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KC archbishop clarifies wine validity norms

The Archbishop of Kansas City has warned priests that they could be offering Mass with invalid matter, and that they should ensure their altar wine is both free from additives and especially vinted for sacramental use. 

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The archbishop wrote to priests May 31 to warn that he had recently learned of parishes using wine that would invalidate their attempts to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“It has recently been reported by two priests, having served in three different parishes, that upon their appointment to these parishes they soon discovered the long-term use of wines that were in fact invalid matter for the confection of the Eucharist,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann noted in a May 31 letter obtained by The Pillar

As a result, he wrote, in those parishes, “for any number of years all Masses were invalid and therefore the intentions for which those Masses were offered were not satisfied, including the obligation pastors have to offer Mass for the people.”

“This is a gravely serious situation for which we must now petition the Holy See for guidance on restorative matters.”

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Canon and liturgical law stipulate that wine produced only from grapes can be used for the Eucharistic sacrifice. 

The 2004 Vatican instruction Redemptionis sacramentum explains that: “the wine that is used in the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances…It is altogether forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments. Nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter.”

While the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has confirmed that minute amounts of sulfites, which act as food preservatives, can be permitted in a sacramental wine, it has stressed that other additives can render wines as dubious or doubtful matter for the valid celebration of the Mass.

In Kansas City, Naumann noted that many commercially available wines “contain additives such as elderberry extract, sugars, alcohol, etc” — all of which could render the wine invalid matter.

To avoid the possibility of invalidly offered Masses, the archbishop issued a decree mandating that “only those wines commercially produced specifically for use at Mass may hereafter be used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist in all parochial and non-parochial churches, chapels, and oratories within the Archdiocese of Kansas City.”

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While many dioceses require that only wine marketed for sacramental use be used in the Mass, there is no definitive process for seeing a bottle of wine marketed to that effect. In some dioceses, bishops have certified that certain wine producers bottle wine only produced by grapes, without additives, and that the wine is therefore acceptable matter for the Eucharist. But other wineries self-certify their wine as acceptable use, presumably after scrutinizing their production process.

O-Neh-Da Vineyard, one of the country’s largest producers of pure grape wine, was launched in 1872 directly by Bishop Bernard McQuaid, who wanted a reliable source for altar wine.

The vineyard was eventually taken over as an apostolate of the Society of the Divine Word, before it passed into private hands, while remaining “totally dedicated to producing a valid and licit sacramental wine,” according to the company

Some U.S. dioceses, among the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, maintain lists of local vineyards which produce wine suitable for the Mass

But at least one diocese has taken a different tack: In an FAQ posted on its website, the Diocese of St. Petersburg informed pastors that in its view, “the labeling of wine as ‘sacramental’ or ‘altar’ wine is a marketing strategy similar to that of ‘organic.’”

“Any good house wine is fine and there are many good wines available in boxes or cubitainers, these have the advantage of lasting several weeks after opening because air is expelled and spoilage is retarded. Bottom line: the finer quality of wine, the better it is. This is an important consideration since the wine selected will become the Body and Blood of Christ.”

The diocesan FAQ did not acknowledge the possibility that additional sugars might be added during the wine-making process, along with other additives, especially in states where winemaking is not heavily regulated.


For his part, Naumann affirmed that the use of wine that would constitute invalid matter would render the Mass as a liturgical act invalid. While true, it can also be noted that because the Church says possible, but forbidden, the consecration of one sacred species without the other, the Eucharist in such contexts could nevertheless be validly consecrated under the form of bread — rendering the Eucharist consecrated in an invalid liturgical act.

In addition to establishing that wine must be produced only of grapes, canon law has other norms requiring the valid matter for the Eucharistic celebration. While “wine” is generally considered to be a grape-based substance containing 8% - 14% alcohol, the Church permits the use of “mustum,” in its stead — a grape juice produced in the same manner as wine, whose fermentation is suspended by freezing or some other natural method. 

Mustum can be used if a priest offering Mass has an alcohol intolerance, or is an alcoholic. 

The Church also regulates hosts, explaining that in the Latin Catholic Church, “the bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition.”

In recent years, Catholics have become aware of gluten intolerances; gluten is a protein contained in wheat. 

The Church has allowed for the production of low-gluten hosts, produced by wheat stripped of nearly all its gluten, but has stipulated that: 

“Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.  Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread.” 

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This report was updated for clarity after publication.

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