Tag Archives: Wineless eucharists

An apology

Some years ago (2017 to be precise) I had a correspondence with Fr Robert Two Bulls of Minnesota. Fr Bob is a former student. It started with some very perceptive observations from him.

RTB: I have a question that maybe I should know but I am sure you do. Here it is: Are the bread and wine at the Eucharist equal? Or is the bread more important? Many of our clergy colleagues make a show of bread breaking (remembering your GTS Liturgy class, that it’s just breaking bread) and it’s usually the clergy or Bishops who distribute the bread and the lesser folks who share the cup. My take is simple consumption -that bread is eaten first and then washed down with wine and then somewhere in history someone decided to add something more symbolic to it. Thoughts?
ACS: They are surely equal (though I cannot cite authority for this, as Anglicans don’t work that way.) There’s a whole load of stuff at the Council of Trent on this, especially since they decided that the whole of Jesus was present in either, so why, they asked, both, and then had to come up with an answer to their own question.
Now you are right, and I always hated it, when clergy make a huge thing of the fraction. It is, after all, solely practical. No more symbolic than pouring wine out of a bottle (though we could no doubt make something symbolic out of that.)
And you are right that we entrust the chalice to all sorts, but keep hold of the host. When, to make the point, I have asked laypeople to administer the host while I take the chalice they never seem comfortable with that; possibly it’s just because it’s unusual, but maybe there’s more going on.
Not sure about bread being washed down with wine, however, simply because, as you may recall, in some rites the wine came first (Didache, possibly Luke.) But it may be some reason as brutally practical as that. Recollect that in many early rites bread and wine were not the only possible eucharistic foods… but always, and perhaps this is critical, always bread. Simply because this was the normal food at every meal without fail in the Greco-Roman world.
Now if you remember the way my mind works, when it does, you will see that this poses thoughts about inculturation. What about societies which never used wine? Or bread come to that? Why are these (Mediterranean) foods so privileged?
Of course part of the answer is the privileging of the Last Supper narrative as the origin of the eucharist, rather than the meals Jesus had with his disciples before and after his resurrection. In particular I suggest the feeding of 5000 (wineless) might be seen as foundational for the eucharist, a meal in which the Kingdom of God is shown and made present.)

Now the post is headed “an apology”. The reason for this is that, thinking about the date, I realize that it was about then that I had the thoughts which led to my Oxford paper “ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ: ancient breakfasts and the development of eucharistic foods” subsequently published in JTS and now incorporated into the first chapter of my forthcoming book. I strongly suspect that it was the ball that Fr Bob passed to me that I picked up and with which I ran. I have failed, however, to acknowledge that, but seek to make good that omission now.
For those unfamiliar with the work, the article suggests that wine was dropped from the eucharist in some quarters because it (the eucharist) was transferred to the morning. Wine is not a morning drink or a breakfast food! In my forthcoming book I argue that the wine usually preceded the bread, and that it only came to follow because people thought they were doing what Jesus did at the last supper, and that the last supper was distinct because it was a Passover rite (and therefore annual.) Not quite what Fr Robert was suggesting, but along those lines and quite possibly inspired by his questions. I’m thinking that I might go further and suggest that the wine functioned distinctly when it preceded the bread, perhaps to sanctify the time to be with Jesus, who came in the bread.
Not that we have the authority to mess with the liturgy; I am also aware that in ministry to the dying I have sometimes given viaticum with a pipette in the species of the Precious Blood. This practice, however, is the result of development, and the phenomena to which Fr Bob draws attention perhaps indicate that there is a sort of genetic memory of when things were different.
Thank-you Fr Robert Two Bulls. And every blessing on your amazing ministry.


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