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 general.
Some form of this is found in practically every rite of the Church both Western and Eastern, except for a group of Armenian Monophysites.
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 interpretation:
“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 sacrament.
“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.”
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Follow-up: “And Also With You”
A reader took issue with our June 15 column about the faithful opening and closing their hands when answering “And also with you.”
“This isn’t something being introduced,” she writes. “This is something we’ve been doing for decades.”
The reader adds some personal opinions regarding the importance given by some people to fidelity to the rubrics.
She continues: “If one is focused on what one THINKS is right rather than pure and simple worship of Our Lord, then something is horribly wrong.
“While our priests and liturgists are poring over the details of Mass in an exacting process, the parishioners are becoming more and more divided. … We have become like the biblical Sadducees and Pharisees. So in love with our rules, we forget who we’re worshipping.”
Since our correspondent did not put her location in her message I don’t know what archdiocese has been practicing this gesture for decades. But I have never observed it beforehand.
Although I believe that our correspondent is sincere in her belief and in her desire to seek the “pure worship of God,” I beg to differ with her on one or two points.
First, I believe that most people who seek fidelity to liturgical laws do so out of an equally sincere love of God and the Church, and not out of pride or a pharisaic mentality.
Of course, I cannot exclude this possibility as I am unaware of my correspondents’ spiritual state. But as a Christian my duty to presuppose the best and noblest of intentions in those who write to me.
Second, I beg to differ with my present reader on the importance of fidelity to liturgical norms.
If I interpret her correctly — and I apologize if I am wrong — she seems to be moving from a rather subjective presupposition that liturgical worship is above all something that we do rather than something we enter into and receive as a gift.
She desires the pure worship of God. Yet in reality that pure worship can only be attained through an act of submission to and participation in the forms that God has established, either directly by Christ or through his Church, as the means of offering him genuine worship in spirit and truth.
Much acrimony regarding liturgical law would have been avoided if there had been greater fidelity from the beginning.
To illustrate this point, we could take our cue from the great theologian Romano Guardini who wrote of the liturgy as “play,” or a “game.”
The act of liturgical worship can be considered as “play” under several conditions.
In one way it is play because like a game: It is not done for utilitarian purposes but from the sheer joy and desire to do so. It is done because “dignum et iustum est” — it is right and fitting to offer glory and praise to God.
Certainly the Sunday precept is obligatory but our act of worship as such is not founded on the precept.
In another way, liturgy is play because like any game it consists of a set of rules which must be followed by all if the game is to be possible. Nobody can play a game if the rules are being made up as we go along.
Nor for that matter has any player ever being inducted into his sport’s Hall of Fame for having committed the greatest number of fouls and infractions. Rather, a player shows mettle, creativity and genius in the measure that he moves within the bounds of the rules of the game.
This is certainly true of liturgy. For only through respect and fidelity to the Church’s norms is true worship, honor and glory offered to God, and the Christian faithful experience genuine spiritual progress and creativity.