Friday, February 8, 2013

Why is Water Added to Wine in the Holy Mass?

Many people who witness the Holy Mass, but don’t fully understand it, will often come away thinking that it is a beautiful ritual – but nothing more than that. Then there are others who, in their misguided zeal, say that the Holy Mass is far from fact they claim that it is naught but an idolatrous religious affair filled with empty and pagan rituals. Fortunately, those who understand the depth of what is taking place in the Mass know better...
When we celebrate Mass, time and space are transcended, and we in fact enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem where we celebrate the Heavenly Liturgy with the Angels and Saints of all ages (see Heb 12:22). This is one reason for the responsorial at different points in the Mass:
“Lift up your hearts”......“We lift them up to the Lord”.
When we understand that time and space are transcended in the Holy Mass, we also starts to see how it is possible for the Sacrifice of the Mass to be none other than the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross at Calvary. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is not a re-sacrificing of Jesus Christ. Our Blessed Lord was sacrified once-for-all on Golgotha Hill 2,000 years ago. No! The Mass and Calvary are the selfsame sacrifice. In other words, what happened 2,000 years ago on Calvary is made present to us in every single Mass. [For example, see here, here, here, and here.]

To begin to understand the Mass, we first need to understand that it is not just some human ritual invented by the Apostles or Church Fathers. On the contrary, the Mass is the Divine Liturgy that has been instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ for His Holy Church; and all the rituals contained within the Mass have as their Author the Holy Spirit. As such, they can never be empty or idolatrous. In fact, to even say that the Mass is simply “beautiful” would be a gross understatement. The Mass is not simply beautiful – it is so much more than is Divine!
To illustrate this, I’d like to take a look at just one very “small” ritual within the Mass – so small that it can easily go unnoticed...but if we miss it, we also miss something that has the deepest theological significance. I am speaking of the moment in the Mass when the priest adds the water to the wine before the Consecration.

To casual onlookers, this little act may seem a bit peculiar, and they may shrug it off without thinking much of it; but the truth is that this little act carries with it amazing relevance. For example, when the water is added to the wine, it is basically turned into wine – and this might remind us of the first sign performed by our Blessed Lord – when He miraculously turned the water into wine (see Jn 2:1-11). And if He can turn water into wine, then we have no reason to doubt that He can also turn the same wine into His Most Precious Blood.
But wait...there's more...

The Catechism of the Council of Trent reminds us that this practice of adding water to the wine for Consecration is actually derived from Apostolic tradition. And the Catechism goes on to provides us with three principal reasons for this practice:
Firstly, water must be added to the wine in imitation of Our Lord; who mingled water with wine at the Last Supper. This was attested to by St. Cyprian:

“[Solomon] declares the wine mingled [referring to Prov 9:1-2], that is, he foretells with prophetic voice the cup of the Lord mingled with water and wine, that it may appear that that was done in our Lord’s Passion which had been before predicted.” – Epistle 62, Chapter 5

Secondly, by adding the water to the wine, the faithful are reminded of the blood and water that issued from the side of Christ when He was pierced through with the lance (Jn 19:34).

Thirdly, water in Scripture often symbolises “the peoples, and multitudes, and nations” (e.g. Rev 17:15). It is the same “peoples, and multitudes, and nations” that Jesus Christ died for, and so the water mingled with wine signifies the union of the redeemed with Christ their head.

Without even going into any great detail in respect of the above points raised by the Catechism of the Council of Trent, one can begin to appreciate that there is a depth of Mystery in this simple little action in the Mass.
But wait...there's more...
The points raised by the Catechism are just a beginning. There is another point that I believe is worth adding, derived from the ritual itself.
When the priest (or deacon, if present) adds the water to the wine, he silently prays the following prayer:
“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.”
In reversal of the third point raised by the Catechism, in this prayer the people are symbolised by the wine in the chalice; and the divinity of Christ is symbolised by the pure water descending from above. Thus the mingling of water and wine serves to remind us of the Incarnation – the pure water descends from on high to be mingled with the wine, and this mingling is so complete that once they are mingled they cannot be separated. In the same way, God the Son descended from the Highest Heaven to make His tabernacle with men (Jn 1:14).

But wait...there’s more...
By this mingling of water and wine, we are not only being reminded of the Incarnation, but we are being reminded of the very reason for the Incarnation. But not only that...we are also being reminded of the very reason for the Mass!

St. Athanasius reminds us what the reason for the Incarnation was:
“God was made man, so that we might be made God” - On the Incarnation; Chapter 54:3

And as I have pointed out previously , this reality is brought about most especially in Most Blessed Sacrament when we receive the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion. We bring our gifts of bread and wine, as symbols of all that we are and have; then the Lord Jesus Christ turns these gifts into His Own Precious Body and Blood, which He in turn offers to us in Holy Communion...and in this Holy Communion we become united with Him so that we can be drawn more and more into His Divine Nature and be conformed to His image.

Isn’t that amazing? Who would’ve thought that all this could be represented by the simple act of adding a few drops of water to a chalice filled with wine? Often it’s the little things that teach us the greatest lessons...


  1. Neat article.

    I think it's important to point out that during the Offertory, it is the deacon (or the priest if there is no deacon) that pours the wine and water into the chalice.

    The full text of the prayer is:
    "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."

    1. Hi Paul

      Good point(s)...thanks for pointing them out :)

      I have made the relevant corrections :) :) :)

      God bless