CatholicFilter: No Wine at Communion
October 7, 2018 4:39 PM   Subscribe

I grew up in a Catholic parish that did not have wine at communion until I was about 12. This question made me realise I have no idea how common (or not) this is, nor how common (or not) it is for some individuals to not take wine at communion. Can anyone explain how this has changed over time/place?

To clarify, the wine was physically present and the priest (and eucharistic ministers?) drank it, but parishioners did not. When wine was introduced at communion, a minority started taking it, everyone else continued what they had been doing. I don't remember if this split aligned with the wafer-in-mouth vs wafer-in-hands split (the wafer-in-mouth group skewed older, but there were families that taught their kids to do wafer-in-mouth, though we were taught wafer-in-hands for first communion). Most people who took wine sipped it, but a few dipped the wafer.

This was the Chicago archdiocese, in 1998, give or take a year or two. Notably, Cardinal Bernadin died in 1996. My dad was born in 1950, grew up in the Chicago archdiocese, does wafer-in-hands and does not take wine at communion. I was surprised to discover most people took the wine when I was in college (Berkeley, both Holy Spirit and Mary Magdalen). I was also surprised that (some) people who were not taking communion went up to be blessed. This was not a thing at all when I was growing up.
posted by hoyland to Religion & Philosophy (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up liberally Catholic in Southern Illinois. Been drinking the wine at communion since I was 8 ( in 1989) not all of my peers did because when you're 8 wine is supposed to be 'yucky'. (What can I say? I've always liked wine!) But it was common for everyone who had been through first communion to take wine. Little kids went up and got a pat on the head as a blessing from the priest. My parish also had special home baked flat bread instead of the awful commercial polystyrene wafers, so.... I dunno maybe we weren't normal?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:54 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been to three types of services. At the Methodist church that I grew up in, we had little "shot glasses" filled with grape juice. These were passed out so that everyone had their own little glass. The wafers were little paper type disks and also passed out on trays. This was all done in your own pew. Later I went to a Episcopalian church where we went to the altar where there was the chalice of wine. The priest tipped the chalice into each persons lips. Wafers were placed in your hand. Recently I attended another Methodist church where we had homemade bread. Each person tore off a piece and dipped it into the wine. I have a feeling that since I am in the south and anything alcoholic was frowned upon in church circles, thats why we had grape juice back in the day. The services where I received wine were more recent and folk have relaxed a bit. Would be interested to see how the Catholic churches around here do it.
posted by PJMoore at 4:57 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Offering Communion to the laity under both kinds is one of the changes to the Mass made by Vatican Council II, along with the use of the vernacular, exchanging a sign of peace, and having the priest face the congregation. I don't remember exactly when these changes were implemented, but 1998 is in my experience quite late.
posted by SereneStorm at 5:03 PM on October 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

The -- conservative -- Catholic churches I attended until I was 18 did not serve wine to the congregants (so, untill 1999). The next church -- more liberal, congregation made up mostly of people associated with the adjacent university and surrounds -- I attended did. I left the church in 2001, so I can't speak to how things may or may not have changed.
posted by platitudipus at 5:05 PM on October 7, 2018

In my experience it seems unusual that wine wasn't used for communion in your Catholic church.

Some Protestant denominations don't use wine at communion because they preach abstinence from alcohol. These denominations typically use grape juice under the questionable (to me) logic that the wine referenced in the Bible was not fermented.

I have seen both sipping and dipping to take the wine since my earliest memories of being present at communion. In fact, dipping was a common enough alternative in the Episcopal church that it was not unusual for the priest to have a large chalice for sipping and a smaller one for dipping. The only people I knew who didn't take any wine at all were recovering alcoholics, who most often "mimed" dipping as a token gesture, although I suppose the squeamish or those who abstain would also not drink. I've never known not drinking to be a common practice for all those who took communion, but this could perhaps be regional. Most of my church experience is from the Boston area.
posted by slkinsey at 5:09 PM on October 7, 2018

