The Cup of Outpouring Love, And Sometimes Spilled Grape Juice or Wine

Darling ones,
PeaceBang is on a real high after a lovely Palm Sunday service and Communion. She wore an alb this morning and, because she is particularly talented that way, got a big purple grape juice stain right on her chestular area. At least it was symmetrically placed.

I love that albs are washable; I just got home, rubbed my Spray N’ Wash Stain Stick on the juice stain (“Treat now, wash later!” says the product) and can rest secure in the knowledge that that sucker will be as white as the Holy Ghost dove when I take it out of the dryer.

So I have a question for you, pigeons: in your tradition, what does the priest/pastor do with the remaining Communion wine/juice and bread after the service? Being very low church tradition, I have never been tutored in this matter and have usually either finished the bit of wine myself (or if we’re having a house Communion, we drink it during lunch), taken it home, or poured it over the roots of a tree if there’s just a bit left. The bread is sent home with someone, brought to nursing homes/shared with shut-ins, eaten for lunch and often shared as crumbs with the birds (I think the Franciscans might like that).

Does Scripture have anything to say about this?
I have studied Eucharistic theology and tradition on my own for years (it’s not part of customary Unitarian Universalist practice any more) but would love to hear what you have to say.

Let the discussion begin!

31 Replies to “The Cup of Outpouring Love, And Sometimes Spilled Grape Juice or Wine”

  1. In my tradition (Anglican), consecrated bread and wine (as well as consecrated water) is to be either consumed or returned to the ground (poured out directly onto the ground for wine/water, buried for bread). Consuming the bread (including bringing it to shut-ins) is preferable; I would usually bury consecrated bread only if it were inedible for some reason (moldy, fell on the ground, etc). Left over wine is generally consumed immediately.

  2. In the Episcopal church left over consecrated bread and wine are taken to shut ins (kept in reserve in a tabernacle in the sanctuary) or excess is either consumed or poured out on the ground/sprinkled for the birds.

  3. I must be more Episcopal than UCC, I guess, because at our church we pour the juice (we use juice, not wine, for the most part) outside and the rest of the consecrated bread becomes part of the fellowship time treats. The kids LOVE getting extra BOC (Body of Christ) and I love that it is not wasted. I do try to discourage the slathering of that bread with butter or jam, but I’m not really the Eucharistic police so I can’t say it NEVER happens. (Should I be the Eucharistic police?)

    If there is still BOC left after refreshments, it goes outside for the birds, as do the crumbs.

    Unless, of course, someone gets to the elements before I do. Then sometimes they pour the juice down the sink. (I try to pretend this doesn’t happen and that the people poured it outside without my knowledge or reminder.)

  4. In the Anglican/Episcopal tradition it remains the Body and Blood of Christ (real presence not transubstantiation) so much be poured out on the ground or fed to the birds or consumed by those present if not taking it to shut ins. In the Lutheran tradition it is only the Body and Blood of Christ while the congregation is gathered so one can dispose of it in any way – generally reverently. In the Bible days they ate and drank it as part of the meal after the eucharist. There is no “right” way — all tradition and you can make your own unless your tradition tells you differently.

  5. United Methodist tradition is pretty similar. Both bread and wine (usually grape juice) are to be consumed or disposed of reverently. Bread can be shared at coffee hour or distributed to shut-ins, but never reserved. Any leftover juice can be poured out on the ground.

  6. Just to clarify Ann’s answer for the Lutheran’s…We (ELCA) believe in the “real presence” of Christ ‘in, with and under’ the elements. While we don’t (typically) have tabernacles…the consecrated bread and wine is consumed or returned to the earth. (as many have said before) Practice changes from region to region but theology doesn’t. I’ve never heard it taught as Ann explained it. Just had to jump in.

  7. I’m betting, in the New England tradition the wine went right back into the flagon for reuse. Unsettling, perhaps, today — but no less so than the spoon once used to dip out flies from the cup. What a way to go! (Not making that up; ask H.P. for details.)

    But being out of a Reformed tradition, I’m prone to think that the meeting with God takes place through the people in worship through the use of food and that this presence doesn’t continue past worship. Which makes extended communion (to the home- and hospital-bound) problematic unless worship is recapitulated. Using the same bread and wine demonstrates continuity with the congregation, but their prayers (and physical presence; better, if possible, to extend communion with a few church members at hand) even more so.

  8. The question for an Anglican is what to do with the alb? If the wine was spilled before the prayer of consecration, washing it would be completely unproblematic (well, except for the question of whether you could get it out). But after? No, you would bury or burn the alb, because the consecrated wine would have to wash out into the sewer (you don’t throw consecrated wine into the drain, you use the piscina, which empties directly into the ground, or on the ground, or drink it).

