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Church wine?
March 7, 2010 5:38 PM   Subscribe

What brand/type of wine do Churches serve for Communion/The Eucharist? Is there a special wine or do they just get a few cases of whatever is cheap at CostCo?

I am aware that different branches of Christianity may have their individual specifications, but in general, what do they serve as "The Blood Of Christ?" I am aware that once it is blessed, ANY wine can serve as The Eucharist, but can any mefites give me a specific answer as to label/price/etc?
posted by peewinkle to Religion & Philosophy (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I was growing up, our the Catholic church used Mogen David. Go figue. I thought the point was come out there with a gallon jug of Aquafina and some guy in back goes "Shazam!"
posted by timsteil at 5:44 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's my understanding that, for Roman Catholicism, there must be a certain minimum alcoholic content. Some priests think the wine should be red, not blush. My parish's wine tastes good. When I am in the parish in the town a family member lives in, I have to restrain myself from grimacing.

Many Protestant groups use grape juice, and they believe that this is closer to the drink served in the time of Christ. Apparently it was much less fermented.
posted by jgirl at 5:51 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not wine, but I've been told that Methodists always use Welch's grape juice for communion and that Mr. Welch actually invented it to be used for that purpose.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:52 PM on March 7, 2010


Some Methodists use grape juice, some use wine; but yes, Welch was a Methodist and, like many Methodists at the time, deeply concerned about alcoholism and its effects on family members (usually women and children) and involved in the early AA-type movements.

There are several brands of wine that are sold pretty much specifically to churches for communion. I had a friend in college whose family owned a vineyard that did nothing but Catholic communion wine, but unfortunately I don't remember the label name. I also attended a (Catholic) church for a while that used donated wine from the community, so it was mostly off-the-shelf stuff from the local liquor store.

Red is preferred by most denominations, but in terms of brand or type, it can be "retail" wine or it can be specific labels that sell directly and exclusively to churches. Some of it's good, some of it's AWFUL.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:04 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I helped with the setting up for Mass in a suburban Catholic Australian church in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was a flagon of specifically Catholic-branded sacramental wine. Tasted great, mind you, I was in primary school.
there must be a certain minimum alcoholic content
Yeah, that's true, but I don't know how much is for doctrine and how much is for practicality. I recall the explanation that it was deliberately fortified so that it wouldn't easily oxidise if it some of it was left unused between Masses, but not so much that it didn't taste like wine (rather than port or sherry).

I know of one priest who used to organise social events for uni students at Easter time where they'd go and buy some cheap red wine and a takeaway Lebanese meal. They'd eat and drink and eventually he'd use it to explain the Passion story of the Last Supper; that the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist was at the heart of it a recreation of that social event—"do this in memory of me", and so on. It's a sweet story.

Since I heard about that I've always pictured Christ and the Apostles gathering around a folding table full of shawarma and garlic eggplant and kebbeh, filling cracked glasses from four litre Coolabah casks.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:10 PM on March 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


At my childhood church (Disciples of Christ), for a while it was Gallo jug wine. Later, because some members were recovering alcoholics, we switched to Welch's grape juice.

Disciples of Christ don't have a rule about this (indeed, they have few hard and fast rules at all), and do not prohibit or discourage consuming alcohol. The switch was only to help members who had an addiction problem after at least one mentioned it to the minister.
posted by Houstonian at 6:12 PM on March 7, 2010


For Roman Catholics, per the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, the requirements for wine used in the Eucharist are:

322. The wine for the eucharistic celebration must be from the fruit of the grapevine (cf. Lk 22:18), natural, and unadulterated, that is, without admixture of extraneous substances.

323. Diligent care should be taken to ensure that the ... wine intended for the Eucharist are kept in a perfect state of conservation: that is, that the wine does not turn to vinegar nor the bread spoil or become too hard to be broken easily.


Wine cannot be fortified or sweetened or adulterated (other than by the water added during the celebration) and must not be sour. The choice of wine is generally left to the parish, and it can be white or red - my parish uses white wine, for example, but many use white.

