Sacramental wine

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Sacramental wine being poured from a cruet into a chalice

Sacramental wine, Communion wine, or altar wine is wine obtained from grapes and intended for use in celebration of the Eucharist (also referred to as the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion, among other names). It is usually consumed after sacramental bread.


Wine was used in the earliest celebrations of the Lord's Supper. Paul the Apostle writes in 1 Corinthians 10:16:

The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread.[1]

In the Early Church, both clergy and laity received the consecrated wine by drinking from the chalice, after receiving a portion of the consecrated bread. Due to many factors, including the difficulty of obtaining wine in Northern European countries (where the climate was unsuitable for viniculture), drinking from the chalice became largely restricted in the West to the celebrating priest, while others received communion only in the form of bread. This also reduced the symbolic importance of choosing wine of red colour.[2]

Groups which arose from the Protestant Reformation, such as the Lutheran Church, insisted on use of wine in celebrating the Lord's Supper. As a reaction to this, even in Western European countries that, while remaining Roman Catholic, had continued to give the chalice to the laity, this practice disappeared in order to emphasise the Catholic belief that Christ is wholly present under either form.

Eastern Churches in full communion with the Holy See continued to give the Eucharist to the faithful under both forms. The twentieth century—especially after the Second Vatican Council—saw a return to more widespread sharing in the Eucharist under the forms of both bread and wine. In the Anglican Communion (of which the Church of England and the Episcopal Church of the United States of America are members), the use of wine is obligatory in the celebration of Holy Communion; however, a person receiving communion makes a valid communion even if they receive only in one kind (i.e., either just the bread or just the wine). For example, a sick person who can only take liquids makes a valid communion by receiving the wine.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the clergy continued to receive the consecrated wine by drinking directly from the chalice, but in order to avoid the danger of accidentally spilling some of the Blood of Christ the practice was developed of placing the consecrated Body of Christ in the chalice and administering Holy Communion to the faithful, under both species with a sacramental spoon.

The Coptic Orthodox Church continues the ancient practice to this day.[vague]


The majority of mainstream liturgical churches, such as the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church, require that sacramental wine should be pure grape wine. However, some Christian churches disapprove of the consumption of alcohol, especially by children, and hold that it is acceptable to substitute grape juice for wine (see Christian views on alcohol). These denominations include Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, some Churches of Christ, and other Evangelical groups. In this case generally only pasteurized grape juice is used, though exceptions exist.

In Eastern Christianity, sacramental wine is usually red, to better symbolize its change from wine into the blood of Jesus Christ, as is believed to happen at the Eucharist. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, for example, sacramental wine used in the Divine Liturgy must usually be fermented pure red grape wine, often sweet, though this is not required. Greek churches favour the use of Mavrodaphne or Nama, while Russian churches favour Kagor. Wines with additives, such as retsina, are not allowed. In Western Christianity, white wine is also sometimes used for the practical purpose of avoiding stains on the altar cloths.[2]

In most liturgical rites, such as the Roman, Byzantine, Antiochene, and Alexandrian, a small quantity of water is added to the wine when the chalice is prepared, while in the Armenian Rite the wine is consecrated without the previous mingling of water. In the Byzantine Rite some hot water, referred to as the zeon (Greek: "boiling"), is added to the consecrated wine shortly before the Communion. Originally common practice in the ancient Mediterranean, this ritual has been accorded multiple symbolic meanings, such as the mystery of Christ's human and divine natures, his unity with the Church, and the flow of blood and water from Christ's side at his death.[3]

Catholic Church norms[edit]

Over the centuries, various criteria were laid down for wine to be appropriate for use in the Eucharist. Editions of the Tridentine Roman Missal had a section De Defectibus on defects which could occur in the celebration of Mass, including defects of the wine.[example needed] Canon 924 of the present Code of Canon Law (1983) states:

§1 The most holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist must be celebrated in bread, and in wine to which a small quantity of water is to be added.

§2 The bread must be wheaten only, and recently made, so that there is no danger of corruption.