    I suppose you could get around the problem and just suck on the alb until you get the wine out. But don’t let anyone see you doing this. 🙂

  9. Wendy – I would sneak into the sacristy and rinse the stain over the piscina to get as much of the wine out as possible, then take the alb home and wash as usual (perhaps tossing a little prayer for forgiveness in with the detergent).

  10. Addendum: At Canterbury Cathedral, reserved sacrament is usually kept in one of the side chapels/niches, and there will be a sign saying it is at a particular altar if it is there.

    I always love it when it’s on the St John the Evangelist altar, which is also the altar where Archbishop William Temple is commemorated (because Temple wrote such a wonderful ‘Readings in St John’s Gospel’). He had the most amazing sacramental theology. But I also have to laugh, because he had real reservations about. . . reservation (except for extended communion taken to the sick or housebound).

  11. Elizabeth–of course. Most people don’t realize that a residual of my Bell’s Palsy is that my tongue often drifts into my cheek and stays there quite firmly! 🙂

  12. Scott is correct as far as the New England tradition at my church. The wine (and it is mostly wine with a few grape juices) goes back in the bottle. Not as nasty as it sounds as we also use the tiny little cups.

    Grape juice and bread=Coffee Hour snacks…

  13. The first time I served intinction communion in my white robe, I dribbled grape juice (yes, I’m UMC) down myself. this of course was Maundy Thursday. WHY NOT!?!?!?!

    I found a tide pen took care of the stain. I called it an Easter Miracle.

    Just a thought.

  14. I would instruct the Altar Guild to pour out the rest of the wine. After you add the water, it spoils fairly quickly, so I keep an unopened bit set aside for home communion. If it was on the altar, it goes into the ground (or down the piscina if they prefer).

    Quite aside from the theology of hospitality (why does the host get seconds?), there’s the image of the priest NOT drinking all the excess wine.

  15. This is so interesting to me. I did a paper many eons ago on consubstantiation v. transubstantiation. I grew up southern baptist in the buckle of the bible belt (grape juice in the little cups and unleavened wafers). But our tradition is that both are only representative of Christ’s body and blood and therefore the steps to preserve as noted by PB and the commentors wasn’t necessary. I’m now in a baptist church here in New England (not as uptight as the one I grew up in). We use sheets of matzo broken up into small bits for the body.

    Our tradition is everyone in the congregation remains seated as plates of the body are passed. Each person takes one and waits until all have received. We then take the body together. I’ll never forget the Sunday when someone messed up and accidentally got a few boxes of sour cream and onion flavored matzo. It was hilarious watching the expressions of the people who got those particular bits (myself included).

  16. I’m a Baptist too, and we’re quite Zwinglian in our eucharistic theology. And to be perfectly honest, I’ve never asked what the deacons do with the left over bread and grape juice (ALWAYS grape juice!). I suspect the little individual cups get poured back into the bottle. Sometimes in some congregations It tastes as if the bread has been refrozen and thawed out again the next month, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

  17. @Bee: “After you add the water, it spoils fairly quickly”–can you (or someone) explain this? Do you add water to the wine? I’m not familiar with this practice but I could be misunderstanding.

  18. My dearest PeaceBang…

    As a long-time lurker, and a first time poster, allow me to congratulate you on the success of this most illustrious blog. I first encountered your work via the email of colleagues, and at first glance, we were postitive someone was ‘having us on.’ But no.. you are perfectly serious, and wonderfully delightful.

    YOu are the inspiration of all of us clergy who aspire to be servants of the people, and yet examples in our personal habits and presentation.

    As to your question concerning the communion elements, I know there are many and various ways that communities interpret and dispose of the leftovers, and who am I to assume there is only one way?

    In my tradition, the leftover wine in the chalice (there’s rarely much.. we tend to be very generous).. is consumed by the presider (ME!),
    or, if necessary, stored in the sacristy for the homebound communions. The bread that is not broken and consumed goes to the altar of a neighborhood mission church (as does the abundance of our coffee hour table).

    As a woman of abundant size, there are times I inadvertantly spill on myself. Such is proportion!
    That’s why God made Tide pens…
    OR… pour some club soda, vinegar or white wine (if necessary! It’s such a waste!) on the red wine/grape juice stain. The enzymes will begin the process of preventing the fibers from staining. And then wash in cold water at home with a reputable detergent.

    HOly WEek Blessings! I know its difficult NOT to overwork this week, with services, etc.
    But this is a glorious season.. I just wish I could enjoy it!

  19. In the Catholic church of my childhood, the remaining bread (if there is a lot of it) would be returned to the tabernacle – but then the next Mass is less than 24 hours away anyway. I think if there was a small amount, the priest would eat it himself after communion had been distributed to the congregation – that’s what happened at school masses. Mostly, only the priest has wine so they can judge quantities better and it’s less of a problem. Of course, I’m not sure whether any of this was what they were supposed to do.

