Catholics, Celiac, and the Dread Pirate Roberts

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.