ASK FATHER: Not adding water to chalices for Mass


From a reader…


Like many other parishes, we have communion under both species. However, the deacon only adds a water to the chalice that the priest is consecrating. He does not add water to the other chalices on the altar. Are those chalices validly consecrated?

The old manuals such as Sabetti-Barrett  describe as a grave violation of law the failure of the priest to add some water to the chalice.  However, they were describing the addition of water to one chalice, not many… which is an innovation in the Roman Rite.

In the ancient Mediterranean world, wine was always cut with some water.  It is likely that Our Lord did the same at the Last Supper when He instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist.  Since the earliest days, water was added to the wine.  Also, the water is a symbol of our humanity being taken by the Second Person of the Trinity into an indestructible bond with His divinity.  So, the addition of water is also a theological statement against the heresy of monophysitism.

While it is a serious abuse to omit the addition of water to a chalice of wine to be consecrated, the lack of water does not make the wine invalid material for consecration.

On the other hand, if I am not mistaken, the rubrics only mention water being added to a singular chalice.  A solution could be to add water to the source of wine for the chalices to be consecrated.

That said, it is also extremely important not to put too much water into the wine.  Too much water does render the wine invalid matter.  Add a tiny amount of water, and you have a chalice with wine cut with water.  Add a lot of water, and you have a chalice with water cut with wine.

In the manual of dogmatic theology by Tanquerey, that dear 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.  Use a scruple spoon and 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.

BTW… the name “scruple spoon” may come from the unit of measurement, a scruple , rather than qualms or doubts about an action.

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 either add a more wine or even start over.


Because we never never never fool around with the validity of matter of sacraments.

If there is even the slightest doubt in his mind, Father should act to correct the situation before moving on.

Unreconstructed Ossified Manualists UNITE!

Let Scruple Spoons abound!

Promote the New Evangelization!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I can’t put my hand on the original source, but via two secondary sources, I’ve reaffirmed what I’d confirmed in years past when I traced this down. Per the Congregation for Divine Worship, adding water to a single chalice suffices. Both the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Fort Wayne, Indiana, support this, citing a clarification issued by the CDW.

    The Diocese of Fort Wayne further indicates that adding water to the cruet or flagon is not licit, because ‘GIRM no. 142 and 178 both specify that the priest or deacon
    “pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly, By the mystery of this water…”’ (emphasis added).

  2. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    It seems there is no defininitive answer about what is required for the consecration of the chalices to be licit. In my parish, the three priests only add water to the principle chalice, whereas if our deacon is present, he adds water to all the chalices.

  3. CradleRevert says:

    Disallowing the distribution of Communion under both species to the laity would solve so many problems. It’s such a no-brainer to me.

  4. APX says:

    You are correct regarding the rubrics saying only the principle chalice has water added to it. I recall reading that in the rubrics as well.

  5. Fr. Pius, OP says:

    The Congregation for Divine Worship clarified this questions some years ago. From the Liturgy Committee of the USCCB’s May/June 2012 Newsletter:

    The Secretariat of Divine Worship frequently receives inquiries about the practice of mixing water and wine in the chalice during the preparation of the gifts at Mass, specifically how this is to be carried out if there are several chalices prepared when Holy Communion is distributed under both species. In a letter dated April 30, 2012 (Prot. n. 1193/11/L), Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, offered to Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Committee Chairman, an observation regarding the practice, as the Congregation, too, has received questions about how to interpret and enact the rubrics in this regard.

    Archbishop Di Noia writes: “[T]his Congregation takes the view that it is sufficient for the water to be added only to the chalice used by the main Celebrant. The addition of water to the other chalices, however, would not in any way be considered to be an abuse.” Canon 924 §1 states, “The most holy Eucharistic sacrifice must be offered with bread and with wine in which a little water must be mixed.” Still, it has long been held, and affirmed by the Council of Trent, that the ritual mixing of wine and water is symbolic of the blood and water flowing from Christ’s side as he hung upon the cross. The words spoken as the gesture is carried out, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity,” also indicate that the mixing represents the unification of Christ’s divinity with our humanity.

    [Thanks for that reference.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. JMGcork says:

    In places where the ceremonial kisses are customary, does the server kiss the scruple spoon as well as the cruet?

    [I suppose so, though one could perhaps omit the solita oscula without scruples.]

  7. TonyO says:

    Water on wine is a liquid on a liquid, both very good at dissolving. Is there really a surface tension issue that last more than, say, 2 seconds? I never would have thought so.

    I was an altar boy, and I did see water cruets that had very narrow necks, so that pouring wasn’t really pouring, it was more shaking out a drop or two at a time. I always thought that was nutty, because it was unpredictable and conducive to the water not going where you want it – in the chalice.

  8. Vincent says:

    I find it remarkable that something as obvious as “do we need to ensure that there’s water in all the chalices” escaped the eyes of the proofreaders of the Missal! Or is it perhaps a behaviour which has abounded since the Missal was written and therefore wasn’t considered when writing it?

    I also really dislike scruple spoons. I have no idea why, but ever since I first saw one I have. Maybe it’s because it’s taking away the challenge! Either way I’m not a priest nor will I ever be one so I suppose that’s not a problem…

  9. sirlouis says:

    “A solution could be to add water to the source of wine for the chalices to be consecrated.” — Except, of course, for the main chalice used by the celebrant.

  10. msc says:

    I point out to my students that the Romans’ common dilution ratio of 3 parts water to 1 part wine yields something about the strength of most beer today, which is how they could spend an evening drinking large cups of wine and still make it home.

  11. KatieL56 says:

    Father Z, thank you for the tip of the biretta to one of my all-time favorite writers, Richard Armour. He is nowhere near as well known today as he should be. Many’s the time I laughed myself nearly sick 45 or so years ago as a callow teen paging through “It all Started with Europa”, “It all Started with Columbus”, “Twisted Tales from Shakespeare” etc . For somebody who loves English, history, poetry, and who thinks the pun is one of the funnier forms of language, his books are gold.

  12. Filipino Catholic says:

    From a scientific perspective, one proposal to minimize the water overload problem would be to mandate the standardization of chalices and scruple spoons (and mandate the use of scruple spoons).

    Let all scruple spoons be made to deliver precisely one scruple, and let the minimum capacity of all chalices be at least half a fluid ounce when filled to the brim. That way, even if the chalice is only half full, the addition of one scruple spoon of water does not break the wine, since half-full would be at least about a quarter ounce = 6 scruples, and the ratio would be a mere 1:6. Since half a fluid ounce is such a puny volume, chalices will invariably be made much larger than this, and shame ought to come upon those who make chalices with less capacity than a shot glass.

    For added measure, pun intended, it should be mandated that priests fill chalices to at least half full or greater, to lessen the risk of underfilling the chalice and consequently breaking the wine with an excessive dilution.


  13. aquinas138 says:

    Though not authoritative in the West, canon 32 of the Council in Trullo (692) condemned the Armenian practice of offering the unbloody sacrifice without adding water to the wine as contrary to apostolic tradition. It orders that any bishop or priest who does not mix wine with water must be deposed.

  14. Michael_Thoma says:

    Trullo also condemned the West for not adding HOT water:

    The Armenians and Latins were also condemned by the Greeks (and for a short time the Syriacs until they got over it) for using unleavened hosts.

    The Syriacs were condemned by the Greeks for using the sourdough (which in Syriac/Chaldean/Assyrian/Malankara custom, comes directly from the original dough that St. James the Apostle and Patriarch of Jerusalem kneaded, with water from the side of Christ from the Crucifixion).

    While the Greeks were condemned by the Syriacs for being Imperial pawns.

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