As we noted in our first installment in this series, Roman Catholicism has added to the Eucharistic liturgy a step that is unscriptural and therefore generally unfamiliar to most Protestants. As part of the liturgy, the priest pours a little water into the wine that is used to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Unable to justify the rite from the Scriptures, Roman Catholicism makes its typical appeal to antiquity, claiming that the rite certainly must be of apostolic origins because it is found in the earliest traditions of the Church. But in this series we have analyzed the data from the Early Church and found that our early forebears knew of no such “apostolic” ritual.
This week we will conclude the series on the Mingled Cup by showing that the Roman Catholic liturgical tradition of Jesus mixing a small quantity of water to the wine during the Last Supper cannot legitimately be inferred from the secular Mediterranean practice of mixing a large quantity of water to merum prior to a meal. We will also show just how selective Rome is in its appeals to the Early Church to justify its liturgy. While the liturgical mixing of water with wine at the altar cannot be found any earlier than Ambrose, many other Eucharistic practices that clearly can be found in the Early Church have long since been dismissed by Rome as irreverent, sacrilegious, unnecessary, outdated and impractical.
A typical, and we add revealing, justification for the rite of adding water to wine during the Eucharist is found in A Catechism for the Right Understanding of the Sacrifice and Liturgy of the Mass, by Roman Catholic priest, Rev. John MacDonald. He writes:
“Q. Why does the priest mix a small quantity of water with the wine?
A. It is by order of the Church, on the strength of a most ancient, and, it is supposed, apostolical tradition, that the water is added to the wine. The practice is symbolical of the Incarnation; the wine, as the more precious element, representing the Divinity of Christ, and the water, as inferior, representing His Sacred Humanity. (MacDonald, John, A Catechism for the Right Understanding of the Sacrifice and Liturgy of the Mass.” (London: Thomas Richardson & Sons (1875) 117)
Rev. MacDonald’s justification for the rite is neither unique nor profound but is representative of a longstanding confusion that exists within Rome about where the rite originated, what it means and how it is to be performed. The addition of water to wine as an “ancient” and “apostolical” liturgical rite is actually found no earlier than the latter part of the 4th century, and even then there was—and still now there remains—no consensus on the origins, mode and significance of the rite. In short, the “strength of a most ancient … apostolical tradition” is utterly lacking. Roman Catholicism does not know why she has added the rite, does not know where it came from and does not know what it means, but nevertheless has made the denial of it an excommunicable offense (Council of Trent, Session 22, Canons on the Sacrifice of the Mass, Canon IX). So thin is the foundation of this novel step in Rome’s liturgy.
Was the mixing liturgical or secular?
As we showed in the second and third installments, those “most ancient” and supposedly “apostolical” traditions in the early patristic writings were in fact simple references to the ancient Mediterranean manufacturing process for wine. In that process, water was added to merum to make it palatable for drinking. Since merum was known as “pure wine,” “wine alone” or “undiluted wine,” the resulting mixture was called “wine and water,” “wine with water,” “mingled wine,” or simply “wine.” The ancient Greeks, Jews, Romans and Christians all had an aversion to drinking merum straight—to do so was considered uncivilized—and thus water was always mixed with merum as a final step in the manufacturing process. That is why the description of mixed wine in the early patristic writings was usually accompanied by a similar description of the manufacturing process for bread.
In describing these processes the Early Church had ritualized neither the mixing of water with merum to make wine, nor the grinding of grains to make bread, nor the adding of water to flour to make dough, nor the baking of dough to make bread. They had simply acknowledged the suitability of both mixtures as figures for the Incarnation, since Jesus had “mixed Himself up” with us. As the bread was mixed and baked before the meal, so too was the wine prepared prior to the meal. Cyprian acknowledged this explicitly: adding water to wine was “just as” the adding of water to flour to make bread, and mixing water with wine was “in like manner” with the grinding and mixing of grain to make bread (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13). As we noted in previous installments, a liturgical rite cannot be validly inferred from a secular manufacturing process, and a secular manufacturing process was all they had in mind when they spoke of the “mixed cup.”
Did the mixing take place before or during the liturgy?
