QUAERITUR: What sort of “wine” is valid for Mass?

From a priest:

Are there any rules or traditions about the type of wine used the chalice? I know it must be fermented grape juice – but must or can it be it be red, white, sherry, port?

It is of divine institution that the only valid substances for transubstantiation are, for the Body of the Lord bread made from wheat and, for the Precious Blood, wine made from grapes or raisins (dessicated grapes).  But the grapes also have to be ripe, which rules out “wine” such as verjus (I actually have some, for ancient Roman and Medieval recipes). It can be red, white, dry, sweet, whatever.  Some prefer red because it resembles blood.  Some prefer white because it is easier to clean the linens.

Sometimes questions come up about the use of wine which has very low alcohol content, called mustum, a wine which had the fermentation process halted by means of rapid freezing.  That is a valid substance because it is from grapes and the natural fermentation process began, making it wine.  It has an artificially low alcohol content, but mustum is consider valid wine.

However, there is the other end of spectrum to consider: wine which has an artificially high alcohol content.  Sometimes alcohol distilled from wine is added to wine in order to preserve it against spoiling, changing to vinegar.  In this case we have “fortified wine”.  The usual types of “fortified wine” we encounter are port, sherry, madeira, marsala, and vermouth.

Unreconstructed Ossified ManualistLong ago it was established that fortified wines are valid matter so long as the wine-spirit added was distilled from grapes, that the quantity of alcohol added, together natural content from the fermentation, does not exceed 18% and that the additional alcohol is added during the process of fermentation.  You can read a good, brief article on altar wine in the Catholic Encyclopedia.  Also, because we are at heart Unreconstructed Ossified Manualists, we want to check our old manuals.  Unreconstructed Ossified ManualistWhat could be better than checking Tanqueray’s Theologia Dogmatica?

Again, we learn that it has to be from ripe grapes, it can be of any color, not corrupted, not frozen at the time of consecration.  Citing the Missale Romanum we are warned against wine that is turning bad.  As a matter of fact, if the priest is doubtful about it, he sins gravely by consecrating it.  “Si fuerit aliquantulum acre, ait Missale, conficiens graviter peccati.”

By the way, the coffee mugs are not at the moment filled with any of the beverages mentioned in this post.. until now… try some Mystic Monk Coffee!  It’s swell!

I would rule out vermouth, because herbs and so forth are added.  I would not go for sherry because, if I am not mistaken, the addition of the spirits takes place after fermentation.  Marsala seems to be okay, so long as it is 18% or less.  Vin Santo, from dessicated grapes, is fine.  As the name implies, it is wine for the altar! Port is valid, 18% or under.

Perhaps some people knowledgeable in the ways of port (making, not drinking) and marsala (not just cooking) can chime in.

Furthermore, this is a good reason why there are ecclesiastically approved makers of altar wines.  If you have a doubt, don’t screw around with anything that may not be valid.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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27 Responses to QUAERITUR: What sort of “wine” is valid for Mass?

  1. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    As I understand, to clarify the situation with wines of higher alcohol content, including some of the quality wines of regions in France and the New World, where sugar (not just grape-alcohol) is added during the fermentation, this addition can be considered to produce wine which is considered invalid matter, as it is not pure grape. I have several priest friends who have scruples (legitimate scruples, I don’t deny) about Burgundy and other quality wine districts. Generally in this respect you are safer with whites than reds, but perhaps better to avoid strong full Chardonnays, which may have been so treated. No information will be available on the labels.

    As to cheap (supermarket) fortified wines, I would tend to distrust them, as Father Z says, that is why there are approved suppliers.

    Notwithstanding that, we must not forget Cardinal Mazarin, who said, in the 17th Century “I always offer my Mass with a good Meursault, for I would not wish to make a grimace to the Lord.”

    Priests – use the best wine you can get. Laymen – consider donating a case of half-bottles of a good vintage wine to your priest friends for their Masses.

  2. APX says:

    Laymen – consider donating a case of half-bottles of a good vintage wine to your priest friends for their Masses.

    I was under the impression that only priests are able to purchase altar wine. I’ve been trying to get my hands on some for a few years now, but was told by my friend in the seminary, as a layperson I can’t purchase it.

