QUAERITUR: Is sherry valid matter for the consecration during Mass?

From a reader:

There had been several discussions recently about the topic of valid matter for the Eucharist, mostly related to low-gluten hosts and hosts using matter other than wheat. This made me remember something that happened at my parish while I was a kid. I grew up in the Rochester diocese, which, suffice it to say, is not known for widespread fidelity to the Church’s disciplines. One Sunday, the pastor asked each family of the parish to contribute a bottle of wine to be used for Communion for the subsequent Sundays. On one such Sunday, the wine used to consecrate the Precious Blood was sherry.

Since sherry is a fortified wine (containing both grapes and other spirits), would this have made the Sacrament invalid? Would the same rules that pertain to the host also apply to the wine used for consecration? Either way, it seemed to have been a well-intentioned but sketchy gesture on the part of the priest.

I have tackled this before, but it is worth repeating.

It is of divine institution that the only valid substances for transubstantiation are, for the Host, bread made from wheat and, for the Precious Blood, wine made from grapes or raisins (dessicated grapes).  The grapes used must be ripe, which rules out “wine” such as verjus. The wine for Mass 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 afterward.

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 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 or changing to vinegar.  This addition of wine alcohol produces “fortified wine”.  The usual types of “fortified wine” we encounter are port, sherry, madeira, marsala, and vermouth.

Unreconstructed Ossified ManualistFortified 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 Unreconstructed Ossified Manualists, we check our old theology manuals, such as Unreconstructed Ossified ManualistTanqueray’s Theologia Dogmatica.

We find in Tanqueray that wine for Mass has to be from ripe grapes, it can be of any color, not corrupted, and 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, it was (probably is still) illicit to say Mass with doubtful, soured wine.  And if the priest is not doubtful about it, and it is truly bad he sins gravely by consecrating it.  “Si fuerit aliquantulum acre… conficiens graviter peccat“, says   He would – knowingly – be attempting to consecrate something that is not wine and is therefore invalid matter.  That is not just bad, that is very bad.

By the way, the coffee mug which appears here is great for Mystic Monk Coffee!  It’s swell!

I would rule out vermouth, because herbs and so forth are added.

I would not use 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.

All this information provides ample motive to stick with altar wines made by ecclesiastically approved vintners (unless you can’t for some reason).  If you have a doubt, Fathers, don’t use it.  Don’t screw around with validity of sacraments.

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  1. anj says:

    How about just using Tanqueray? [You’re just ginning up a distraction, aren’t you!]

  2. Southern Baron says:

    When Communion is distributed under both species, especially in a small setting, I tend to receive. In the past few years, after my taste buds were properly educated, I have noticed that the wine for consecration in some parishes seemed to be port–and was worried. Good to know. Fortified wines can keep longer, so if a church is not using huge amounts, or does not typically distribute under both species, it makes some sense.

  3. Father S. says:

    Here in Rome, it is my experience that most altar wine is of a higher alcohol content than back home in the Midwest. The usual wines that I have encountered are labeled “Vino Liquoroso,” which usually translates as “fortified wine.” They are almost always 12% ABV or over. Of course, the mere presence of something in Rome is not the same as legal approbation, but this wine does seem to be fairly ubiquitous.

    I do often wonder whether the dioceses of Italy have permission to use oil candles on the altar (excluding the Paschal Candle, which can be oil) in place of wax candles. These seem to be ubiquitous, too.

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    “This addition of wine alcohol produces “fortified wine”. The usual types of “fortified wine” we encounter are port, sherry, madeira, marsala, and vermouth.”

    I always wondered what vermouth was. None of my students knew. Sort of makes, “Shaken, not stirred,” make more sense, since I thought only gin was the alcoholic portion of a martini. I am such a tea-tottler.

    The Chicken

  5. Priam1184 says:

    Just out of curiosity: where did the 18% alcohol level come from?