As the title of his book suggests, Rev. MacDonald insisted that the mixing of water must take place during the Eucharistic liturgy. Thomas Aquinas, too, objected to any suggestion of simply adding water to the barrel in advance of the Mass. Thomas insisted, rather, that the water must be added to the wine during the sacrament:
“If water were added to a cask, it would not suffice for the signification of this sacrament, but the water must be added to the wine at the actual celebration of the sacrament.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 74, Article 8, Reply to Objection 3)
Yet Justin Martyr’s description from the 2nd century—the earliest patristic description of the mixed Eucharistic cup on record—has the wine and water mixed before the Eucharistic liturgy even began, for “bread and a cup of wine mixed with water” were brought forward to “the president of the brethren,” the president then taking and blessing a cup that had already been mixed in advance (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 65). Even as late as the early 4th century, Aphrahat of Persia was still insisting that “the cup of redemption [was] mixed” before Jesus even took His seat at the table (Aphrahat of Persia, Demonstrations, Demonstration 6: On Covenanters, chapter 6). Thus, in the earliest depictions of the liturgy, the water was not “added to the wine at the actual celebration of the sacrament” as Aquinas insisted.
Given Rome’s conviction that it is an “ancient” and “apostolical” tradition that Jesus added water to wine at the table, the early evidence is flatly hostile to the claim. A tradition of Jesus mixing the cup Himself at the Supper can hardly be validly inferred from a tradition of the cup being mixed before He even sat down at the table.
Was water added in great or in small quantities?
Next, MacDonald writes that “a small quantity of water” is to be added to the wine. His description comports with the Third Council of Braga (675 A.D.) which decreed that the Eucharist was to be celebrated “with bread and wine mixed with a drop of water in a chalice” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Councils of Braga). It is also consistent with Redemptionis Sacramentum, an instruction on the proper celebration of the Mass, which requires “a small quantity of water … to be mixed with” the wine (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament, Redemptionis Sacramentum, Chapter III, paragraph 50 (2004)).
In view of how Rome attempts to establish the antiquity of the practice, however, the suggestion of “a small quantity” or “a drop of water” is a gross historical non sequitur. As we have noted in this series, Zenit, the Roman Catholic news agency, makes the argument for adding water to wine, by saying that “this was the common practice among the Jews and in Mediterranean culture in general” (Father Edward McNamara, Zenit Roman Catholic News, Why Water and Wine?, June 29, 2004). Likewise, in our previous installment, in the 12th century dialogue between Anselm of Havelberg and Nicetas of Nicomedia, Anselm argued for the mixing of water based on the same Mediterranean custom (Anselm Of Havelberg, Anticimenon: On the Unity of the Faith and the Controversies with the Greeks, Ambrose Criste & Carol Neel, trans. (Order of St. Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2010).
The reason the argument is a such a grotesque non sequitur is that neither the Greeks, Jews, Romans nor Christians added “a small quantity of water” and certainly not merely “a drop.” In fact, they added a great volume of water, and certainly much more water than merum. According to Encyclopedia Romana, in the Mediterranean cultures, the practice was to add two, three or four parts water to wine (Encylopedia Romana, Wine and Rome). Adding that much water to wine or merum is by no means adding “a small quantity of water.”
As we noted in our first installment, the Roman poet Martial testified that even if one desired purposefully to become inebriated, the ratio of water to merum would still only be reduced from the standard Roman ratio of two-to-one down to a much less diluted one-to-one (Martial, Epigrams, Book XI, chapter 6). We keep that in mind as we consider Clement of Alexandria’s belief that water, “the medicine of temperance,” had to be added to merum, “the Bacchic fuel,” to avoid drunkenness and “the agitation of lust.” It was in view of that prohibition of drunkenness that Clement insisted that “it is best to mix the wine with as much water as possible” (Clement of Alexandria, Pædagogus, Book II, chapter 2, “On Drinking”). A liturgical tradition of adding “a small quantity of water” to the Eucharistic wine can hardly be validly inferred from a secular tradition of mixing one, two, three or four parts water to one part merum, or from Clement’s insistence on adding “as much water as possible.”
Is water added to the wine, or is wine added to the water?
Next, consider MacDonald’s insistence that the water must be added to the wine. No such liturgical order can be found prior to Ambrose.
Justin Martyr (100 – 165 A.D.) made reference to the mixed cup, but did not speak of a liturgical order of mixing.
