Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

From the June AD 2001
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

    Question: What is the significance of the water added to the wine at Mass?

    Answer: The wines of the Mediterranean tend to be strong and heavy, sometimes positively thick and resinous. Such wines are more palatable when diluted with a moderate amount of water, and we know that such was the custom at the time of Christ. Indeed, it was a strong enough custom that the Romans mocked the Barbarians for drinking their wine straight, calling them drunkards (and failing to understand that the wines of northern Europe tend to be weak and thin, requiring no dilution). Though not mentioned in the biblical account, it is very likely that our Lord mixed the wine of the Last Supper with some water. In all modern Mass rites the water amounts to only a few drops - particularly when weak wines are used.

    The first written account we have of the ceremonies of the Mass in the early Church is that of Saint Justin the Martyr, who died for the Faith about 167. Twice in his First Apology, written for the emperor Antoninus Pius, Justin speaks of the elements of the Eucharist being "bread and wine and water." The same insistence on the "mixed chalice" was maintained by other early Christian writers including Saints Irenaeus of Lyons and Cyprian of Carthage. With the exception of that of the (non-Catholic) Armenians, virtually all rites of Mass prescribe the mixture of water and wine. It is conjectured that the Armenian practice is in reaction to certain heretical sects who insisted on the use of water alone, with no wine! Catholic Armenians add water to the wine.1

    The Roman Breviary informs us that Pope Saint Alexander "decreed that only bread and wine should be offered in the Mass, but that water should be mingled with the wine, in memory of the blood and water which flowed from the side of Christ Jesus."2

    The mixture of wine and water also reminds us of the adoption of our human nature by our divine Lord. The prayer used in the Roman Rite, "O God, Who hast established human nature in wondrous dignity and even more wondrously hast renewed it; grant through this mystery of water and wine, that we may become partakers of His divinity, who humbled himself to partake of our humanity, Jesus Christ…" is from a collect in the Christmas Mass in the Leonine Sacramentary.3 It invokes the symbolism of mixed water and wine to remind us of the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ, and of our elevation from the state of original sin to the state of grace.



1. Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (Westminster: Longmans Green, 1912), pp. 18, 20, 305, 306.

2. Lesson at Matins, 3 May.

3. Fortescue, p. 306.


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