  6. The Drifter says:

    Vin Santo is widley used in Italy as Mass wine, since (if properly done) it is highly oxydized, which combined with the elevated total acidity and alcoholic percentage means it won’t turn into vinegar or decay over time (some years ago I was cleaning an old chapel, where Mass had not been said for about twenty years and in a cipboard there was a bottle of vin santo – still pristine and excellent).
    However, there is a caveat. Use only proper vin santo for Mass: there are quite a few mass-production brands that make it by using alcohol and concentrated must (essentially a grape syrup) and that, I believe, is an unacceptable substitute for Eucharistic Wine.

  7. uptoncp says:

    Whatever the verdict on sherry may be, Tanqueray is definitely not valid matter!


  8. eulogos says:

    Episcopalians usually use some form of sherry or fortified wine, because they reserve the wine and the higher alcohol content makes it last longer. (I know, apostolicae curae and all that. But they, or some of them, believe they have a valid eucharist. And there is the Dutch Touch. And what if, as in my local area, a former Catholic priest is serving as an Episcopal priest? Of course it is horribly illicit but if he intends to do as the Church does? ) In any case, when I became Catholic I found that the Blood of Our Lord was under the form of much weaker wine.

    By the way, how much water can be put in the wine? One priest I knew, after buying the cheapest altar wine he could find, diluted it with a lot of water to make it last even longer. (He also, when told to take a baby aspirin daily, bought adult aspirin and carefully cut them in four pieces rather than paying the higher price for baby aspirin. ) How much can the wine be diluted and still be “wine?”


  9. Ed the Roman says:

    So somebody should should bottling port for the altar as Porta Coeli? [All the comedians came today!]

  10. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Sherry, well chilled, is valid matter for parfaits.

  11. Soporatus says:

    “…if the priest is doubtful about it, he sins gravely by consecrating it. “Si fuerit aliquantulum acre, ait Missale, conficiens graviter peccati.”

    Not to quibble, but the graviter peccat “he sins seriously” relates to the aliquantulum “a little bit sour”, valid but not licit. The preceding clause in the De Defectibus notes that a wine “completely sour” is not even valid. While Fr Z’s final advice to use established sources to avoid doubt is excellent, the concern in the passage is not about doubt.

  12. The Drifter says:

    “How much can the wine be diluted and still be “wine?”

    A good question, although I can only answer from a technical rather than a canonical point.
    A grape needs to have enough sugar to be turned into alcohol onece crushed, if combined with the other elements that allow the fermentation to happen. Legally, the minimum alcoholic percentage a is usually calculated to be within the 5% range. However, wine starts to be such once the fermentation happens, so even crushed grapes that have started to bubble are “wine”. In essence, as for diluting provided there is naturally produced alcohol involved, wine remains such until the addition of water alters its nature dramatically (i.e. a glass of water with a few drops of wine is not wine).

  13. Tony McGough says:

    Priam 1184: natural fermentation of grapes (and of most veg matter) will stop when the alcohol level reaches about 18% – the natural process is self-limiting. Something to do with the alcohol poisoning the yeasts, I dimly remember. [And the yeast running out of sugars to covert to heat, gas, and alcohol, if memory serves.]

    To get more alcoholic, you have to distil the wine to make spirits. Which are not wine …

  14. acardnal says:

    Received 6 boxes of Mystic Monk K-cups today! Check’s in the mail, Father Z. [HURRAY! Every one refresh their coffee supply right now. Click HERE]

  15. Lucas Whittaker says:

    After what I learned about the unfortunate “canonical revision process” I could use a good sherry. Since it isn’t sacral could I buy you a glass, Pater Z?

  16. acardnal says:

    Sherry probably not valid matter for Mass but may be helpful for those feeling “blech.”

  17. Nathan says:

    Dr. Peters: “Sherry, well chilled, is valid matter for parfaits.”

    That, sir, is the definitive word. Nothing else need be said.

    In Christ,

  18. acricketchirps says:

    Tony: Something to do with the alcohol poisoning the yeasts, I dimly remember.

    Fr.Z: And the yeast running out of sugars to covert to heat, gas, and alcohol, if memory serves.

    I think Tony’s right. You can add more sugar for the yeast to convert, but once you’ve reached about 18% (and that’s for the hardier strains of yeast I would think) you’ll just get sweeter wine, no stronger.