It is important to note that after the transubstantiation, Catholics believe that the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ - it is just an "accident" that they still resemble the bread and wine. So outside of the specifics listed above, the actual form/shape/color/taste is irrelevant.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 6:16 PM on March 7, 2010


At our church it's nasty grape juice sealed up with the communion wafers sealed on top. I kid you not. I guess it's much easier with a very large congregation that way, tho. Interestingly, alcohol use is pretty much a non issue with our congregation-it's okay if you use alcohol in moderation, ok if you abstain, but culturally we tend to respect the greater Southern American culture and not flaunt it if we are ok with the real stuff.

Having friends who were formerly alcoholic, I respect the fact we use grape juice, but would be perfectly fine with wine.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:18 PM on March 7, 2010


The last time I saw a bottle it was Mogen David concord something. It does not much matter as the quantity they distributed was the size of a thimble and you would have had to pay close attention to distinguish between wine and welch's grape juice. It barely covered your tongue and made it to your esophagus.
posted by bukvich at 6:20 PM on March 7, 2010


The "wine" in my church is actually grape juice. The church sits in a community where there's a lot of alcoholism, and they don't want to create any barriers to taking communion. The bread is fresh-baked by members of the congregation though. (We're UCC.)
posted by KathrynT at 6:38 PM on March 7, 2010


Some wineries specialize in sacramental wine, or have a separate brand for it. Here's one. I am sure that not all churches use wine designated as sacramental, though.
posted by kindall at 6:43 PM on March 7, 2010


Had a similar experience to Fiasco da Gama when being a stand-in altar boy at a Catholic parish in northern England - the wine was in a big flagon and as I recall specifically communion wine.
Googling around to see if that was still the case came across this link to a Fairtrade supplier of communion wines that sets out Anglican canon law on the matter.
posted by Abiezer at 6:52 PM on March 7, 2010


My Episcopal priest always chooses a sweet port wine because its, duh, sweet. However, I think in many Anglican churches its just up to the preference of the priest or the head of the Altar Guild--basically whoever is doing the buying.
posted by Mimzy at 6:54 PM on March 7, 2010


In Australian Catholic churches they serve something called, appropriately, Communion Wine, which you can purchase in most of the larger bottle shops. It's red, moderately priced and tends to be around 18% abv. Interesting little article here. Wiki.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:56 PM on March 7, 2010


Our church uses Welch's grape juice and bread prepared by a church member. It's a United Methodist congregation, and (iirc) the Book of Discipline specifically states that there is to be no alcohol on church premises. Many churches have a similar rule, either denomination-wide (as the United Methodist church does) or on a congregational basis (the UCC/Presbyterian church I attened in college).

Most of the churches I've attended (of various protestant denominations) have used grape juice rather than wine.
posted by jlkr at 7:02 PM on March 7, 2010


Among Protestants anyway there are few if any "rules" (I'm not familiar of course with all Protestant denominations but I've encountered lots of them). I've known churches to use the types of kosher wines sold for use in Passover Seder, presumably because it is deemed to be more authentic to the context of the Gospel story that establishes the Eucharist. Most Protestant churches I've known at least offered grape juice as an option for those who choose to ingest no alcohol or if younger kids are included and parents do not want them ingesting even token amounts of alcohol, and I've seen several that just switched over to grape juice completely. I've seen about everything you can imagine that could justifiably be called "wine" served, including, on one memorable occasion, Mad Dog 20/20 (long story).
posted by nanojath at 7:14 PM on March 7, 2010


@Lulu: "It is important to note that after the transubstantiation, Catholics believe that the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ - it is just an "accident" that they still resemble the bread and wine. So outside of the specifics listed above, the actual form/shape/color/taste is irrelevant."

Actually, the "accident" reaches back to Aristotelean language to refer to the material of the bread and wine, it's physical being. The "substance" of the bread and wine become body and blood; their essential but invisible being. It's not "accident" in the sense of "accidental"; it's "accident" in a technical philosophical sense. While the form is indeed largely irrelevant, the use of the word "accident" is more technical.

