Baptism Begins a Continuing Catechesis: Special Needs for Communion

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Jan 09, 2015

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday (or Tuesday in the Extraordinary Form) marks the end of the Christmas season. The Church changes to green vestments and begins Tempus Per Annum or Ordinary Time (or Time after Epiphany in the Extraordinary Form). This feast can be a reminder of each family member's baptismal day and baptismal vows. The dinner table centerpiece could be a Christ Candle surrounded by everyone's baptismal candle (or a candle to represent each person). A white garment or baptismal gown could be displayed prominently. Family prayers can include renewal of baptismal promises.

Baptism Begins the Parental Commitment of Catechesis

Parents can recall the beginning of their commitment to raise and educate our children in their Catholic faith, especially in preparing for the reception of other sacraments. These words from the Rite of Baptism recall these promises:

You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

Parents: We do.....

Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He (she) is to walk always as a child of the light. May he (she) keep the flame of faith alive in his (her) heart. When the Lord comes, may he (she) go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom....

Dearly beloved, this child has been reborn in baptism. He (she) is now called the child of God, for so indeed he (she) is. In confirmation he (she) will receive the fullness of God's Spirit. In holy communion he (she) will share the banquet of Christ's sacrifice, calling God his (her) Father in the midst of the Church.

The responsibility of catechesis begins at that moment of the child's baptism, but it is an ongoing process. Training a child in the Faith doesn't end when he/she receives the sacraments. Sometimes formation requires thinking outside the Q&A sections of the catechism. In the Rite of Baptism the Church is looking ahead to the reception of the next sacraments. So while Baptism is the beginning, my thoughts today focus on the catechesis of preparing for Holy Communion, but not the first time, but everyday reception.

When a Child is Passed Over at Communion

Recently Jennifer Fitz discussed the difficulty when young children who have received their First Holy Communion are passed over because they look too young. In her article at CatholicMom.com, she provides some concrete ways on how to handle this situation as a parent. It's an awkward situation. This is an example of the need for continuous formation of the child, assisting in ways to help him/her receive the Holy Eucharist, teaching how to communicate to the priest or Eucharistic Minister. There should also be continuing education for the parish community, who should be supporting us in the training of the Faith. Coming from a petite family, I've definitely had this happen to myself and my siblings. My youngest son will receive his First Holy Communion this year, so this is part of our awareness and preparation.

Food Allergies and Communion

Jennifer's article struck a deeper chord with me. Our oldest son is allergic to wheat and the only alternative form of reception is receiving the Eucharist under the sacred species of wine in a separate chalice. My husband and I have to prepare for every Mass how our older son is going to receive Holy Communion. Food allergies and medical concerns are an area that require continued catechesis and support from parents. Unfortunately most people are either unfamiliar or don't grasp the entire picture.

How my son will receive Communion is forefront in our minds for every Mass. Our parish provides a separate chalice to hold the Precious Blood and the recipients must come to the right side of the altar following the priest's communion. We have to arrive early to church to request the chalice from the sacristan. If our son is serving, he has to make special mention to the priest that he needs to receive in that way, because not every priest realizes the altar boy on the left side needs to receive from the chalice. If our parish distributes the Precious Blood to all the congregation, he needs to be the first in line so that other people won't "taint" the Contents of the chalice.

Visiting in other parishes is a headache. We have to find out how Holy Communion is distributed. If he has to receive from the communal chalice, we need to sit up front so he can be first. We have to ask for some kind of help if there is no Precious Blood being distributed. When dioceses stopped having the chalices because of flu season, this made it particularly hard to visit other parishes.

Always On Alert

And even with all this preparation, we always need to be aware of the situation. There always seems to be some little snafu: someone forgot to bring the chalice from the sacristy; an altar server didn't bring the chalice to the altar; the EM or priest didn't remember to distribute the Precious Blood.

If the congregation will receive the Precious Blood, my husband or I need to be behind our son to give the "okay" signal, because the Eucharist Ministers always question him whether he can receive. This is fresh in my mind because we went through this again at Christmas Eve Mass at my mother-in-law's church. We weren't early enough to sit near the front, so we had to find a way to sit at the end of a pew. At Communion time my husband and our son slipped to the front against the crowd to be first in line for the chalice. 

