Simon surmises that Bread and Water makes for Eucharist, Water and Wine being conjoined as signs.

Simon Mein has taken a comment from my telling him of an incident on the St. Peter's Youth (SPY) group trip to Navajoland and build a remarkable reflection on it.  Sweat and Water…Blood & Wine opens out into a short and very interesting commentary on the sacred character of water and its parallel to the sacred character of blood / wine. He also affirms in a deeper way my sense that what we did was in order and deeply sacramental.

I have not reported on this Eucharist of bread and water on Preludium, so here it is:

On Sunday, July 4th, we were planning to go to Fort Defiance and to Good Shepherd Mission for Church, hoping it would be the Eucharist. However, plans are always a bit fluid and it became apparent on Saturday that everyone was pooped and needed time to settle into our new campsite at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, a long way from Fort Defiance.  So we decided on Saturday to stay at the camp site and do some low key hiking and seeing the ruins in the Canyon. In this change of plans we decided to have Eucharist together about 4 PM at our camp.

I had not planned on having to bring bread and wine on the trip for Eucharist, so there was none. Getting bread was easy, and a plate and cup from the camp would do for vessels, but what about the wine?  I understood that the Navajo Nation prohibits the sale of alcohol.  I was not up for bootlegging and kind of wanted to stay in the Navajo Nation for a while.  So, what do do?

I went out and got bread, we set the table, I put water in the cup and explained to the community what our situation was.  I reminded them of our experience in Navajoland, that water was absolutely primal and central to our daily concerns. Most days we had to bring in all the water we drank or cooked with, most days we had no showers. The water was to important.  

I said that perhaps the water could be for us the wine, and the water / wine the blood. So we had Eucharist with bread and water, and particularly rememberd all those for whom these basic signs of life were rare and precious things, and reminded us that those outward and visible signs are indeed of inward and spiritual truth: we share the bread and water / wine, in affirmation that Jesus is for us the rare and precious presence of God joined with us, and that we likewise ought to be for the world and one another the same.

It was a fine Eucharist, and all the elements were there.  The water was, as it were, an outward and visible sign once removed.

Well there it is.  I told Simon I was just as glad I didn't have to make the case for having done this, although I could.  He has done a much better job of that (as one might expect.)  Go read it HERE.


  1. This is the most frivolous perspective on the Eucharist I have ever--literally, ever--read. And you are lucky it is frivolous because this would qualify as sacrilege were it were not carried out with such obvious (though inexcusable for two ostensibly educated priests) ignorance. [cf. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4074.htm.)

    The Eucharist is a sacrament of the Church; it is not some vaguely "meaningful" rite done because we want to feel good about "being together." There are all kinds of liturgical actions for that: for example, why not just pray? Since when is that "deficient," especially since we are promised it is Godself, the Spirit, who prays in us? The Eucharist is not the "symbolic expression" of some subjective experience, which can nonetheless be evoked even when you've only got two-thirds of the "right stuff."

    I am so shocked at this, not because it happened, but because together with the fact that someone is actually making a case for it, it betrays a level of theological and spiritual confusion that is simply legendary in its absurdity. Simon actually appears to think there is some sophistication in his arguments! It is manifestly childish, a demonstration of a significant deficiency in your understanding of the responsibility the Church has entrusted to you in the sacraments! This is absolutely shocking.

    I anticipate that these words will merely provoke another frivolous, ill-informed, but hotly contested "debate" about the "issues" and "freedom" will be an important part of that. But as one who is generally in agreement with you, I tell you now, in all seriousness, there is something wrong here. If you would like us to take your fear regarding the Standing Committee seriously, I suggest you show not only a greater grasp of but appreciation for our life as the Church and our history.

    I am very serious: You need to correct this...I am absolutely serious.

  2. With eight adults in this group, it sounds as if a little better planning would have avoided the need for any such improvisation. Taking a small amount of wine for the Eucharist can hardly be considered "bootlegging" since it is never used commercially. When going off into a wilderness all the supplies must be packed in and someone just forgot to include those for a Eucharist. Why romanticize it?

  3. Of course, since partaking of one element counts as a full Eucharist, one could just as easily say that the bread was the Eucharistic bread and the water was an add-in. I probably would have just omitted the water and gone with that.

  4. Okay, I'm not a priest, but aren't you guys not seeing the forest for the trees? Is wine such an integral part that you can't have communion without it, or is there a deeper meaning to it?

  5. Wow. Strong reaction from eponym and Bruce. But sorry, eponym, I dare say that what Mark described hardly passes the "frivolous" test. I've been to some eucharists that I felt were frivolous in my time, but the "missing element" wasn't bread or wine. It was heart, intention and faith.

    One of the things I have come to believe is that eucharist is not only a commemoration of the LAST supper of Jesue, but a commemoration of the communion of hearts and minds of all the OTHER of Jesus' suppers. Paul's letter to the Corinthians didn't rail on about rubrics or texts. His concern was that in the focus on self, the members of that community had lost the plot. His challenge was whether they were eating and drinking worthily.