§3 The wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine, and not corrupt.[4]

This means that the wine must be naturally fermented with nothing added to it, and the wine itself cannot have soured or become vinegar, nor can it have anything artificial added to it (preservatives, flavours). Wines are made from Vitis vinifera grapes. While the Catholic Church generally adheres to the rule that all wine for sacramental use must be pure grape wine and alcoholic, it is accepted that there are some circumstances, where it may be necessary to use a wine that is only minimally fermented, called mustum.

One exception was historically made regarding wine-derived additives to wine. An 1896 directive of the Congregation of the Inquisition stated:

To conserve weak and feeble wines, and in order to keep them from souring or spoiling during transportation, a small quantity of spirits of wine (grape brandy or alcohol) may be added, provided the following conditions are observed:

  1. The added spirit (alcohol) must have been distilled from the grape (ex genimime vitis);
  2. the quantity of alcohol added, together with that which the wine contained naturally after fermentation, must not exceed eighteen per cent of the whole;
  3. the addition must be made during the process of fermentation.[5]

Some purveyors of sacramental wine for use in the Catholic Church currently use the following private responsum as license to add sulfites to sacramental wine as a preservative:[original research?]

"Mass Wine: Treated with Sulphurous Anhydride, Etc. (Holy Office) Private.

The Holy Office was asked by the Archbishop of Tarracona: Whether in the Sacrifice of the Mass, wine may be used which is made from the juice of the grape, treated with sulphurous anhydride or with potassium bisulphite.

Reply. In the affirmative.

(Private); Holy Office, 2 Aug., 1922.

Not published in the AAS; cf. Il Monitore, Oct., 1923, p. 289."

Manner of consumption[edit]

In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, Communion is administered under the form of wine either by the communicant drinking directly from the chalice or by intinction. In the latter manner, the priest partially dips the consecrated bread into the consecrated wine and then places it in the mouth of the communicant.[6]

Editions of the Roman Missal issued between 1970 and 2000 envisaged also use of a silver tube (Latin: fistula) with which, as with a "straw", to drink from the chalice, or of a spoon as in the Byzantine Rite.[7]

In the Byzantine Rite of the Eastern Orthodox Church and some Eastern Catholic Churches the normal method is to use a spoon to give the communicant some of the consecrated wine together with a portion of the consecrated bread that has been placed in the chalice.[8]

In the Anglican Church, the wine is normally consumed with each communicant receiving a small sip of it as the chalice is held by another person. This is often referred to as "the common cup". Increasingly common is the custom of intinction whereby a communicant receives the consecrated bread in the form of a wafer and then dips this into the consecrated wine.

In some Protestant churches each communicant drinks from a small individual cup.


Throughout the world there are some wineries that exist either solely for the production of sacramental wines, or with sacramental wines as an auxiliary business. The same is true of wine used by other religions, e.g., kosher wine. These wineries are small and often run by religious brothers, priests or dedicated laity.

In Australia, for example, Australian Jesuits founded the oldest existing winery in the Clare Valley in 1851 to make sacramental wines. Producing over 90,000 litres of wine annually, this winery supplies all of the Australian region's sacramental wine needs.[9][10] The oldest still-producing vineyard founded for sacramental wine production in the United States is O-Neh-Da Vineyard in the Finger Lakes wine region of New York state, founded in 1872 by Bernard J. McQuaid, the bishop of Rochester.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1 Corinthians 10:16 Douay-Rheims version". Retrieved 2012-03-05. The KJV, RSV, NRSV, NAB, and REB, translated from the Greek text rather than Latin, read "the cup of blessing".
  2. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-11-14. Retrieved 2007-11-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Altar Wine
  3. ^ "Why Water With Wine". Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  4. ^ Code of Canon Law, 1983 Archived 2006-06-19 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Catholic Encyclopaedia: Altar Wine". 1907-03-01. Retrieved 2012-03-05.
  6. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 286-287
  7. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal (1970), 243-251
  8. ^ "The Holy Spoon and Hygiene". Retrieved 2012-03-05.
  9. ^ History of SevenHills Cellars Archived October 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Vickers, Tara (2006-12-15). "Sacramental Wine". Retrieved 2012-03-05.
  11. ^ Barber, Elizabeth (24 May 2020). "Will the Coronavirus Be the End of the Communion Cup?". The New Yorker.