ASK FATHER: Father sprinkles water with fingers into chalice

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Is it liturgically correct for a priest to dip their fingers into the water pitcher and then shake them off into the chalice as a means to add water to the chalice before the consecration?

Liturgically correct?

Not really. I believe the Latin says “infundit… he pours” not “he sprinkles/scatters” a little water into the wine.   Yes, a meaning of infundo is “impart” and, poetically, even “cast”, but “cast” is not the commonsense meaning.   In this rubric is means “pour”.  I’ll admit that, with some cruets, given the elastic tendency of the water’s surface, surface tension, sometimes you have to “cast” or “flick” or “tap” some water into the chalice, but that’s still pouring.  Taking water on your fingers and flicking it or dripping it in isn’t pouring.

That said, Father is clearly being careful not to put too much water into the wine, which is a good thing.

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At the offertory the priest is to add a small quantity of water to the wine in the chalice.  Small.  There must not be the least doubt that what is in the chalice is wine.  In other words, put in too much water, and you don’t have wine anymore.  The addition of too much water breaks the substance of the wine.

In the manual of dogmatic theology by Tanquerey, that tonic for the soul, I found the opinion that “quinta pars aquae ad vinum corrumpendum non sufficiat … a fifth part of water isn’t enough to break [the substance of] the wine”, and thus render it invalid matter for consecration.

Bottom line, we want to have just a tiny bit of water put into the wine.  Ideally, drops.  And we want to make sure that they don’t simply adhere to the inside of the cup of the chalice.

Scruple spoon with friends,
to provide scale.

This is why at the offertory careful, diligent priests will use what is nicknamed a “scruple spoon”, a tiny dipper-shaped tool with with they dip up a tiny quantity of water from the cruet to put into the wine in the chalice.  The idea is that you never have to worry that, for reasons of surface tension of the water or the shape of the cruet or the unsteadiness of hand of the priest or deacon, too much water might be inadvertently added to the wine.

Priests must take care to avoid the the Ketchup Bottle Technique of Chalice Preparation™ when the water in the cruet is being stubborn.  You know the poem by Richard Armour (not Ogden Nash):

Shake and shake
the catsup bottle
first none’ll come
and then a lot’ll.

Lot’ll = bad.

When that happens the priest should start over.

Why?

I’ll tell ya’ why.

Because we are Unreconstructed Ossified Manualists and we never never never fool around with the validity of matter of sacraments.

That’s why.

Let Scruple Spoons abound!  Promote the New Evangelization!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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14 Responses to ASK FATHER: Father sprinkles water with fingers into chalice

  1. Father P says:

    If the priest has to resort to such a method of ensuring one drop of water I would offer a few suggestions. 1. To the questioner, pray for him, he might be struggling with a bit of scrupulosity. 2. To the priest, the solution might be as simple as using a little more wine to start.

    In terms of the when is it too much, our Sacramental Law prof gave us a “rule of thumb” — a sniff and a taste. If it still smells like wine and doesn’t taste watered down (in other words if it looks like wine, smells like wine, and tastes like wine) its wine :)

  2. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    The water repesents our humanity and the wine Christ’s divinity. After Cardinal Arinze defended the unborn at Georgetown University and a good part of the faculty walked out, he was asked what was wrong with Georgetown. He answered, “They put too much water in the wine.”

  3. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    That is a FABULOUS Arinze anecdote. John 6:66 comes to mind in the scene you describe btw.

  4. Dspauldi says:

    One of the reasons I think the internet to have great potential is that pieces like this can be found. I had no idea.

  5. seattle_cdn says:

    Wow…just checked ebay….scruple spoons are not cheap things!

  6. frjim4321 says:

    By specific gravity I would hope that the percentage by volume of alcohol would remain higher than 12%, so if you start with 12.5% a drop should not bring it down that much.

    The idea of flipping water with a finger is gross. Though for me not quite as gross as COTT.

  7. ChesterFrank says:

    Vaguely related, there is also a container of water that the priest is supposed to use to capture the remnants of the host that clings to his fingers. In one church I attend, the priest placed one by the tabernacle but does not always seem to use it for its intended purpose. I think he picked it up at a parish that closed. Is that an ancient custom rarely practiced, much like the scruple spoon?

  8. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    He sticks his fingers in some water and flicks it into the chalice? Gross.

  9. FrMJPB says:

    We “ossified manualists” must sometimes “be the Maquis”. Depending on where this priest resides and who may take an interest in his use of a scruple spoon, I would recommend he use a cruet with with three drops of water in it–that way, as he mixes the chalice, if one drop or the entirety of the water ends up in the chalice, all is well and no “unnecessary” attention is drawn to himself.

  10. My priest uses the scruple spoon.

  11. Simon_GNR says:

    When I first moved to my current parish 26 years ago the elderly Irish priest used to use a scruple spoon but I haven’t seen one used there since he died nearly 20 years ago. A recent parish priest was a bit cavalier about how much water he put in the chalice and sometimes he may have poured too much in. I think this was because he was extremely parsimonious in the use of communion wine, which I suppose is not cheap to buy, and as only he was going to drink from the chalice – communion under both kinds being very rare in our parish – perhaps he wanted to avoid any possibility of intoxication from the alcohol!

  12. Semper Gumby says:

    Only on Fr. Z’s site can you find a photo of a scruple spoon accompanied by a bullet and a packet of hot sauce.

    A thought occurs: a combat rosary would be an ideal gift for a buddy deploying overseas.

  13. Fr. John says:

    As an Orthodox priest, it’s interesting seeing liturgical similarities. I had no idea that Catholics still added water to the chalice as well.

    We actually add water twice: once during the service that the priest performs before the Liturgy to prepare the Elements and then a second time after the consecration.

    Out of curiosity, do Catholics have a service where the priest prepares the bread and wine for use at Mass? [If you are talking about before Mass begins, no. Otherwise, the Offertory section of Mass is when the “gifts” of bread and wine are brought to the altar and prepared, with prayers and, often, incensation.]

  14. Viva Cristo Rey says:

    Love it!!!