Irenæus of Lyons (early 2nd century – 202 A.D.) made no reference to a liturgical order of mixing. However, by stating that the water signified Adam who was expelled from the garden, and the “heavenly commixture” signified God “having become united with the ancient substance of Adam’s formation” (Irenæus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 1, paragraph 3), he seems to have wine being added to redeem the “water” of Adam’s substance.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215 A.D.) insisted that water be added in large quantities to prevent drunkenness, but when he spoke of the wine at Cana, he called it a mixture of the “watery element … of the law” to which was added the wine of “the new word.” When he spoke of the Eucharistic cup, he said “the mixture of wine and water” symbolized that the Jews first drank the water of temperance in the desert, and then “[a]fterwards the sacred vine produced the prophetic cluster,” at which point “the blood of the grape … desired to be mixed with water, as His blood is mingled with salvation” (Clement of Alexandria, Pædagogus, Book II, chapter 2, “On Drinking”). Again, the merum, or “the blood of the grape,” came last and was added to the water of temperance.
Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200 – 258 A.D.) in Epistle 62 argued that wine is typically made by adding water, just as bread is made by adding water to flour, but noted with Clement that the miracle at Cana had been performed by the miraculous addition of merum (symbolizing Christ) in order to purify the water (symbolizing His people) in conjugal union (paragraphs 12, 13)—the merum obviously coming last. Also, because the entire epistle was written against the illicit practice of using water alone in the cup, he spent considerable time correcting the practice by insisting that the cup was to be “mixed with wine” and “mingled with wine” (paragraphs 2, 4, 11,17)—as if the practice could be corrected simply by adding wine to the water.
Aphrahat referred to the mixed cup, but made no mention of the order of mixing. Thus, from Justin in the early 2nd century to Aphrahat in the mid 4th century, there appears to be no concern at all regarding the order of adding the water to the wine as a liturgical obligation.
A liturgical tradition of adding water to a cup of wine can hardly be validly inferred from the writings of men who make no mention of it, or who mention the mixture but do not have any sense of an apostolic mandate as to the order. It certainly cannot be inferred from Cyprian who corrected an errant practice by insisting that wine must be added to the water.
What do the water and wine signify?
In his explanation of the rite, Rev. MacDonald alleged that the wine represents “the Divinity of Christ,” and the water represents “His Sacred Humanity,” but we are hard pressed to find such symbolism in the Early Church.
In his brief treatment of the symbolical meaning of the elements, Irenæus had the water representing “Adam who had been conquered and was expelled from Paradise.” If there is any symbolism to be found in him, it is that the mixture of water with wine signifies that “the Word of the Father and the Spirit of God” have “become united with the ancient substance of Adam’s formation,” which would seem to make the merum symbolize both Christ and the Holy Spirit (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 1, paragraph 3), although Irenæus does not dwell significantly on the topic.
Later that century, Clement had “the watery portion” of the mixture signifying “the lusts of the flesh” of men, and the wine signifying the elect (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book I, chapter 6). In another place, Clement had the “watery element” signifying “the old law” and the merum signifying Christ, “the new word” (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book II, chapter 6). In yet another place, Clement seems to have the water and the merum both signifying Jesus’ humanity—the water flowing from “the smitten Rock,” and the wine flowing from “the great cluster the Word, bruised for us” (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book II, chapter 2: on Drinking).
The next century, Cyprian thought the water was a figure of the Jewish people apart from Christ, for “among the Jews there was a want of spiritual grace,” and therefore “wine also was wanting” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 12). But in the mixing, water signified the people (based on Revelation 17:15), and the wine represented Christ (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13).
These are all the early references to the symbology of the water and the wine. From which of these diverse symbologies does Rev. MacDonald authoritatively trace his belief that the wine represents Christ’s divinity and the water His humanity? There was no consensus at all among the early writers, and thus no indication that they believed they were passing on an inspired apostolic symbology.
Even today, there remains no clear consensus within Rome about what the water and wine mean. David Philipart, writing for US Catholic, and Jeffrey Pinyan writing for Praying the Mass, sum it up best when they explain the late origin of the symbology which “may never have been intended in the beginning,” and only “gained significance” much later:
“Both actions are very ancient and began as practical necessities [of winecraft], but eventually the necessities disappeared and were even forgotten. Later when Christians started to ask what these two gestures meant, they began to interpret the actions symbolically. While these symbols may never have been intended in the beginning, the better ones made sense and became part of our rich tradition.” (David Phillippart, “Why does the priest pour water into the wine and put a piece of the bread into the cup?”, US Catholic (Vol. 70, No. 1, page 43), January 2005).
