Why Water With Wine

Zenit News Agency, Italy
June 30 2004

Why Water With Wine

And More on “And Also With You”

ROME, JUNE 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: I would want to know the reason why the priest pours water into
wine during the preparation of the gifts. — J.B., Bo, Sierra Leone

A: The brief rite of pouring water into the wine used for
consecration is very ancient. Indeed, it is believed that Our Lord
himself used wine tempered with water at the Last Supper as this was
the common practice among the Jews and in Mediterranean culture in

Some form of this is found in practically every rite of the Church
both Western and Eastern, except for a group of Armenian

Although the water is not essential for the validity of the
sacrament, the Church holds it in great importance and it must never
be omitted. The Council of Trent even went so far as to excommunicate
whoever denied the need for this mixture (see Canon 9, Session XXII).

Historically, St. Justin Martyr already mentions this practice in his
Apology around the year 150. About a century later St. Cyprian wrote
on this theme in an epistle against a splinter group that used only
water in their celebrations, and this has become the accepted

“For because Christ bore us all, in that He also bore our sins, we
see that in the water is understood the people, but in the wine is
showed the blood of Christ. But when the water is mingled in the cup
with wine, the people [are] made one with Christ, and the assembly of
believers is associated and conjoined with Him on whom it believes;
which association and conjunction of water and wine is so mingled in
the Lord’s cup, that that mixture cannot any more be separated.

“Whence, moreover, nothing can separate the Church — that is, the
people established in the Church, faithfully and firmly persevering
in that which they have believed — from Christ, in such a way as to
prevent their undivided love from always abiding and adhering. Thus,
therefore, in consecrating the cup of the Lord, water alone cannot be
offered, even as wine alone cannot be offered. For if any one offer
wine only, the blood of Christ is dissociated from us; but if the
water be alone, the people are dissociated from Christ; but when both
are mingled, and are joined with one another by a close union, there
is completed a spiritual and heavenly sacrament.

“Thus the cup of the Lord is not indeed water alone, nor wine alone,
unless each be mingled with the other; just as, on the other hand,
the body of the Lord cannot be flour alone or water alone, unless
both should be united and joined together and compacted in the mass
of one bread; in which very sacrament our people are shown to be made
one, so that in like manner as many grains, collected, and ground,
and mixed together into one mass, make one bread; so in Christ, who
is the heavenly bread, we may know that there is one body, with which
our number is joined and united” (“On the Sacrament of the Cup of the
Lord,” No 13).

Another important symbolic explanation for this rite is given in St.
Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, III pars q 74, 6-8:

“Water ought to be mingled with the wine which is offered in this

“First of all, on account of its institution: for it is believed with
probability that our Lord instituted this sacrament in wine tempered
with water according to the custom of that country: hence it is
written (Proverbs 9:5): ‘Drink the wine which I have mixed for you.’

“Secondly, because it harmonizes with the representation of our
Lord’s Passion: hence Pope Alexander I says (Ep. 1 ad omnes orth.):
‘In the Lord’s chalice neither wine only nor water only ought to be
offered, but both mixed because we read that both flowed from His
side in the Passion.’

“Thirdly, because this is adapted for signifying the effect of this
sacrament, since as Pope Julius says (Concil. Bracarens iii, Can. 1):
‘We see that the people are signified by the water, but Christ’s
blood by the wine. Therefore when water is mixed with the wine in the
chalice, the people [are] made one with Christ.’

“Fourthly, because this is appropriate to the fourth effect of this
sacrament, which is the entering into everlasting life: hence Ambrose
says (De Sacram. v): ‘The water flows into the chalice, and springs
forth unto everlasting life.'”

These different explanations form the basis for the Church’s
understanding of the importance of this rite. This understanding is
at the root of the sentiment expressed by the prayer which the priest
recites in a low voice as he pours the water into the chalice:

“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.”