    Did Mark and that community "remember the death of the Lord until he comes again"? THAT'S the test, in my opinion.

    Sometimes we improvise. So long as the signs speak the presence of Jesus, it is Sacrament.

    The Roman Catholic obsession on "correct matter and form" that leads some to declare that any ingredient in the bread other than wheat and water make the "matter invalid" seriously miss the point. That's an atrophied view of Sacrament.

    I agree that eucharist is a Sacrament of the church. But the church has both its universal and local realities. Sacraments are celebrated in the local reality of time and place AND CIRCUMSTANCE.

    I commend the writings of Kenan Osborne OFM, a RC theologian at Berkeley, on sacraments in the 21st century as a pointer towards asking the right questions. He certainly addresses the "objective v. subjective" issues you raise, eponym.

    Mark, it sounds to me that the improvisation brought a new and different dimension towards the eucharistic experience. I bet the reflection on water will reside in the minds and hearts of your group for a long time.

    Lou Poulain, Sunnyvale CA

  6. A side note -
    At a point in their history the Latter-day Saints could only purchase wine for communion from those opposed to them. Rather than do so they used water. LDS congregations around the world to this day celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper with bread and water, every Sunday.

    Obviously you have hit a sore note with some Father Mark. Also obvious, there shall probably be those who run to your bishop regarding the matter. I guess you are now prepared to receive a call from the diocese! Not to mention the fodder you have created for the Viagravillians. When they get wind of this they shall revel for days I am sure. This is bound to surpass communing dogs and lay presidency.

    You have my support for your decision. It is unremarkable to mention that without rain there would be no grape juice or wine. Also, if we start being too critical of the situation then one has to ask does the grape juice/wine for the sacrament have to be from native Middle Eastern grapes? Species native to many other parts of the world could not possibly have been used by Jesus or the early saints. Should we make sure to disqualify juice and wine from strictly native American grapes?

    As a side note. Always pack some raisins, which are dried grapes. You can mash the raisins in the water, let them soak and prepare reconstituted grape juice. Surely they could not object to that!

  7. "It is manifestly childish"

    ...and 3 fingers point back at you, eponym.

    I am very serious: You need to correct this...I am absolutely serious.

    Physician, Heal Thyself!

  8. Interestingly enough, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the normal elements for the celebration of the eucharist (which takes place almost every Sunday in the LDS Church) are bread and water (wine being prohibited by the Word of Wisdom).

  9. I remember reading a letter to Episcopal Life in I think 1984. It was about Navajoland having lost their funding. With no funding there was no priest and with no priest there was no Eucharist. So, the writer wrote, the women would gather, sit in a circle, dig their toes into the ground and pass a cup of water.

  10. an old and very respectable Episcopal priest in the deep south told me of taking some friends and their kids with him on a fishing/ camping trip. All that they had for communion was bread and a fruit flavored soda. So that was used -and he said that he felt that it was one of the most powerful and Christian communion services that he had ever experienced. I trust his judgment on this one.

    The Rev. Will Campbell, white baptist preacher in the deep south and civil rights advocate in the south in the 60s (and the only white preacher who helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) who ministered Christ to African Americans in Little Rock and Selma and even to the screaming bigots and klansmen who wanted to kill him, has been known to celebrate communion with bourbon. He argues that had Jesus lived and worked with poor white farmers in the deep south and in the hills of TN, he would have used bourbon for the sacrament. As far as I can tell his life gives some credence to his right to make this claim, even for gilded Anglicans who have never had to do the things he did. Some Christians have more authority when it comes to doctrine than a thousand text books of theology and Campbell's life has earned him that authority. I would take a sip of bourbon from his hands knowing that I was truly receiving Christ in the sacrament.

    In the records of missionary work of the 19th century, many Anglican missionaries reported using local foods and drinks for communion. I remember hearing of cakes of coconut and coconut juice in one example.

    What is "frivolous," eponym, is getting one's pants in a wad because the special ingredients for the "magic spell" weren't used right. This isn't "sacred magic" we participate in. God isn't bound by us using only the right special ingredients for the "spell." Our God is a mightier God than that who is not controlled by a distinction between wine or grape juice or fruit flavored soda or coconut juice or bourbon or water.

    Really, this stuff really matters? Of course most of the time we should use wine, but sometimes bigger laws apply. Let the Wiccans imagine that they can control the divine with their spells. Christians should know better - know that God is not controlled by our application of rules or rituals - and Christians should remember the words that the Sabbath was made for us and not us for the Sabbath.

    This idolatry that the ceremony must be right or else God won't show up is amazing. Perhaps the Quakers and the Salvation Army are right and we need to jettison all of the outward signs for a little while until people ditch the idea that we need to work the "magic" right to get control over God. That kind of paganism is the real threat to the faith.