It has been an extra cross when we have attended an Extraordinary Form Mass. While there are ways the priest might be able to accommodate our son, we have found them either unfamiliar or unwilling to make special allowances. It is a painful thing to be told one's child has to make a spiritual communion because he is refused the privilege of receiving Jesus.

The concern is distracting. There have been too many times when he hasn't or couldn't receive due to various circumstances, so we have to be aware of what's going on all the time. I don't really relax until after he receives and is back in the pew.

Celiac and Wheat Allergies are Two Separate Diagnoses

Our son is not a celiac. A celiac cannot tolerate gluten which is found in wheat, rye, barley and other foods. Our son cannot handle wheat itself; he breaks out in hives and other anaphylactic reactions. His allergic reaction is quite different to celiac or wheat intolerance. He simply cannot have wheat in any way. Celiacs have different tolerances, so some can tolerate the special gluten-reduced hosts that are approved for use in the Mass. These hosts will not work for our son, because they are still made from wheat. But here lies so much confusion, because there might be several people in the parish with different needs: one celiac needs the Precious Blood, another one insists on having the special hosts. For our son he can only handle one way, the Precious Blood.

What gives us some consolation is that our son's allergist says he knows of no adult who is truly allergic to wheat, so we impatiently wait for that day when he will outgrown his allergies. We eagerly await that day, and offer these annoyances for those who will never outgrow their allergies or celiac disease.

Continuing Formation

Food allergies and gluten intolerances were never mentioned in the catechism, and there is very little instruction regarding this in the liturgical rubrics. The hosts used at communion must be made of only wheat and water, with no other added ingredients. In the Ordinary Form the Precious Blood may be distributed with special parameters. I'm still trying to find out what recourse our son has if we attend the Extraordinary Form Latin Mass. But any special arrangements for communion time depend on the pastor and how he runs the parish.

There are ways that we can help in formation and preparation for Holy Communion, even with these special needs.

Preparing Our Son

At our home parish we do have a routine, so we have taught our son to request the chalice before Mass. We also instruct him to talk to the priest about how he needs to receive from the extra chalice. Our son has learned to be his own advocate, and how to communicate to adults about his situation.

While all this takes preparation and planning, we do not allow self-pity or even a feeling of self-importance. It's hard to do something different than others, but it's the cross God has sent for Him. We learn to bear it, and move on. Everyone has their own crosses, and they are all unique.

We try very hard to help him deal with the disappointments. We don't want to speak uncharitably about a priest who doesn't make accommodations, because he might not understand (sometimes there is a language barrier) or he has other distracting factors.

Communicating to Others

As parents, we try to introduce ourselves to the priests and discuss the situation in remote preparation. We try to be active members in our parish and not just these people that demand special accommodations and never appear any other time.

My father and brother-in-law are both Eucharistic Ministers, so we often discuss with them some of our difficulties. In that way the EMs can be more aware of the special needs.

Requiring special ways to receive Communion isn't meant to draw attention to ourselves, nor asking for sympathy. We are always looking for easier ways to make Communion time run smoothly, and it helps if other people understand our need, instead of treating us like we are outsiders or pariah.

Baptism was the beginning of our commitment to form our children in the Faith. We continue our training in the faith for reception in the sacraments, even on a daily basis. One aspect of the Gospel brought forth during the Christmas season is that Christ came for us all: Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, sick and healthy. We are all called to be part of the Church, and all called to come to the Paschal Feast. When a priest makes those special accommodations for my son with his medical conditions to receive communion, it's similar to Jesus as the Good Shepherd (15:4-7) leaving the ninety-nine sheep to find that one lost sheep. It is always great joy when I know my son can receive Holy Communion at Mass. And perhaps with further catechesis it can go even more smoothly for others in the future.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: stephanie.linden2136 - Jan. 16, 2015 1:35 AM ET USA

    3 of our girls have celiac and it is always a little ... adventurous... in an unfamiliar Parish or when a new Priest is presiding. I can hardly remain reverent approaching the communion rail as I am always aware if the Priest gives the girls the right Host or not?!?! They have returned to the pew without receiving before, because the special Hosts were given to the wrong children. Oh, I could tell stories!