“But the wine used at Mass is no longer as thick or strong as the wine used two thousand years ago. What was once necessary [as part of winecraft] gained a spiritual significance which has endured long after the necessity has ceased.” (Jeffrey Pinyan, Praying the Mass, “Mixing the Wine with Water,” June 10 2014).
These statements are tacit acknowledgement that the symbolism currently attached to the ingredients came well after the Last Supper. Thus in the 1,600 years of its existence, Roman Catholicism has yet to determine the actual symbology of its ritual, is unable even to trace it authoritatively to the Early Church, and much less to the apostles and to Christ.
The selective Roman appeal to the Church Fathers
By reviewing Justin, Irenæus, Clement, Cyprian and Aphrahat, we have surveyed the whole of Rome’s ancient patristic arguments for mixing the cup at the altar during Mass. “We must mix the cup,” Rome’s apologists declare, “because it is an ancient patristic tradition.” “We must not break with the tradition of the fathers,” they insist. But while Rome seeks to prove the novel mixing rite from an imagined tradition from the early writers, many actual documented Eucharistic practices of the Early Church have long since been abandoned by Rome as meaningless, insignificant, impractical and even irreverent and sacrilegious. In fact, Rome is so selective in its appeal to the Early Church, that it becomes clear that the argument for pouring water into the wine at the altar by the priest was never really about apostolic antiquity at all.
Communion in the hand
Consider the early practice of receiving communion in the hand. Cyprian of Carthage described the practice (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 55, paragraph 9), as did Cyril of Jerusalem (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 23, paragraph 21). Chrysostom, too, said Jesus had given us His body “both to hold and to eat” (John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on 1 Corinthians, paragraph 7).
Yet Rome resents that early practice and seeks to diminish it. The 1969 Instruction, Memoriale Domini, published by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, lamented the 20th century desire of some Roman Catholics “to return to the ancient usage of depositing the eucharistic bread in the hand of the communicant” (Memoriale Domini). The early but apparently offensive Christian practice of taking the bread in the hand was abandoned centuries later when “a deepening understanding … of the presence of Christ” in the Eucharist dawned in the novel Roman religion:
“Later, with a deepening understanding of the truth of the eucharistic mystery, of its power and of the presence of Christ in it, there came a greater feeling of reverence towards this sacrament and a deeper humility was felt to be demanded when receiving it. Thus the custom was established of the minister placing a particle of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicant.” (Memoriale Domini)
Thus this Eucharistic practice of the Early Church, so plainly stated in the early writers, is set aside by Rome based on later developments on the significance of the sacrament. Notable for its absence is any call from the Magisterium to return to taking the bread in hand on the authority of the early fathers.
Deacons and laity taking the Eucharist to those who were absent
Consider as well Justin Martyr’s explanation that the deacons administered the bread and the cup to those present, and then took some of the bread and wine to those who were absent:
“And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread … and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 65)
“… to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 67)
The practice, known as “reservation,” continued for centuries after Justin, even among the laity whe kept a portion for later consumption. Tertullian (On Prayer, chapter 19), Cyprian, (On the Lapsed, paragraph 26), Basil, (Epistle 93), and Jerome (Letter 48, chapter 15) all mention it unobjectionably, as if it was a perfectly acceptable and even commendable way to handle the elements.
But reservation by the deacons and laity was abandoned later with the dawning of “a deepening understanding … of the presence of Christ” in the Eucharist in Rome:
“Soon the task of taking the Blessed Eucharist to those absent was confided to the sacred ministers alone, so as the better to ensure the respect due to the sacrament and to meet the needs of the faithful.” (Memoriale Domini)
Again, this Eucharistic practice of the Early Church, so plainly stated in the early writers, was set aside by Rome based on a much later “deepened” understanding on the significance of the sacrament. Notable for its absence is any call from Roman apologists to return the practice of reservation by deacons and laypersons on the authority of the fathers.
Mixing all of the wine with water
It would seem that if Christ mixed the cup Himself, as Rome alleges, then every communion cup ought to be mixed in imitation of Him, but Rome does not consistently mingle all of its cups during the Mass. We recall Justin’s explanation that “wine mixed with water” was administered “to each of those present” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, paragraph 65). Also, Irenæus observed that “the substance of our flesh is increased and supported” by “the mingled cup” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 2, paragraph 3). We recall as well Cyprian’s admonition that “the cup of the Lord is not indeed water alone, nor wine alone, unless each be mingled with the other” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13).
