Holy Communion for Those with Allergies

We think about susceptibility to food allergies in schools and restaurants and airplanes. We think about them at birthday parties and weddings and holidays. But do we really think about them at church? More and more people are starting to with the rise of allergies and awareness. Communion wafers are traditionally made of wheat, so what do those parishioners with wheat/gluten allergies do to receive the Holy Sacrament?

Different churches have different beliefs on the substitution of communion wafers. A few years ago, the Roman Catholic Church refused to let wheat/gluten free wafers take the place of traditional Communion wafers. The problem was helped a little when Benedictine nuns in Missouri developed a wafer with only trace amounts of gluten. The Catholic Church approved it and some people with gluten/wheat allergies could tolerate it. But there were still those left that couldn’t have even traces.

Other denominations are a little more lenient with Holy Communion and believe that it is appropriate to substitute rice or soy based communion wafers in the case of allergies. According to the Rev. Sue Montgomery, a Pennsylvania pastor working on a national level to help the Presbyterian Church become more accessible for disabled parishioners, “The invitation to the Lord’s Table is for everyone, even those with food allergies.”

And then there is the wine, the blood of Christ. What to do if you are allergic to wheat and can safely receive a substitute Communion wafer, but the wine is cross contaminated from others who receive the wheat wafer. Whether it is dipped or sipped, traces of the wafers can end up in the Communion chalice. Yet, again with growing awareness, churches are finding answers to this dilemma, too. Some churches are now keeping a special wine chalice that is kept free of wheat Communion wafers for those with wheat allergies and intolerances.

This is an interesting facet in the allergy world. There is the argument of tradition versus the need for change. Maybe not even change so much as accommodation. Church or any religious setting should be a place of safety and comfort. People should feel welcome and reassured. As Caroline Booy, of the Covenant Christian Reformed Church of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada states, “People with allergies and sensitivities feel left out in general, they should never feel left out in church.”

Just as in school or other settings, if your church is not serving alternate forms of the wheat Communion wafer, or a safe chalice for the Communion wine, try to find out who you can speak to. Start in your church and then if you need to go further, do so. You might want to weigh your options, too. If you love everything about your church except that they don’t serve alternative wafers, it may be worth it to you stay and skip that part of Communion. On the other hand, if your priority is more on the side of taking in the wafer, you may want to seek a new church home.

Look at these sources for more information on this topic:

– Heather Legg


  1. As for the Roman Catholic Church, transubstantiation means that bread is changed into the Body of Christ. If they are debating on how much wheat should be in the host, isn’t it irrelevant at this point. Wouldn’t the elements of the bread be irrelevant if it is truly the Body of Christ?

  2. Kmax – This represents a misunderstanding of transubstantiation. The change in the host is at the level of substance (hence the name) – not accident. In philosophical terms, “substance” is what something is at its most basic level and “accident” is how that substance is modified. In transubstantiation all the accidental properties of the bread/wine remain even though the deeper substance has changed (analogous to when a tree dies and becomes wood, or a cow dies and becomes meat). Therefore, one can still get drunk off the wine or have an allergic reactions to the gluten.

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