  3. Josephus: I can resonate with that sentiment of Card. Mazarin. I said Mass for years every day in a place where the wine for Mass was execrable. I wonder if that whole thing about “Si fuerit aliquantulum acre…” shouldn’t have entered in.

  4. Centristian says:

    “I was under the impression that only priests are able to purchase altar wine. I’ve been trying to get my hands on some for a few years now, but was told by my friend in the seminary, as a layperson I can’t purchase it.”

    Not true; anyone can purchase it. Until it’s consecrated, it’s only wine. But why would you want it? It’s ghastly. Trust me, you wouldn’t serve most commerically available sacramental wines at table (without suffering the scorn and derision of your guests).

  5. zapman449 says:

    Unless I’m mistaken, one should be very careful about using port in lieu of other ‘alter worthy’ wines… Frequently the fortification of Port is done with Gin or Vodka rather than a brandy made from other grapes. However, I must point out that there are unfortified ports, which may be valid.

    Also, the process for making port involves adding the fortification to the barrels at yearly intervals (if I recall correctly), so that may be sufficient to make the wine not worthy of the alter.

    –Jason (most of this info came from a recent port tasting… since 5 glasses were partaken of, my memory may be faintly suspect)

  6. Brad says:

    “a nice chianti”

  7. John UK says:

    But why would you want it? It’s ghastly. Trust me, you wouldn’t serve most commerically available sacramental wines at table (without suffering the scorn and derision of your guests). – Centristian

    Mercifully, here in the U.K., there are readily available good altar wines – e.g. from Hayes & Finch. Curiously, all altar wines used to be advertised as “Certified” fit for eecclesiastical use by the appropriate authority, but this seems to have disappeared….?

    I believe that the main fear of using “commercial” wines is that they may have been adulterated wih sulphites or other chemicals to enhance their shelf-life, or non grape sugars to increase fermentation in years when the grape has little sugar itself.

    A higher alcohol content than is normal for table wines: ie. 15-18% rather than 10-13% is, I believe, also desirable in altar wine to reduce the risk of its “going-off” as the bottle may be open for some days.
    In an emergency I can recommend Muscat de Rivesaltes :-) though I understand it is lightly fortified by the addition of grape spirit.
    Kind regards,
    John U.K.

  8. Iowander says:

    Where might one find a list of “ecclesiastically approved makers of altar wines”?

  9. AnAmericanMother says:

    So long as it isn’t cheap New York State jug port, which was the preferred tipple at our former Episcopal parish. Ick.

    I’ve sometimes wondered if it wouldn’t be a good idea to share the contents of our cellar with our priest. We have some nice Bordeaux vintages just sitting around getting older and more delicious, but we also recently discovered a couple of Washington State vineyards that make astonishingly good reds. Also some nice vintage Port from good houses. The only thing I would be concerned about is the sulfites. When my parents used to make wine (sometimes California Cabernet grapes, sometimes Zinfandel), they simply fumed the oak barrels with sulfur strips and that was all. Perhaps that’s de minimis?

  10. amenamen says:

    This website seems to spell it out clearly:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/3957384/Specifications-for-Altar-Wine-for-the-maker