Rome insists on the mixed cup based on Justin, Irenæus and Cyprian among others, but when it comes to the practicalities of large Masses, only one cup apparently needs to be mixed and the remaining cups can be unmingled “wine alone.”
For good reason, Roman Catholics are occasionally confused by this. Is it not an ancient apostolic tradition to use a mingled cup? Should not all of the cups be mixed? And yet the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) only calls for water to be added to a single chalice. Busted Halo, a ministry of the Paulist Fathers, attempts to explain away the inconsistency:
“The GIRM is calling attention to the ONE cup in which we all partake, meaning that we call attention to one consecrated cup in the Eucharistic Prayer because we all share in one cup, even though for the sake of allowing the blood of Christ to be available to all present we often use more than one container, all of those containers are considered ONE sacrament that we share together. This is more likely the intention and therefore the rubric calls for the priest to pour water into the cup that he will raise during consecration.” (Mike Hayes, Busted Halo, Why do Priests Pour Holy Water Into the Main Chalice Instead of Each Cup? , September 2, 2014)
The Paulist Fathers explain in true Orwellian fashion that adding water to all the cups is actually ill-advised and “can send a mixed message.” “All the chalices,” they claim, “indeed contain the blood of Christ despite the lack of water in some” (Mike Hayes, Why do Priests Pour Holy Water Into the Main Chalice Instead of Each Cup?). Given the arguments Rome uses that the cup must be mixed in accordance with “ancient apostolic tradition,” we find their arguments for not mixing all the cups to be less than compelling.
Clearly, if every cup is not mixed, then a mixed cup cannot be administered “to each of those present” in accordance with the practice of the early church. Notable for its absence is any call from Roman apologists to return the practice of mixing all the wine with water based on the authority of the fathers.
Everyone partaking of wine
The night before Jesus died, He took the cup and “gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it” (Matthew 26:27), “and they all drank of it” (Mark 14:23). If everyone is to drink of the cup (per Matthew 26 and Mark 14), if everyone is to drink of the mixed cup (per Justin Martyr), and if the “antitypes” of “both the bread the body of Christ, and the cup the blood of Christ” are to be received by all believers (Irenæus, Fragment 37), and if Jesus’ command to “Eat my flesh, and drink my blood” was given to the whole Church “consisting of many members” (Clement of Alexandria, The Paedagogus, Book I, chapter 6), and if the “brotherhood” must not “blush to drink the blood of Christ” per Cyprian (Epistle 62, paragraph 15), and if all catechumens were instructed to receive both “the anti-typical Body and Blood of Christ” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 23, paragraph 20), then the drinking of the cup would appear to be of some supreme apostolic importance to the early church. Indeed, the Catholic Encyclopedia concedes that this practice prevailed for nearly 1100 years:
“It may be stated as a general fact, that down to the twelfth century, in the West as well as in the East, public Communion in the churches was ordinarily administered and received under both kinds.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Communion under both kinds)
Yet here, Rome has simply changed the ancient practice on her own authority:
“[I]n the course of time, holy mother the Church, mindful of her authority in the administration of the Sacraments, and influenced by weighty and just reasons, has approved the custom of communicating under one kind, and decreed it to have the force of a law, which may not be set aside or changed but by the Church’s own authority” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Communion under both kinds)
Notable for its absence is any call from the Magisterium to return to the ancient practice of everyone receiving communion under both kinds on the authority of the early church fathers.
The use of red wine
Justin Martyr, when explaining the significance of the Lord’s Supper, said that “in the remembrance effected by their solid and liquid food” the suffering of Christ “is brought to mind.” He further noted that Rahab’s scarlet thread “also manifested the symbol of the blood of Christ” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chapters 111, 117). Clearly, Justin thought “the symbol of the blood” ought to be red in order for Christ’s sufferings to be “brought to mind.” Cyprian, when correcting the practice of using water alone in the Lord’s supper in order to avoid detection by Roman authorities, asked, “Can water make garments red? … Assuredly, therefore, mention is made of wine, that the Lord’s blood may be understood” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 7). Cyprian clearly thought the contents of the cup should be red, so that “the Lord’s blood” may be properly understood. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges that among the various depictions of the Eucharist in the catacombs may be seen “a glass containing red wine” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Roman Catacombs). Despite these, the Catholic Encyclopedia teaches that the color of the wine does not matter. “It may be white or red” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Altar Wine). Notable for its absence is any call from Rome’s apologists to return to the use of red wine on the authority of the early church.