@jlkr, the UMC encourages but does not require the use of unfermented grape juice. I have attended many UMC services with wine (I went to a UMC seminary). See, for example: http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=1&mid=1339
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:18 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


According to this somewhat old article, the largest producer of sacramental wine in the US is Mont La Salle Altar Wines. Googling "sacramental wine" returns a few other companies, as well as some other discussions you might be interested in.
posted by chez shoes at 7:26 PM on March 7, 2010


In the Catholic church I grew up attending (in southern California), they just kept big boxes of white Franzia in the sacristy.
posted by sigmagalator at 7:32 PM on March 7, 2010


Eyebrows McGee: "@Lulu: ...

Actually, the "accident" reaches back to Aristotelean language to refer to the material of the bread and wine, it's physical being. The "substance" of the bread and wine become body and blood; their essential but invisible being. It's not "accident" in the sense of "accidental"; it's "accident" in a technical philosophical sense. While the form is indeed largely irrelevant, the use of the word "accident" is more technical.
"

Thanks for the clarification.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 7:46 PM on March 7, 2010


My Lutheran church used Mogen David. It's what I thought wine was supposed to taste like forever.
posted by Coffeemate at 7:50 PM on March 7, 2010



At our church it's nasty grape juice sealed up with the communion wafers sealed on top.


At the Dutch Reformed church I was baptized in, it was (probably still is) juice with cubed pieces of store-bought white bread. Like Wonder Bread.

When I was taking Catholic instruction, the priest could not believe it.
posted by jgirl at 7:54 PM on March 7, 2010


If you still need more...

My parents have, in the past, made and bottled wine for use in their small church (a specific but loosely affiliated denomination). I don't think they've made any for a while, but they made a big batch when I was a kid, and may well still be using that. (They also use unleavened bread baked by a member.)

A formerly-attended (by me) small non-denominational church in a small town used grape juice, made from frozen concentrate - whatever they had at the corner store. (And bread was pita or tortilla or whatever was handy.)

Two other of 'my' former churches - one small, one medium - used grape juice of origin unknown to me. I suspect whatever's cheap at Costco. Ditto on current church (large), they also have the afore-mentioned sealed cups with cracker for some non-Communion-Sunday uses.

An interesting study might link liberality or some other metric of doctrine with policy (or lack thereof) on source and type of both elements in various churches/denominations. Also service style - many small cups versus one glass, dipping bread in wine versus separate consumption, both at once versus one at a time, etc...
posted by attercoppe at 8:21 PM on March 7, 2010


I'm not sure if the priest was just being deliberately ironic, but the Anglican church I grew up used almost exclusively Manischewitz .

For those of you not wanting to go through the link, Manischewitz is the ultimate kosher wine, used for Passover. Also, according to Wikipedia, at least one other person agrees that it is a common communion wine, making me think my experience isn't unique.

As a young alter server, this made sense to me. Blessed by a Rabbi was still blessed in God's eyes to me. The fact that it was Jewish didn't matter - but I grew up in a church that approved of other religious denominations.

Other than that, it is a thick, sweet wine, which makes it tasty and appropriate for communion. The younger church members had no trouble drinking it. It's hard not to like it.

Also, at my local liquor store, its $10. Can't go wrong.
posted by billy_the_punk at 8:21 PM on March 7, 2010


One priest friend I know exclusively uses red wine over blush or white, because "it's the Blood of Christ, not the Plasma of Christ."
posted by spinifex23 at 9:07 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mormons use water. Really.
posted by Goofyy at 10:21 PM on March 7, 2010


My church used port. Anglican, Australian.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:52 PM on March 7, 2010


At the Catholic church where I was an altarboy (northern England, late 80s-early 90s), they/we used special reserve port. Rather good stuff, in fact. Apparently this was quite common, as with port you can just fill up a chalice then stick the stopper back in the bottle and leave the rest of it till next Sunday. This would fit with the extract from canon law kindly provided by Lulu's Pink Converse.