I should perhaps mention that this was not a conservative parish. I have always attributed our lack of wine to a lack of bodies (i.e. not enough people to distribute the wine) and a general lack of interest in formality. (For example, I only discovered anyone actually said the Christmas Eve mass when my dad moved away. Growing up, the Christmas Day mass was said Christmas Eve instead.) We started having altar servers when I was about 10 and there was no question girls would be allowed (i.e. they were). As I was writing the question, it occurred to me that Cardinal Bernadin's death may have meant the archdiocese developed a newfound interest in whether things were being done "properly".
posted by hoyland at 5:16 PM on October 7, 2018

I grew up attending an Anglo-Catholic church which was very High Anglican ("more catholic than the catholics!). They always had one chalice of wafers and one chalice of wine and at communion people knelt while everyone took the wine and then the wafter (or the other way round?)

By age 11 I was attending Catholic church in preparation for Catholic high school. We only had the wafers. The priest was the only one who had wine.

As an adult I've very occasionally seen wine in other Catholic churches, usually sprung on me when I was expecting the standard wafer and not wafer dunked in wine (ugh).

Have also attended various protestant denominations and had the "shot glasses" of grape juice described by PJMoore. I thought they were great. The few sips of church wine I've had put me off red wine for life.
posted by kitten magic at 5:20 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Vatican II, under Pope John XIII, 1962-1965.
posted by blob at 5:21 PM on October 7, 2018

It's actually neither normal or odd. Service including wine is completely a choice for the celebrant, parish, pastor etc. In the church i grew up in we had daily mass (altar boy here) and the 630am I served at was probably 60/40 no wine. When i was older and still serving (like 8th grade ish, 1990?) then i would serve as Eucharistic minister and serve wine. On sundays some services had wine and some didn't. I've seen exactly this same set of circumstances at dozens of churches. But, again, to be clear the service generally includes wine for the celebrant to demonstrate transubstantiation but serving that the the congregation is totally optional.
posted by chasles at 5:21 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

My father is a recovering alcoholic and my mother is not Catholic which meant, perhaps ironically, that my teenage self was the only one in my family that took communion wine.

I know my church hosted several sets of AA groups who tended to come to mass there, so there were a lot of people who skipped that part of communion and nobody seemed to think twice about it or ask questions.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 5:23 PM on October 7, 2018

I grew up Catholic in Montreal during the 60s and 70s. The wine was reserved only for the priest in the churches we attended, and none of us 7 year olds got wine when we went through First Communion. But the small Masses held at my Catholic high school during the Easter season always passed around the wine (demure sips only) for everyone who attended. Of course, that was usually a very small number of people, so one possible reason why my church didn't do it could have been the time and money involved to get enough wine.
posted by maudlin at 5:31 PM on October 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Growing up in the Midwest, attending a certain Catholic Church in the 80's and 90's, wine and wafers were always offered to the parishioners. I remember this because I have a very distinct visual memory of watching the people holding the wine chalices carefully wipe them with a special cloth after each congregant had sipped and moved on.
posted by Crystal Fox at 5:53 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Growing up in the post-Vatican II era, there was always the consecrated wine at communion, but many people skipped it and nobody thought anything of it. I don't think they served wine at school masses at my elementary or high schools. I can't remember if they did it at the sparsely attended 7 AM mass.
posted by dismas at 6:04 PM on October 7, 2018

I experienced a similar thing. Always had wafers at our Catholic Church in Houston but not wine for the congregation until the late 1990s or maybe even early 2000s. I got First Communion in 1993. We weren’t particularly conservative either.
posted by topophilia at 6:29 PM on October 7, 2018

Grew up in the 1960s and was a child while Vatican II was occurring. Some Vatican II changes were implemented slowly, and only the priest took the wine during my childhood. Communion in the hand was unthinkable. Not only that, when the priest (never laypeople) put the host in your mouth, an altar boy held a paten underneath it so there was no chance it would fall to the floor.

