Sunday, August 23, 2009

Evening Service: Traveling with our Gluten-free Pyx

It’s Sunday morning and we just decided to go to the evening contemporary mass. Since our parish does not offer an evening service we are trying to decide whether to go to Lady of the Lake or St. Ignatius. One is a contemplative service (which mom is voting for) and the other is a Life Teen mass (which Nate and Emily vote for).

I think I am out numbered.

We’ve come a long way. Years ago, when Nate was first receiving Eucharist, his low-gluten wafer was unique. Popping in to a new parish meant showing up early or calling a day in advance to explain the situation. Now, even if we have a visiting priest, we can arrive a quarter of an hour in advance, meet with the priest, and then slip into church for a quiet meditative moment before mass.

How does this conversation usually go? Now that Nate is 12, according to him, 12 years-8 months-and 12 days, we have been encouraging him to initiate the interaction. It still takes a bit of courage, occasional role playing, and then a “you-can-do-this” speech.

“Hello, Father. My name is Nate. I am gluten intolerant and I have brought my pyx with a low gluten wafer. I was hoping to have it consecrated at mass so I can receive both the body and blood.”

Either one of two things happens at this point, either the priest responds with a story of experience with low-gluten wafers, or the priest queries as he has never experienced this situation. As the years go by, fewer priests are unaware of the low-gluten wafers most of them now want to have an address of where to locate the wafers for other parishioners.

At this point, I usually get the elbow nudge. In a whispered panicked voice, Nate will cry, “MOM!” It’s my turn to step in. It’s a slow process to coach the communicant and educate the presider. As Nate grows in confidence, I am sure he will initiate more of the information when we visit new parishes, as it is now, I want Nate to feel welcome and excited about receiving eucharist.

Our home parish priest has set up a routine with Nate. No matter where we sit, Nate gets into line for Father, and then receives his low-gluten host from our pyx. (Prior to church, we laid the low-gluten wafer loaded pyx on the side table for the alter servers to deliver to the altar at the appointed time.) Quietly, the priest snaps the pyx closed and hands it back to Nate, who then pockets it and proceeds to the line waiting for the cup. This is Nate’s preferred mode of receiving. He feels like no one know he is different. No one singles him out from the rest.

Visiting a local parish when I was called to interpret for a special signed mass for the Deaf community, the priest made a big deal of walking down to Nate, giving him his host before anyone else received. All eyes were on Nate. From the front, looking down into the congregation, I saw Nate sink lower and lower into the pew. His face became a few shades redder, and his eyes darted up to mine with humility. After mass, Nate exclaimed in frustration that he was not old or invalid. He never wanted to receive eucharist that way, ever again.

When visiting a parish that the priest has experience with low-gluten hosts, we usually follow the tradition of this parish. Sometimes this means approaching the priest, receiving a blessing, circling the priest to take the pyx off the altar and proceeding to the cup. Other times, it is a matter of waiting until the very end, and going up as one of the last, so that the priest can step back to the altar and pick up the pyx for Nathan.

For either of our choices tonight, after a brief word with the priest, Nathan will be able to walk with our family, no matter where we sit, and receive Christ in the bread and the wine. It is an amazing blessing. I am thankful that we live in a time that congregations, priests, and a cloistered group of sisters understand the importance for everyone to be welcome to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist.


  1. Hi! I realize this is old so I hopr you still get the comments. My Celiac son will recieve his first Communion in about a month. We already have a pyx and our church keeps the low-gluten hosts in stock. But I'm having trouble figuring out the best procedure to use. How exactly does the pyx get from the alter to your son at communion? When does your son eat it after he receives the pyx? How does your son avoid the priest's chalice which contains a gluten host?

  2. Also, have you found a way for him to receive a cup before anyone else has sipped from it? At our church, the ministers receive from every cup before they serve. Thanks for your help!

  3. Hi Kerry, I do still receive comments and I love to respond.

    If your son is anything like mine, Nate did not want anyone to know he was different, especially the first time receiving. Our priest was wonderful! The pyx was consecrated at the altar during the Eucharist, and then the priest picked it up, kept the pyx under the ciborium (bowl with hosts), pulled it out and used his other hand to take the low-gluten host out for offering to Nate. Our priest slipped the pyx to one of us parents (we stood together with Nate as he received for the first time) and Nate proceeding to the cup. We were first in line, so that no one else would have "contaminated" the cup before us. (Years of receiving, sometimes the priest just keeps the pyx and returns it to the altar.)

    Now that Nate goes weekly, one parish has a separate ciborium with all the low gluten hosts and parishioners line up for that Eucharistic minister. The fingers that touch have no chance to cross contaminate.

    The other parish, since we are the only receivers, we know to head to the priest's line where he is holding our pyx. The priest slips the pyx to Nate before he proceeds to the cup. The Eucharistic minister of the cup, never takes the "main" cup with floaters, but picks up one of the smaller chalices for our line.

    If my son sees that the larger priest chalice ended up in his line, he slips past and goes on to the other chalice, or returns to his seat with only receiving the host. We've even talked through scenarios of, "What to do, if you see the host IS in the secondary cup?". We've practiced placing the cup to the mouth, and appreciating the gift without taking a sip.

    It is hard for me. I want him to receive both, every time. We have friends and their daughter feels rejected or denied the Body of Christ. They have considered just not going to Mass as it feels awkward to be blessed and sit out. I agree, it is hard. It is inconvenient and takes time to set it up. It's hard to just pop in for Mass or realize we are too running late to slip the pyx up to the altar. I try to encourage her to make just as much effort for this celebration as she does for her daughter going to a birthday party. Isn't this a more precious celebration? I encourage you to carry this cross, so that your child always wants to attend Mass and feels welcome.

    Once the priest gets use to the process, he may be amazed at how many others come forward. At Our Lady of the Lake, they are purchasing a special ciborium that attaches to the main ciborium, specially made for the priest to handle regular and low-gluten hosts. Who would have known a decade ago that parishes would have so many requests.

    We will say a special prayer for your family . . . blessings on his special day.