Of course, they were pretty stingy with it too: it wasn't served at every mass each Sunday, and usually one chalice was made to last--no refills. Still, like Coffeemate said, it's what I thought wine was supposed to taste like. Except that in my case it really was the good stuff, albeit on the sweet and heady side.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 12:13 AM on March 8, 2010


In my Australian Presbyterian congregation when I was a kid, they used grape juice (Sanitarium, an Australian company which I believe is owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church) and ordinary white bread--I can remember seeing the elders cutting up the bread. I heard somewhere of a travelling Anglican priest who had to give communion somewhere in the outback and the only wine available was Stone's Green Ginger Wine. He said that drinking the remaining wine in the chalice afterwards was a bit like drinking a slow-burning firework.
posted by Logophiliac at 12:36 AM on March 8, 2010


At my liberal Presbyterian (USA) church, we use Whole Foods store brand grape juice. Yes, we sometimes live up to the stereotypes about us.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:46 AM on March 8, 2010


In my church growing up, we used watered-down Welch's. Not the best tasting thing in the world.

For my current church, I often end up doing the buying. We use grape juice partly out of tradition and partly out of respect for our members who are recovering alcoholics. Usually I buy whatever they have a case of at Sam's. Our church is small so a one-liter box of juice lasts for about three weeks. Well, it lasts in the sense that there is enough juice for three weeks. By the third week it tastes much more like wine.

We've changed it up a little and used fresh grape juice a time or two. Then there was the time that someone forgot to buy juice and we had to use grape Tang. Even for people from our tradition, which considers the elements 100% symbolic, using Tang crossed the line.
posted by wallaby at 5:00 AM on March 8, 2010


323. Diligent care should be taken to ensure that the ... wine intended for the Eucharist are kept in a perfect state of conservation: that is, that the wine does not turn to vinegar nor the bread spoil or become too hard to be broken easily.
How do priests dispose of Eucharist-wine that goes off? Does it have to be drunk?
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 5:15 AM on March 8, 2010


My dad, an Episcopal priest, uses a cheap tawny port if he does not have a winemaker in his parish.

How do priests dispose of Eucharist-wine that goes off? Does it have to be drunk?

It is poured directly onto the ground. The sink in the sacristy (sacrarium) goes out onto the ground and not into the sewer in case there are any crumbs of the bread or drops of wine left over when they wash up.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:29 AM on March 8, 2010


It is poured directly onto the ground.

I stand corrected. Only the unconcecrated wine goes down the piscina. If there is to be no reserve the priest chugs the last bit. The reserve gets used.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:37 AM on March 8, 2010


For those interested, the practice--almost exclusively Protestant--of using grape juice instead of wine in communion dates back to the late nineteenth-century American temperance movements. Protestants overseas--those who don't trace their roots to American evangelical missionaries anyways--still mostly use wine, as do non-evangelical Christians the world over (confessional Protestants, Catholics, the Orthodox, etc.).

The grape juice we know today was apparently "invented" by Welch by pasteurizing the fruit of the vine to ensure that it would not readily ferment. As temperance movements gained momentum, the practice spread, to the point that most evangelical Protestant churches do use grape juice. Most Baptist churches have gotten it in their heads that drinking alcohol at all is a moral infraction, and much ink has been shed attempting to "prove" that this is what Scripture teaches. Other than them, no one really buys it. It was monks who invented whiskey after all.

Anglican churches most traditionally use port, though as noted above, this wouldn't work for Catholic churches, as port is fortified. But the specific brand/vineyard is largely a congregational preference. The church I attended in college used a very nice red provided by a man in the congregation who happened to be a wine merchant. In law school, the church moved between a locally-produced generic red and a rather snappy cabernet sauvignon depending on what the elder was feeling like when he bought the wine that month.