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  14. I have no idea why most words posted so many times but I've tried to delete the extra versions. Sorry about that.

  15. Here's another story:

    "Hocus Pocus" comes from the magical belief that the words Hoc est corpus meum literally make bread and wine into flesh and blood. Woooo! Spooky! Magic!

    The sort of childish, self-absorbed "thinking" that passes (and what an accurate word for such "thought") amongst eucharistic puritans who insist on "the right stuff."

  16. Mark, while I would agree with Simon rather than eponym, what grabbed me was not the validity/invalidity issues. I was reminded of a Eucharist at which you presided in Estes Park, CO at a campus ministry gathering during the 1985/86 winter break. The night before there'd been some conflict between gathering folks that was racial at root. You brought us together, enabled us to own what had happened and what in each and all of us gave rise to it, led us into a repentance which alone made doing Eucharist appropriate. My friend, you exuded from your core what the whole thing was all about. Your account of what happened in the Canyon de Chelly clearly indicates that you did it again, and that you continue to exude from your core what the Eucharist is all about. Bless you.

  17. I understand that some small Christian congregations in Muslim countries where wine is prohibited and inaccessible must make similar improvisations.

    In all things Christ is glorified and present where ever He is invited.

  18. Substituting water for wine was also common practise in Chinese Christian communities where wine, particularly grape-derived wine, was very hard to come by.

    It's certainly not the ideal, but it's better than nothing in an emergency.

  19. There are ancient precedents for Bread and Water Eucharists, particularly among Encratite and Gnostic circles, as for instance in the Acts of Thomas, where the Eucharist is regularly celebrated by the apostle in that manner. I don't know whether that's a good thing or not, but in your case, the motive for using water was not Encratite or Gnostic abhorrence of "matter" but rather a reverent substitution because of unavoidable lack of wine. Though a liturgical traditionalist, I find myself not particularly upset under the circumstances, even if I wouldn't want such substitution to happen except under extraordinary conditions. Should you have rather abstained entirely from Eucharist and held a service of Morning Prayer or a Liturgy of the Word only? Perhaps. That too would have been an instructive and holy response in the situation. I have no doubt God will accept and bless however we seek to approach and worship God, with whatever poor resources we have to offer, when we do it with humble and contrite hearts.

  20. There is also precedent for the use of bread and water within more mainstream Christianity in the patristic era. For example, the first detailed account of the Mass that we have -- from St. Justin Martyr's First Apology -- mentions that the eucharist consisted of bread, a cup of water, and a cup of wine mixed with water. While wine was definitely a part of the eucharist that St. Justin was familiar with, at least according to his retelling, there was a distinct cup of water that was part of the ceremony as well.

  21. "They're out of wine." "It's not my time." "Do as he say." "Fill those jars with water. Now draw some out and give it to the steward." Ah yes...

  22. I once started a weekly Eucharist in a locked ward of a local community mental health center. I could not use wine. I could not bring any "elements" into the center. I was promised a slice of bread and grape juice. My bishop approved.

    My first week there, the staff forgot. They scrambled. We got saltine crackers and grapefruit juice.

    Jesus was there. And He was very, very happy.

  23. Mark,
    I used to think Gallo Port was the only standard wine acceptable for the Eucharist. This goes back about 40 years!Thank God for your ministry to these young people. This experience will most certainly be a transforming event for them. I know that from a similar experience many years ago as a teenager.
    Shame on eponym's shock. Get a life. Jesus was about life, not rigid ecclesiastical rules.


  24. Henry Atkins31/7/10 10:17 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  25. I'm torn. On the one hand, I don't think you should have celebrated Mass under the circumstances. I think it's a sign of a certain "over-eucharistization" of the Church when there's the perceived need to provide it even in the absence of the necessary elements under non-emergency circumstances. This need to have the Eucharist for every Church gathering, as opposed to the Office, is what strikes me as "magical" thinking, not the Catholic regard for proper matter.

    On the other hand, the Anglican position on the elements seems somewhat forgiving. See http://www.anglicancommunion.org/resources/liturgy/docs/ialcreport.cfm . And there's the historical example of the water eucharists that others have mentioned. It's not the end of the world.

  26. Not to beat a dead horse, but it occurred to me this afternoon as I drove back from VT that there is a good reason why water might be the worst choice for the Eucharist: it's natural.

    Bread and wine aren't natural; God didn't make them directly, but furnishes the raw materials and people make them. As the prayers at the offertory in the RC mass (which we also say at that point in my parish), the bread is what "earth has given and human hands have made," while the wine is " fruit of the vine and work of human hands." They carry connotations of human cooperation with God. In a way they represent our lives, offered to God: we give them to God and ask that he will bless them, change them, and give them back to us.*

    Of course, by this reasoning almost anything besides plain water (and probably milk) - blackberry wine, tea, or Mr. Pibb - would be a better choice. It's not a reason to insist on wine.

    *I wish I remembered where I had heard it put this way before; it's not original with me.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.