Standing during the Lord’s Supper
As we noted in our article, “It’s Complicated”, the Early Church did not kneel on Sundays, and therefore certainly did not kneel during the Lord’s Supper. Tertullian said the early church considered “kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day to be unlawful” (Tertullian, De Corona, Chapter 3). The 20th canon of Nicæa established the standing posture as normative:
“Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord’s Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.” (Canon XX, Council of Nicæa, 325 A.D.)
Later that century, Basil reminded his hearers that “We pray standing, on the first day of the week,” for “the rules of the church have educated us to prefer the upright attitude of prayer” (Basil, de Spiritu Sancto, chapter 27). Pope Leo the Great reinforced this, saying that Nicæa had “laid down a code of canons for the Church to last till the end of the world” (Leo the Great, Letter 106, paragraph 4).
Thus, standing on the Lord’s day, even by the standards of 5th century Roman Catholicism, was a permanent, perpetual statute, to last forever. The Early Church Fathers, Nicæa, and even the pope, taught against kneeling on the Lord’s Day. And if one cannot kneel on the Lord’s Day, then one cannot kneel at the Lord’s Supper, either. Yet for all this, Rome simply dismisses the early practice of standing during the Lord’s Supper, and imposes a kneeling posture instead:
“Eventually kneeling became more common in public prayer with the increase of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. … Some may like to stand, but the Holy See does not allow for this”(Jason Evert, Catholic Answers, Should we stand or kneel at Mass?)
Notable for its absence is any call from Rome’s apologists to return to the early practice of prohibiting kneeling during the consecration.
The real reason for adding water to wine at the altar
We recount all these instances of Rome’s flagrant violation and systemic rejection of the Eucharistic practices of the Early Church in order to demonstrate the utter vacuity of Rome’s appeal to the “authority” of the Early Church for the mixing of water with wine at the altar. On the one hand, the practice of the minister mixing water with wine at the table during the Lord’s Supper cannot be found before Ambrose, yet Rome attempts to claim apostolic antiquity based on the early writers. On the other hand, many other practices that actually can be traced to the Early Church and the Scriptures are dismissed out of hand.
Ask a Roman apologist why Roman Catholicism frowns upon communion in the hand as practiced by the Early Church, and he will say that his church now thinks it wise to avoid the practice.
Ask him why the practice of reservation, clearly practiced by the deacons and laity in the Early Church, has now been limited to the clergy, and he will say that his church thought it was unwise to continue the ancient practice.
Ask him why all the wine used at the Lord’s Supper is not mixed with water, as clearly practiced in the Early Church, and he will say that his church now thinks it impractical and unnecessary to do so.
Ask him why most participants at the Mass do not even partake of the cup at all, even though the Early Church insisted that all drink of it, and he will tell you that his church has determined that it is not necessary.
Ask him why Rome does not care about the color of the wine, even though the Early Church clearly did, and he will tell you that his church has simply determined otherwise.
Ask him why his church now requires kneeling during the consecration, even though the Early Church forbade kneeling during the service, and he will tell you that his church has simply determined that the new posture is more reverent.
But dare to question the liturgical rite of mixing water with wine at the table during the Lord’s Supper, even though the Early Church did not practice it, and the Roman apologist will attempt to defend the practice on the authority of the Early Church.
Clearly the authority of the Early Church has absolutely nothing to do with it. To the Roman apologist, only one thing really matters: Holy mother the Church, mindful of her authority, has instituted a new practice. That is all. If some semblance of a fabricated defense can be constructed from the Early Church, all the better, but no such defense is really required. As Rev. MacDonald noted above, the real reason for mixing water with wine during the Mass “is by order of the Church.”
The problem, as we have shown in this series, is that the “order of the Church” is founded upon on misunderstanding, error, myth and ignorance of ancient winecraft. It is suitable therefore to conclude the series with Thomas Aquinas’ abject confusion and historical errors related to the rite. His defense of the rite is found in Summa Theologica, and he lists four reasons for the liturgical mixing:
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 (Prov. 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 is 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.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 74, Article 6)
These arguments are quite telling, both in their wording and in their questionable historicity, and only one—from the late 4th century—has any ground at all.