I left the church for a while, so I’m not sure when the congregation started taking wine.
posted by FencingGal at 6:31 PM on October 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't remember wine when I was growing up (Ohio, 1990s). I started really attending Mass more observant ly in college, and there was wine then, which I found odd. But then when I went back to my home parish on breaks, I noticed they had at some point started serving wine as well. Every parish I've attended since has served wine.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:48 PM on October 7, 2018

Not common when growing up: UK, 80s and 90s, mostly in a diocese that wasn't especially conservative or liberal. Easter and Christmas at the cathedral, and for those being confirmed. This was the era when extraordinary ministers (the official name for communion helpers) became more commonplace at Mass.
posted by holgate at 8:34 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Historically, there has been actual physical violence over this issue!
posted by praemunire at 8:35 PM on October 7, 2018

Grew up in the Archdiocese of Chicago, first communed in 84-ish, later got a masters degree in liturgy, always had bread and wine both. Bernadin always offered both at his Masses. :) This was just your pastor's own thing.

Possible reasons:
1) It could very well be that you lacked enough bodies to hand out the wine or had too many people there -- the parish I attend for Christmas Eve Mass NEVER does wine on Christmas Eve (which makes me CRAZY, that is a time both should DEFINITELY be offered) because the church is so crowded and communion takes for fucking ever as it stands -- with wine it takes three times as long. Bread-only is far, far faster. Any liturgist will tell you this! Wine slows the whole Mass, by a lot.

2) Your priest might be an alcoholic, and using the crap-ass non-alcoholic version of communion wine. It's liturgically legal, but AWFUL. I mean communion wine as a rule is bad, but non-alcoholic communion wine is gag-worthy.

3) Your priest might have been quite old fashioned on communion (but up to date on everything else) -- some priests were quite intense about bread-only even while having female lectors and altar servers and being fine with divorce and whatnot. Having transubstantiated the bread and wine, they were super-anxious that it be consumed properly. My parish tried to convince us not the chew the host b/c biting Jesus was disrespectful, which all of our Catholic-school-attending parents found HILARIOUS (they hadn't been made to abide by that rule in the 60s!), and told us to just chew when Father couldn't see us.

4) Your parish might have had a fight about germs. This was definitely a thing in the 80s, and there is a whole minor industry dedicated to personal communion cups (lies: they're just plastic shot glasses or -- these days! -- K-cups with wine in them). Catholicism rejects personal communion cups -- they are literally NOT COMMUNAL -- so there is a whole body of scientific literature about HOW MANY GERMS you get from the shared communion cup (not that many, especially if it's wiped). But there was definitely a downward trend in the 80s with people being weird about germs, and some parishes were like FINE WE ARE NOT EVEN DOING THIS YOU WEIRDO GERMOPHOBES because so few people took the wine.

5) Your parish might have had a demographic that skewed non-wine. Some pre-Vatican II Catholics were never cool with weekly wine. The priest and communion ministers have to finish all the wine that isn't drunk. I have served as a communion minister in situations where there was WAY MORE CONSECRATED WINE than was used, and everyone ended up a little tipsy after finishing up the Jesus. (Bonus tip: You are not allowed to giggle while getting tipsy on Jesus, you are supposed to be holy and respectful about it, but after a certain amount of Jesus, it's REALLY HARD to keep being holy because Jesus is pretty dang alcoholic, and when the nun yells at you for giggling, that only induces more giggling.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:38 PM on October 7, 2018 [18 favorites]

Grew up Roman Catholic in Canada, crowd mostly didn’t have wine with service from 1986-1996 (Quebec, Ontario, about 5 diff churches), did have wine when in Edmonton a few times when visiting in late 90s/early 00s either sip from chalice priest holds with someone wiping after each sip, or from a subordinate (usually someone who did the readings).
posted by furtive at 9:37 PM on October 7, 2018

It's definitely up to local custom. In Poland, wine is very rarely distributed, and often to just a sub-section of congregants, like the newlyweds at a marriage mass.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:10 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

My parish in Northern VA offered both for special masses when we were kids, but sometime in the aughts switched to offering both at every single mass. They also switched from cheap box wine to good stuff around the same time. I figured it was just because we got bigger and it's easier to get more lay volunteers now. I never heard of dipping the wafer before today.
posted by mattamatic at 4:16 AM on October 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

In the 1980s and 90s, wine disappeared from communion from my parish during the winter months when more folks had colds and the flu. Wine was always ministered for folks when the priest came to their nursing home.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:10 AM on October 8, 2018

Well-attended, Catholic Church in New England, 1980s through 2008ish: no wine for the congregants during communion regardless of which priest was serving. Attended my grandmother's funeral there two years ago and same thing: no wine for the congregants during communion. Several different priests throughout that time.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:00 AM on October 8, 2018

My parish tried to convince us not the chew the host b/c biting Jesus was disrespectful, which all of our Catholic-school-attending parents found HILARIOUS (they hadn't been made to abide by that rule in the 60s!), and told us to just chew when Father couldn't see us.