    Specifications for Altar Wine
    Rules from the Vatican
    a) Altar wine must be natural wine from the fruit of the vine and not corrupt.
    b) In order that wine may be valid and licit matter for consecration, it must be wine,
    which has been pressed from fully ripened grapes, which has fermented, which has been
    purified of sediment or dregs, which has a vinous alcoholic content of around 12%,
    which has not been adulterated by the addition of any non-vinous substance, which is
    neither growing nor grown bad by acescence or putrefaction, and which, is in a liquid state.
    c) The following substances are certainly invalid matter for consecration: wines made from fruits or berries other than grapes; artificial or synthetic wines, even if they have the color and taste of natural wine produced from grapes and even if they have the same chemical ingredients as natural wine; wines to which an equal or almost equal amount of water has been added; wines made from thoroughly unripened grapes; wines turned to vinegar; wines gone thoroughly bad; wines devoid of alcohol; wines to which a notable quantity of sugar in solution was added before fermentation; unfermented grape-must which has been inspissated by boiling to about one-half or one-third of its original volume; brandy; pure vinous alcohol; all non-vinous beverages.
    d) After-wines are also invalid matter for consecration, if a large quantity of water was added to the grape-husks from which the wine was then made; after-wines are wines made from a second pressing of the grape-husks. If the water added was more than outweighed by the amount of juice remaining in the husks after the first pressing, an after-wine would be doubtfully valid matter for consecration and cannot therefore be used.
    e) The following substances are valid matter for consecration, but gravely illicit
    except in a case of real necessity: unfermented grape-must; wine turning to vinegar or
    beginning to go bad; wine not purified of sediment or dregs; wine in a frozen state; wine which has been given a bouquet by the addition of a small quantity of aromatic essence; wine to which no water or to which water distilled from roses or other plants was added at the Offertory (M.R.: DE DEF., iv, 2; x, 11; THEOL MOR.: II, N. 111).
    f) If a wine has been made from grape-must inspissated by boiling, it may be licitly
    consecrated, provided that fermentation took place (HOLY OFFICE: MAY 22, 1901).
    g) Raisin wine may be licitly consecrated, provided that it has the taste, color, and bouquet of natural wine; raisin wine is wine made from grapes that have been left to dry after ripening and before fermenting (HOLY OFFICE: JULY 22, 1706; MAY 7, 1879).
    h) To preserve a weak altar wine longer, it is licit to fortify it by the addition of
    alcohol, provided that the alcohol has been distilled from grapes, that it is added to the wine when active fermentation has begun to subside, and that the total alcoholic content of the wine when thus fortified does not exceed 12% (HOLY OFFICE: JULY 30, 1890;
    JUNE 25, 1891).
    i) To keep a weak wine from spoiling, it is licit to boil it to a temperature of 65″
    centigrade; this expedient is preferable to that of adding brandy to the wine(HOLY
    OFFICE: MAY 4, 1887; CONG. SACR.: INSTR. OF MARCH 26, 1929 AD I).
    j) If extra-sweet altar wines must be transported by sea, it is licit to keep them from
    spoiling by raising their natural alcoholic content to a total of 17% or 18%, provided that the alcohol added has been distilled from grapes and that the addition is made when active fermentation has begun to subside (HOLY OFFICE: AUG. 5, 1896).
    k) Naturally tart wines may be consecrated licitly. But it is not allowed to correct
    this tartness by the addition of any extraneous substance (HOLY OFFICE: APRIL 27,
    1892).
    l) Altar wine may be either red or white, though the former is less desirable because of the danger of staining the altar linens (EPH. LIT.: LV, P. 74 AD 11). With white wines, however, care should be taken at the Offertory, lest the wine and water cruets be mistaken one for the other.
    m) Altar wine should not be left for any length of time in open vessels, since thus the wine can more easily turn to vinegar and since some of it may be stolen and replaced with water (CONG. SACR: INSTR. OF MARCH 26, 1929 AD I).
    n) To make certain that bought altar wines are valid and licit matter in every
    respect, they shall be procured from those whose knowledge of the above requirements
    and whose skill and honesty are above all question and suspicion; religious, who
    specialize in the production of altar wines, should therefore be preferred to seculars. Those entrusted with the custody of the altar wine should also be of known reliability (CONG. SACR: INSTR. OF MARCH 26, 1929).

  11. Charles says:

    Can I get deconstructed ossified manualist stickers? [YES! I’ll get on it.]

  12. Joe in Canada says:

    regarding mustum, I believe it is only licit for those with permission from their Ordinary. I presume this does not affect its validity. Regarding wine and linens, it is not harder to clean linens after using red wine if the linens are red. The Ukrainians do this all the time. It helps with lipstick, too, which can come from the Communion Spoon.

  13. Humilitas says:

    The Novus Ordo parish that I attend runs low on wine once or twice a year and the call goes out at Mass to parishoners who are asked to donate a bottle to help bring the supply back to “normal levels”. Each Sunday Mass (3) has anywhere between 15 to 20 extraordinary ministers and we receive under both species. There can be anywhere from 800 to 1600 worshipers in attendance at each Mass.
    We are not advised as to what type of wine to bring in – red, white, sweet, dry, etc.
    I’m concerned that some of the altar wines brought in by parishoners may be neither valid or licit.
    Should I speak to my pastor about my concerns?

  14. Charles: I added stickers… and a couple wall-peels.

  15. Joe in Canada: it is not harder to clean linens after using red wine if the linens are red. The Ukrainians do this all the time.

