QUAERITUR: Of the Precious Blood, wine, water and dilution

Unreconstructed Ossified ManualistFrom a reader:

Fr., Perhaps one of your ossified manuals would address this. Today at Mass, the priest had a cruet of wine on the altar during the consecration. I am sure he did not intend to consecrate that wine.
But, it got me to thinking. Let’s say that, somehow, the Precious Blood is thought to be ordinary wine and put back into a bottle of unconsecrated wine. (Someone did not follow the law regarding “flagons,” for example, and some of the Precious Blood was left over, in the flagon. It’s then mistaken for wine.) We say that the Lord is present as long as the accidents of the wine remain. Well, the accidents remain, right? The appearance of wine is mixed with wine, which also appears to be wine, obviously. Does the dilution of the Precious Blood, even with wine, lead to the end of the Sacramental presence? Hope this makes sense. Thanks.

Unreconstructed Ossified ManualistFirst, I believe only manualists can be ossified, not the manuals themselves.  Manualists can also be, simultaneously, unreconstructed.

Second, the priest has to have an intention to consecrate something, even a moral intention.  Generally this intention is established by placing the elements to be consecrated on the corporal.

Third, and to your question.   At the offertory the priest is to add a small quantity of water to the wine in the chalice.  That is to be a small quantity so that there is not the least doubt that the quantity of water added was great enough so that what was in the chalice can’t any longer be called wine.  In other words, it cannot be so much water that it breaks the substance of the wine by dilution.

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.  Consider that wine is comprised of a high percentage of water to begin with, but we know what the accidents of wine are.

Given the fact that at the consecration the wine mixed with water is entirely changed, and we don’t think of what is there being Precious Blood with water, but rather just the Precious Blood alone, I suspect that we could work the other way and say that once you get past one quarter part of water added to the Precious Blood you are fairly likely to have broken the substance.  Certainly one half quantity of water added would do so.  You wouldn’t thereafter recognize by the accidents of the liquid that you were dealing with wine’s accidents.

scruple spoonSo, yes, the dilution of the Precious Blood with some liquid that is not the Precious Blood will, in fact, break the substance, which can be recognized by a change in the accidents.  When enough wine is added, well… it is harder to see the accidents change with our unaided senses, they change a great deal less, but the substance of the Precious Blood will have broken.

Once you get past about a fifth part, you are getting close.

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.


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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    There is some interesting information on the ancient Greek and Roman practice of mixing wine and water in this article:


  2. Fr. W says:

    Related to this question is the following practice of the early centuries described by Jungmann.
    It seems that everyone drinking from the same Chalice at Communion was risky, and accidents happened. One solution which ‘lessened the danger of irreverence’ was to mix a small amount of the Precious Blood with containers holding non-consecrated wine. (7th century) ‘This mixture could still be called sanguis Dominicus, as the 3rd Roman Ordo remarks. Also in monasteries, it was permissible if the Precious Blood was running low, to mix with it unconsecrated wine. Also in the case of the sick, the Sacred Host was touched to wine to ‘sanctify it.’

    Our theology may have advanced since then, but these are interesting practices.

  3. FrCharles says:

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

    Thanks for the little bit of hopeful humor for us who sometimes have to live in worlds wherein liceity and even validity are hardly even values!

  4. Joe in Canada says:

    The Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts, celebrated by the Byzantines on most weekdays in Lent, faces this dilemma. The Precious Blood is reserved in the Body of Christ in the Tabernacle, in the form of a cross marked on the Host on Sunday. The Host is quite dry by Wednesday (and Friday). Part of the Host is put in a chalice of unconsecrated wine. The Priest consumes a portion of the Host which has not been put in the Chalice, and then drinks from the Chalice, as if drinking the Precious Blood. The Deacon, however, does not drink from the Chalice, since he is going to purify the chalice later, and cannot break his fast. The implication is that the contents of the Chalice are to be considered both the Precious Blood, and matter which would break the Eucharistic fast.