I'm probably the same age as your parents, and I don't find this hilarious at all. In fact, it is what I was taught.

I saw a documentary once that talked about how chewing vs. not chewing was a theological debate that resulted at various times in communion wafers being manufactured so that (a) chewing was unnecessary - the wafer would sort of melt and (b) chewing was required.

In the 60s, I was taught such strong respect for the consecrated wafer that, when I made communion bread for a Catholic wedding, after the priest told me how to properly destroy the leftovers, I asked him if he would do it because it made me so uncomfortable.
posted by FencingGal at 6:42 AM on October 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think it took a while for Vatican II changes in the norms to trickle down through parishes. When I made my first communion (around '83, maybe?), my parish still didn't provide wine to parishioners as part of the Eucharist. We had a VERY old-school, traditional priest, and I suspect that Fr. Dixon only made the changes that he was forced to. He retired a year or two later, and his replacement brought a wild shock of changes to our parish. Fr. Mark drove a red Firebird and smoked constantly. He was an enthusiastic academic and was constantly working on one college degree after an other (in science and mathematics, of all things!). Over the years after his arrival, we also began having wine at communion and girls as altar servers. None of this sat well with our older parishioners, but I remember those whirlwind days well. (But, my mom still won't drink from the cup.) It also didn't help that, just as our church began sharing the chalice of wine, the AIDS scare of the 80s was in full-force. I specifically remember there being information shared in the church bulletins to calm fears about transmission this way.
posted by hessie at 7:54 AM on October 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't remember wine being offered until the 1980s. I went to Catholic schools and although I can't remember specifically what was said, I feel like we were subtly discouraged from taking it, even though it was offered. This may have been, as hessie suggests, because the AIDS panic was well underway. I (very) occasionally attend Mass now and I would say only one out of maybe twenty parishioners take wine at communion.

My parish tried to convince us not the chew the host b/c biting Jesus was disrespectful, which all of our Catholic-school-attending parents found HILARIOUS (they hadn't been made to abide by that rule in the 60s!), and told us to just chew when Father couldn't see us.

I was taught not to chew the host as well, and in fact this is the first time I've ever been exposed to the idea that chewing is okay. Huh!
posted by HotToddy at 10:36 AM on October 8, 2018

I grew up in the same period as FencingGal, and pretty much have the same memory of communion.

As for the wine, I recall only the priest taking wine during normal mass. At high mass, though, wine was offered to the parishioners during communion.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:20 PM on October 8, 2018

I grew up in MN in the 70s and wine at mass was very rare, even at our fairly liberal parish. I went to college in the early 80s and kind of drifted away for a decade or so, but my new parish in the 90s (also liberal) was not doing regular wine until mid-decade. I don't think there was any particular event that led to the addition, a new pastor maybe, but they've had it ever since with only occasional gaps for flu outbreaks. The new pastor has been here for about seven years and he's crazy conservative, a real "Vatican Two?" throwback, but he's totally into the wine.
posted by Cris E at 5:35 PM on October 8, 2018

When my kids were preparing for their First Eucharists a few years ago, they were given the choice if they wanted to take the wine, but we were encouraged to let them 'practice' with the kind of table wine they use at Mass, so they wouldn't spit it out or otherwise negatively react during the service. Our parish (Northern Virginia) does not offer the cup during flu season but otherwise it does.
posted by candyland at 8:31 PM on October 8, 2018

Chewing never seemed an option. It glued itself to the roof of my mouth and I spent the prayful time afterwards trying to get it to dissolve before the final hymn.
posted by kitten magic at 11:34 PM on October 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

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