The first argument may be dismissed out of hand for the reasons we have noted throughout this series, namely that a secular custom of mixing merum with water does not validly imply that Jesus mixed the wine Himself at the table, and a custom of adding a little water cannot be validly derived from a custom of adding a lot. Jesus also would have used bread made of flour mixed with water, but the mixing of the dough is not liturgized on account of that. Remarkably, Aquinas unwittingly concedes this very point when responding to an objection that “nothing is added to the bread” and thus, “neither should anything be added to the wine.” Aquinas’ counter argument, repeating Cyprian, was that the adding of water was simply part of the manufacturing process for both elements: “Bread is made of water and flour; and therefore, since water is mixed with the wine, neither is without water” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 74, Article 6, response to objection 3). In his inductive, illogical Thomistic method, Aquinas had actually provided an argument against liturgizing either the mixing of the bread or the wine at the table, for indeed it was “the custom of that country” to mix both before the meal. Even his appeal to Proverbs 9:5 to support mixing at the altar is invalid, for Proverbs 9:2 shows that the wine was “mingled” in advance, before the table was “furnished.”
Aquinas’ second argument is from an epistle allegedly from “Pope” Alexander I (d. 115) “To All Priests.” That epistle has since proved to be a forgery, being found among the Pseudo-Isodorian Decretals and Other Forgeries, from the 9th century. The alleged 2nd century argument for mixing water with wine during the mass, as put forth in the forged epistle, is not actually found until Ambrose’s Concerning the Sacraments (Book V, chapter 1, paragraph 4). As is typical in Roman Catholicism, the forged epistle’s authors had tried to imbue Ambrose’s late 4th century novel arguments with ante-Nicæan legitimacy, and Aquinas swallowed the forgery whole.
His third argument is from the Third Council of Braga (675 A.D.), which simply recites Cyprian’s ancient argument about what he believed the water is intended to signify (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13). As we have shown here, however, Cyprian did not make an argument for mixing the water with the wine at the table during the Lord’s Supper, and in fact believed that the mixing of water with wine was no more liturgically significant than the mixing of water with flour. Further, Cyprian’s opinion on the symbolism of the water is hardly authoritative since there were so many other earlier patristic opinions that differed from his—e.g., Clement who thought that the water signified Christ, “the smitten rock,” and the wine signified Christ, the cluster of grapes “bruised for us.” As we have noted here, even Rome’s apologists acknowledge that “these symbols may never have been intended in the beginning,” and what symbolism has been extracted has no consensus from the early church.
His fourth argument, the only one that is valid, is simply a citation from Book V of Ambrose’s On the Sacraments (c. 387 A.D.), the first known description of the rite of the priest pouring water into wine at the altar ostensibly in imitation of Christ. Thus, for all of his attempts to trace the rite to Christ and to the apostles, the best Aquinas can do is trace the rite to the late 4th century.
Rome is therefore left with such justifying rationale as, “it is believed with probability,” and “it is supposed,” and “the Fathers from the earliest times have tried to find reasons” for the rite. Lacking any evidence or direct knowledge of any such apostolic rite, Rome is left with its empty arguments, still unable to prove that Jesus, the Apostles and the early church practiced the rite, even as the Magisterium flatly rejects the things they actually practiced.
It is fitting, therefore to conclude this series with one of the most fancifully revisionist summaries of the rite that can be found in all the literature that has been devoted to it. Michael Aquilina, Roman Catholic apologist and “author or editor of more than forty books, including The Fathers of the Church, The Mass of the Early Christians, and Angels of God,” offers us this highly imaginative historical gloss:
“As the priest pours the two elements, a devout Christian can’t help but remember this scene from the Scriptures.” (Mike Aquilina, Why does the priest mix water and wine?, February 1, 2016)
Which scene would that be? It cannot be found in the Scriptures. Like Aquinas and the Pseudo-Isodorian forgeries, Aquilina has only one authentic source for the rite—Ambrose of Milan, from the late 4th century:
“We said, therefore, that the cup and the bread are set on the altar. What is poured into the cup? Wine. And what else? Water.” (Ambrose of Milan, Concerning the Sacraments, Book V, chapter 1, paragraph 2).
Like his forebears, Aquilina—and all of Rome with him—must strain against history and rely on his own imagination in order to place the novel rite in the ante-Nicæan and apostolic era. But it simply cannot be done. The rite, along with so many others of Rome’s novelties, belongs to the late 4th century.