scriptura", maybe we ought to look closely at what Scripture really says and distinguish that from what we think or assume it is says.