  19. Elizabeth M says:

    I remember one priest telling the story of a Father who was imprisoned by the Chinese Government either in the 40’s or 50’s. He was only allowed two things to eat. He asked for bread and grapes. He managed to procure a bottle from someone and kept the grapes hidden in the bottle under his pillow. When he heard the cork “pop” he assumed is was now fermented and used it to say his daily Mass. What does a priest do in that situation?

  20. Hank Igitur says:

    How much water?
    One scruple spoon’s full is enough.

  21. Tantum Ergo says:

    From the Catholic Encyplopedia:
    “Since the validity of the Holy Sacrifice, and the lawfulness of its celebration, require absolutely genuine wine, it becomes the serious obligation of the celebrant to procure only pure wines. And since wines are frequently so adulterated as to escape minute chemical analysis, it may be taken for granted that the safest way of procuring pure wine is to buy it not at second hand, but directly from a manufacturer who understands and conscientiously respects the great responsibility involved in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice.”
    I am greatly concerned about the validity of the common grocery store wine my parish uses. These products, never intended for sacred use by the manufacturer, are are “adjusted” (additives) to maintain a consistent color and flavor from year to year, growing season to growing season. I’ve been unsuccessful in getting the parish to procure wine certified for sacramental use, so I have a haunting doubts concerning adoration at the consecration. I’ve read everything I could on the matter, and this has only heightened my doubts about the validity of the matter. If my fears are founded, this could be the 800 lb. gorilla in the sacristy. I regularly order sacramental wine (which I can hardly afford) for daily morning and our one small Sunday TLM, but there’s little I can do for the main Sunday Masses. Any suggestions would be MOST welcome.

  22. FrG says:

    A completely serious question:
    Is champagne valid matter?
    Someone please provide a definitive answer!

  23. Matt R says:

    Tantum Ergo,
    I believe it would be OK. I remember that California’s laws regarding the purity of wine-at least for a time- were much stricter than those in even the pre-conciliar rubrics.

  24. James Joseph says:

    In Cadiz there might still be…. there had been a a group of English sherry-merchants who did not follow Henry into the brood of women.

    It is my understanding that they and only them were allowed use of fortified wines.

    I don’t know if that still exists.

  25. MacBride says:

    There had been several discussions recently about the topic of valid matter for the Eucharist, mostly related to low-gluten hosts and hosts using matter other than wheat. This made me remember something that happened at my parish while I was a kid. I grew up in the Rochester diocese, which, suffice it to say, is not known for widespread fidelity to the Church’s disciplines

    My condolences on growing up in the DOR…me too and my parish was the Cathedral.

    …anyway I was told by the Priest at my current parish(not in the DOR) that the wine could not have any preservative in it either…so the church wine has a higher alcohol content and does not taste very good.-I would not know since I do not drink alcohol.

    It sounded like to me that just getting a good case of drinking wine would not cut it.

  26. DominiSumus says:

    There are ecclesiastical vintners who make sherry, which is approved for sacramental use. Mont LaSalle is one. http://www.montlasallealtarwines.com/wines.php

  27. The Drifter says:

    “I was told by the Priest at my current parish(not in the DOR) that the wine could not have any preservative in it either”

    SO2 is a preservative of sorts, yet as a chemical it is produced by the wine itself during the fermentation process. Besides, while the alcoholic level can be helpful for preserving wine, even one with 18% and a very high volatile acidity could turn into vinegar.

  28. John Nolan says:

    Fino sherry such as Tio Pepe is unfortified. The same goes for Montilla, which is fermented in amphorae as it would have been in Roman times. Port usually has an ABV of 20%, although some old tawnies can reduce to 18%. I assume that the 18% refers to the proportion of brandy added to the wine rather than the resulting strength.

    Viticulture was introduced to the New World by missionaries who had to use imported grape varieties, as the native American grapes were not suitable, yielding a wine described as ‘foxy’. One question – how did they manage in the Prohibition era?

  29. DelRayVA says:

    Sauternes Is made from rotted grapes. Thoughts?

  30. AnnAsher says:

    Ecclesiastically approved vintners ? Who knew ?! I wonder if St James Schoolhouse Red is acceptable ? It is used widely in mid-mo as it is a local wine.

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