  5. JSBSJ says:

    Good response, Father: however, did you answer the question? [Yes. Read it again.]

    I think the issue was this: What happens if you mix the Precious Blood with regular wine. The substantial and accidental properties are presumably identical. I do not know if your reply covers that issue. [Well… fine. Harder to tell what has happened, but if you add enough wine to the Precious Blood it breaks the substance. Sure, it is harder to tell that that happened, just to look at, but it happened. But the addition of enough of any liquid other than the Precious Blood itself, as I said, will break the substance.]

    Unless, however, you are saying that Precious Blood has totally different substantial properties than regular wine [Ummm… it does. That’s what trans-substantiation does. It changes the substance of the wine into the substance of the Precious Blood of the Lord. The substance changes. The accidents don’t.] and only the accidental properties remain the same; then your 1/5 part makes sense and I apologize in advance for raising a flag.

  6. dans0622 says:

    I think you answered the question quite well, Father. Anyway, I suppose you’re right…books can’t become ossified. Maybe the manuals on the shelf of a liberal would undergo some sort of ossification-like process but yours are steadily used and are “well oiled.”

  7. JohnW says:

    I remember as an altar boy how careful every priest was at the offertory to place only a drop of water into the chalice. I think back now almost all priest in the Novus Ordo Mass would genuflect before touching the sacred host. I think old habits were hard to break. Maybe we will get back to the time of the 1965 Missal.

  8. Fr. Basil says:

    \\The Deacon, however, does not drink from the Chalice, since he is going to purify the chalice later, and cannot break his fast.\\

    This is true only in the Slavic use. (In this case, the Priest likewise does not drink from the Chalice if he serves without a Deacon.)

    But in the Greek and Arabic use, both receive from the Chalice before the Communion of the Faithful, who receive in the usual manner with the usual words about receiving “the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ….”

  9. Father,

    As I sit here with my large “Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist” mug of coffee (not “Mystic Monk”, I’m afraid, I’m not sure it’s available in the UK) may I point out that St Thomas deals with exactly this question in the summa at III q.77 a.8?


    To cut to the chase:

    “Now it is evident that the body and blood of Christ abide in this sacrament so long as the species remain numerically the same, as stated above; because it is this bread and this wine which is consecrated. Hence, if the liquid of any kind whatsoever added be so much in quantity as to permeate the whole of the consecrated wine, and be mixed with it throughout, the result would be something numerically distinct, and the blood of Christ will remain there no longer. But if the quantity of the liquid added be so slight as not to permeate throughout, but to reach only a part of the species, Christ’s blood will cease to be under that part of the consecrated wine, yet will remain under the rest. “

  10. Joe in Canada says:

    thank you Fr Basil, I am used to the Slavic Rite. When I celebrated the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts in Belgium for a Melkite-based community, they did as I describe above. But the Deacon was Eastern European.

  11. Gregory the Eremite: Thanks for the citation from the Angelic Doctor. Alas, St. Thomas doesn’t say how much liquid would be needed to break the substance.

  12. Father,

    If I read St Thomas correctly he seems to be arguing that it is the degree of mixing of the added liquid with the sacred blood that is primary and that the actual amount is secondary to that. His concern is that the result be a numerically distinct liquid from the original liquid. So, if a single drop were added (with no stirring) it would take some time for that drop to diffuse throughout the original, and the sacred blood would persist at least somewhere in the container for some time. A non-trivial amount added with stirring would result in almost immediate cessation of the existence sacred blood.

    This is, of course, entirely speculative on my behalf. But this is what happens if you empower the laity with manualist mugs :-)

  13. Daniel Latinus says:

    But what of the Eastern custom of the zeon, in which warm water is added to the Precious Blood?

  14. ctek says:

    I’ve seen the priests of Miles Christi use a scruple spoon in their liturgies. I had never seen it used before, so that was intriguing.

  15. Daniel Latinus:

    Goodness! That’s interesting. A bit of googling suggests that (at least some) Eastern catholic rites retain the zeon. Also, there appears to have been a bit of controversy over the years about it…

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