Whatever it is, tradition is pretty clear that it's got to be grape-based, and dark reds have been preferred since forever. But exactly what that happens to be hasn't been hugely controversial until some American Protestants freaked out about alcohol.
posted by valkyryn at 5:53 AM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was an acolyte in the Episcopal church (mid-70's in GA) we used port mixed with water; I forget the brand but it was regular inexpensive stuff you could get in the supermarket like Gallo or Taylor. After the service the priests, acolytes, and whoever else was still at the altar would drink the leftover consecrated wine.
posted by TedW at 5:56 AM on March 8, 2010


Yup, Episcopal church: Taylor tawny port. Cheap, serves its purpose, found in any liquor store. I'm guessing they order it from the same place that supplies wafers and such, but am not sure.
posted by Melismata at 6:59 AM on March 8, 2010


@I_pity_the_fool: "How do priests dispose of Eucharist-wine that goes off? Does it have to be drunk?"

Generally the wine is drunk right after the service (or, if unconsecrated, poured down the piscina as Pollomacho explained). My roommate in college was the liturgical manager for our dorm's church (all the dorms had churches) and after Mass she and the Eucharistic ministers for the night would eat the leftover bread and drink the leftover wine. I remember one night in particular where for some reason there was a TON of it left over, and she called in reinforcements, including me, to help finish it, and as a group of 18-22 year old girls drinking baaaaaaad wine late on a Sunday night, we got the giggles like crazy, and then we got in trouble with Sister, because consuming the leftover Jesus is supposed to be a solemn event. But, frankly, enough leftover Jesus will give anyone the giggles, especially teenagers with no tolerance.

(Enough leftover Jesus will also give you a hangover.)

Normally, though, it was half a glass of wine or less leftover, and not too much bread, and one or two people could finish it off without a problem.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:53 AM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and to add to above -- generally the minister can have assistance in finishing the wine, which I meant to say when I was explaining it. It varies by denomination, but usually the assisting people handing out the bread and wine (who are usually congregation members) help finish it. Frequently the leftover wine from each goblet will be poured into one main goblet and the priest will down it during the service if it's less than half a glass (and the priest isn't an alcoholic). Otherwise it will be set aside, back in the prep area usually, and the priest and Eucharistic ministers will help finish it after Mass.

Sometimes the Eucharistic ministers will each finish their own glass. When I was at a very small Mass of around 12 people, and we did communion in a circle by each person offering the bread and then the wine to the person to their left, Father sent the wine around a second time because it was too much for him to finish alone. We didn't say the "This is the blood of Christ" part again, just solemnly passed it one to the next.

So there's a fair amount of flexibility. The bread is easier because it doesn't spoil as quickly, so it can be consumed or set aside for the next service, depending on when the next service is.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:02 AM on March 8, 2010


I emailed Rev. Webhund (a/k/a "Dad") about this. Dad's a retired United Methodist Church minister and here's what he pulled from the United Methodist "Discipline," which is essentially the UMC's written rules and regulations.

"Although the historic and ecumenical Christian practice has been to use wine, the use of unfermented grape juice by the United Methodist Church and its predecessors since the late nineteenth century expresses pastoral concern for recovering alcoholics, enables the participation of children and youth, and supports the church's witness of abstinence."

Additionally, he points out that in the UMC "Book of Worship" (sets forth the actual elements of the liturgy and various services on the UMC liturgical calendar), the "rubrics" (official notes printed in red) say: "The pastor...takes the bread and cup ; and the bread and wine are prepared for the meal." This is the basic rubric for the liturgy. In various places it usually says 'the bread and the wine'. He points out the interchangeable use of the words "cup" and "wine" as actual wine is not used, thus the use of the word "cup."

Again, this is United Methodist only. FWIW, he also did reply that his understanding of Mr. Welch's grape juice was as pointed out above.
posted by webhund at 9:10 AM on March 8, 2010


I don't know the specific brand, but Greek Orthodox churches I grew up in (in the USA) generally use Mavrodaphne wine or at least something that tastes just like it. The taste is similar to port. I don't know if the parishes have a preferred brand. Prices in liquor or wine stores that carry it generally run $8-$12/bottle.
posted by deanc at 11:24 AM on March 9, 2010


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