    Interesting. Though I, a Latin, would find that disconcerting.

    It helps with lipstick, too, which can come from the Communion Spoon.

    Lipstick? I am reminded of a commonly used phrase among more Catholic seminarians of my day: “Keep your lipstick off my chalice!”

    I can sense a new WDTPRS coffee mug, or at least a wall plaque for sacristies. Where is the great Vincenzo when you need him?

  16. APX says:

    Fr. John Zuhlsdorf says:
    Charles: I added stickers… and a couple wall-peels.

    Ooh, just the other day I was rotating my custom made licence plate frames and was thinking of one that said, “Save the Liturgy, Save the World”. Ever consider putting your slogans on those? Think of all the people those would reach.

  17. jcr says:

    Celebrating Mass with commercially produced wine that is not labeled as altar wine is at at the very least imprudent, and would frankly be a mortal sin for someone aware of the risks. An exception would be the case in which you personally know the producer, so that you can be certain of his honesty and of the fact that neither he nor his employees are adding something that does not come from grapevines. Commercial wine is not what it was in the times of Card. Mazarin. Numerous additives are at the disposition of winemakers to improve the characteristics of their product (cf. this list and this discussion from an amateur winemaking site). For wine destined for the altar, nothing can be added to the must (a.k.a. mustum) or wine unless it comes from a grape vine.

    Significant amounts of any such additive render the wine certainly invalid matter. This means that the consecration of the wine will not be valid, and will objectively be a grave sacrilege (although the moral responsibility of the priest [or sacristan, etc.] obviously depends on his awareness of this). Only the species of bread will be consecrated, which, in the words of CJC 927, “nefas est.” Ordinary wine will be elevated for the congregation for it to adore as if it were God. The holy sacrifice of the Mass will not be offered for the specified intention, which is an injustice that must be repaired, even if it was done in ignorance.

    I say all this not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but to stress a point that should be familiar to any deconstructed ossified manualist: when it comes to sacraments, everyone is obliged to be a tutiorist, i.e., not to take any chances at all. If it might not be valid, don’t use it. And while I can’t claim to be an expert on the practices of commercial winemaking, what I’ve heard is that the use of additives that invalidate wine is widespread, if not universal. Why shouldn’t they use them? They produce a product that tastes good and has a consistent flavor and alcohol content from year to year. They improve the shelf life of wine. And nobody ever told the winemaker that someone was going to use his product to celebrate Mass.

  18. A possibly stupid validity question (and indeed one to which there may not yet be an authoritative answer)… how does the use of transgenic grape plants to provide the grapes for the wine to be consecrated, or transgenic wheat to provide the flour for the bread to be consecrated, affect Eucharistic validity? Is it a “common man” definition (so wheat plants or grapevines with one or two disease-resistance genes from another species would be OK), in the same way that baptism can be conferred with ordinary water (which isn’t 100% pure)? Or are transgenic crops invalid, or at least doubtful enough to be avoided?

  19. The Cobbler says:

    “Where is the great Vincenzo when you need him?”
    Doesn’t he usually show up within twenty-four hours of your saying that? It’s like the Bat-Signal. He should get himself something like that in the sky for us to use.

    I second abiologistforlife’s question. Grains are not what they once were, at least in this part of the world; some research even suggests (depending on how much you automatically credit, discredit or niether researchers who upset the applecart of the medical/scientific establishment) that there are at least a few health problems related to the hybridization and genetic engineering of modern grains, as well.

  20. DominiSumus says:

    As a former church supply goods dealer I would like to point out that wine made for the secular table is not normally appropriate for Mass because of the additives that are used to maintain a consistent color and flavor.

    Priests would often complain that the altar wine colors and flavors would change from year to year. For example: wet seasons give a lighter color while dry seasons give a darker color.

    Wine which has been colored or fortified with non-grape products (most commercial wines) are not licit.

  21. As a Dominican novice in 1977, I visited with my class the Christian Brothers winery at Graystone. After the tour, I asked the Christian Brother who gave us the tour “What makes an altar wine different from your other wines.” He said, “Nothing but the label; the California wine purity laws are much more stringent than the canon law requirements for altar wine, even for Port wines.” So I asked, “So any California grape wine is fit matter for Mass?” And he said, “Yes, but don’t tell any sacristans that!”

