Catholic Church canons on Sacramental Wine
Altar wine, or wine appropriate for use during communion, has been defined in many ways over the centuries, subject to certain criteria. The Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church (1983), Canon 924 (emphasis added):
§1 The most holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist must be celebrated in bread, and in wine to which a small quantity of water is to be added.
§2 The bread must be wheaten only, and recently made, so that there is no danger of corruption.
§3 The wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine, and not corrupt.
This means that the wine must be naturally fermented with nothing added to it, and the wine itself cannot have soured or becomevinegar, nor can it have anything artificial added to it (preservatives, flavours). Wines are made from Vitis vinifera grapes, generally but not always under clerical supervision. The Catholic Church codified this further in a document, which at one time was included in allMissals published, called De Defectibus, On the defects which may occur during the Mass. One section, IV, was dedicated to defects of the wine. While the Catholic Church generally adheres to the rule that all wine for sacramental use must be pure grape wine and alcoholic, it is accepted that there are some circumstances, where the priest is an alcoholic for example, where it may be necessary to use a wine that is only minimally fermented, called mustum.
One exception was historically made in the Roman Catholic Church regarding wine-derived additives to wine. That was this directive published in 1896 by the Congregation of the Inquisition:
To conserve weak and feeble wines, and in order to keep them from souring or spoiling during transportation, a small quantity of spirits of wine (grape brandy or alcohol) may be added, provided the following conditions are observed:
- The added spirit (alcohol) must have been distilled from the grape (ex genimime vitis);
- the quantity of alcohol added, together with that which the wine contained naturally after fermentation, must not exceed eighteen per cent of the whole;
- the addition must be made during the process of fermentation.
Some purveyors of sacramental wine for use in the Catholic Church currently use the following private responsum as license to add sulfites to sacramental wine as a preservative:
“Mass Wine: Treated with Sulphurous Anhydride, Etc. (Holy Office) Private.
The Holy Office was asked by the Archbishop of Tarracona: Whether in the Sacrifice of the Mass, wine may be used which is made from the juice of the grape, treated with sulphurous anhydride or with potassium bisulphite.
Reply. In the affirmative.
(Private) ; Holy Office, 2 Aug., 1922.
Not published in the AAS; cf. Il Monitore, Oct., 1923, p. 289.”