    So much for scruples about using California grape wines for Mass. Although I agree that Vermouth is a separate case because of the additives.

  22. Fr. Basil says:

    \\Long ago it was established that fortified wines are valid matter so long as the wine-spirit added was distilled from grapes, that the quantity of alcohol added, together natural content from the fermentation, does not exceed 18% and that the additional alcohol is added during the process of fermentation. \\

    Fortified wines are NOT permitted in the Orthodox Church, nor are they valid matter in the Byzantine Catholic Churches.

    The preferred wine is something like Mavro Daphne, which is a naturally fermented sweet wine with no additives (advisable for Communing infants and small children in both kinds) or Knights Commandery St. John. Both of these are RED, btw, which is preferred in the Byzantine tradition.

    The best altar wine I found–alas, no longer made–was a blush concord. It was dark enough to be immediately distinguished from water, but wouldn’t stain the altar linens.

    \\Interesting. Though I, a Latin, would find that disconcerting.\\

    Red communion cloths are usually used in the Byzantine tradition, though among the Orthodox they are never washed. When they are too stained to be fittingly used, they are burned.

    The local Melkite church uses green communion cloths–don’t know why. I guess it’s a local practice.

  23. Daniel Latinus says:

    The preferred wine is something like Mavro Daphne, which is a naturally fermented sweet wine with no additives (advisable for Communing infants and small children in both kinds) or Knights Commandery St. John. Both of these are RED, btw, which is preferred in the Byzantine tradition.

    The best altar wine I found–alas, no longer made–was a blush concord. It was dark enough to be immediately distinguished from water, but wouldn’t stain the altar linens.

    I’ve been wondering about Mavrodaphne, because I was under the impression that it is sweetened, and I have heard it is used by the Greek Orthodox.

    OTOH, I understand that Concord grapes do not in themselves have enough sugar to support proper fermentation and need to have sugar. But I’ve heard that St. Meinrad’s Abbey in Indiana used Concord grape wine for years, even though the product was described as “almost unpotable”. I would be curious to know how Concord grape juice can have sugar added, and still be a valid wine for Mass.

  24. albinus1 says:

    This post gives me an opportunity to raise a couple of questions about which I have been wondering for a number of years. When I was younger a visiting priest celebrated Mass at my parish, and mentioned in his sermon that he was a recovering alcoholic. It certainly appeared to me that he drank from the chalice when receiving Communion, so I decided to ask him about it after Mass (he indicated that he welcomed questions). I asked how he could receive the Precious Blood if we was unable to drink wine. He replied that he did receive the Precious Blood, but that he doesn’t use wine at Mass.

    My question is whether a dispensation is given to priests who, like this priest, are not able to consume alcohol because they have battled alcoholism, to use a non-alcoholic substitute at Mass. Or was this priest just doing what he wanted to do and deluding himself that it had no effect on the validity of his Consecration?

    If such a dispensation is sometimes given, is a similar dispensation ever given to people who are not able to digest wheat, to receive the Body of Christ confected using gluten-free bread? In everything I have read about this issue over the years, it seems that ecclesiastical authorities have said that the Eucharist may be validly confected only using bread/hosts made from wheat flour, that they are unable/unwilling to give a dispensation otherwise, and that these people are just out of luck, unless they are able to receive Communion under only the species of the Precious Blood. Or is my take-away from this incorrect, and a dispensation of this nature is in fact occasionally given?

    Thanks in advance. BTW, I have no personal stake in this issue other than the curiosity prompted by my conversation with the alcoholic priest.

  25. Sr_Lisa says:

    It’s interesting, Fr Z, that you raise this topic. I was talking to my brother, who is in the wine business, just the other day about wine production. He explained how the majority of wines that sell for less than US$20 per bottle, use a grape concentrate (68% of which is sugar) called ‘Mega-purple’. I’m not sure where these wines would play out in qualifying as altar wines, in reading the guidelines, point (c), posted by @amenamen above, especially if this substance is added after the fermentation process of the wine. I’m still sorting it all out, but this is an interesting read on how it’s being used in wine production today: http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=features&content=51033
    Thanks!

  26. Emilio III says:

    If “Mega-purple” is really made from grapes only, I don’t think it would affect the wine’s validity, but there’s no point in risking it…