    I think that water is usually mixed with wine to represent the part of the crucifixion where the soldier pierced Jesus’ side, and blood and water flowed out.

  20. The ‘mixed chalice’ is indeed symbolic of the water and blood flowing from Jesus’ side.

    I believe that after Vatican II, the chalice was meant to be returned to the people, so I’m not sure what is going on when only the priest receives the wine. Of course, recently, we did have some restrictions on the chalice during the swine flu scare, but that was a temporary measure.

  21. I will never forget my first experience serving as a lay eucharistic minister. As I stretched the chalice toward a dear friend who was kneeling at the altar rail, I glanced down and snatched it back. “Father,” I gasped, turning toward the priest, “there’s a fly in this wine!” He calmly instructed me to pour it out on the (consecrated) ground outside the church door.

    For Lent we have been using leavened (“real”) bread, but it can be hard to swallow if someone has to abstain from wine, as some do. As an LEM I take wafers without wine to people in nursing homes, and one poor lady seemed to have trouble swallowing even the wafer dry. Any suggestions?

    We had a similar disposal question involving palms that were blessed for Palm Sunday. We folded some into crosses, but then had scraps and strings of palm fiber left over. Of course they could be saved for burning next year for ashes on Ash Wednesday, but we decided it might be acceptable to put out the palm fibers for birds to make their nests.

    For all, a holy lent and a fabulous and joyous Easter.

  22. In our tradition (United Church of Canada) we’re generally pretty low-church when it comes to communion. We use Grape juice and bread, although some UCCan churches use wine as well.
    Generally, we freeze the leftover bread if we have home communions coming up, and use the leftover grape juice for this as well. However, there have been many times when the leftover bread becomes ‘holy’ stuffing – ie. it goes home to stuff a turkey!
    For getting stains out of albs, I find that two things are Godsends – a bar of Sunlight washing soap (get the stain a little wet with water, rub the bar of Sunlight on it, and pop the alb into the gentle cycle (cold) in the washine machine and hang to dry). The other I really like is Oxy Clean powder which can be added to the wash directly.
    Hope you have a blessed Holy week and a great Easter!

  23. Rev Sarah, when I lived in Canada (1980-84), the ‘miracle’ stain removing combo was Sunlight dishwashing liquid and cheap hairspray. Apply both to the stain, rub in, wash. Does anybody do this anymore? 🙂

  24. I have used hairspray for ink stains. In United Methodist – when we use the little cups – the grape juice may go back into the bottle – but the leftover bread goes to home communion. I have a little kit that has a bottle filled with juice that is on the table during worship communion and is consecrated along with the other elements. What ever is left after home communion – I usually drink. The only time I drink grape juice and the bread is either eaten or given to the birds. When we have communion by intinction – dipping the bread in the juice – the juice always gets poured out – too many floaters to re-use. 🙂
    I dont have a white robe or alb so havent had the problem with spilling –YET! Grace and Peace. The resurrection is coming!

  25. In my church (Lutheran) we usually drink the wine and eat the bread together afterwards. Drinking together is holy, and much better than me (fairly little) downing the chalice and then wobbling down the aisle!

    But my tradition is clear that God in the person of Jesus wanted to come to all the worst, dirtiest, most shameful parts of our lives. And the majority of the body of Christ, in, under, and through the bread and wine, is going through our digestive systems and out through the sewer, by Jesus’ command. Why would we think Christ would be upset by where the little bit left over goes?

  26. Being an east coast Lutheran here in the midwest, I tend toward the more traditional when it comes to the Eucharist. The bread (homemade) gets consumed at the altar or afterwards in the coffee hour, no butter on it, thank you. If there is still bread left (unlikely with out children) it goes to the shut-ins and yes, crumbs go out with any leftover wine which gets poured in the ground. We use both wine and grape juice as well as gluten free wafers for those who need it. Our altar ladies do keep the grape juice.

  27. I drink the wine after we finish. I used to encourage us all to take turns drinking it after worship (we use a pouring chalice). Nobody wanted to drink it…then one lady did and everyone got mad at her. So now I drink it, just me, after everyone else is finished. Chalk it up to peacekeeping!

  28. I used to be on the altar guild and they best way I found to get out grape and berry stains is boiling. This saved several of my kids outfits too.

    I once spilled the wine on my surplice and I rinsed it as well as I could in the piscina then took it home and put it in the washer. This is how all of the church linens are treated. We’ve not burned anything unless it was tattered and ready to be retired.

    The reserve is wine that was consecrated but not poured into the chalice. The wine in the chalice is consumed (though once there was way too much and the priest told us to pour it in the piscina). There have been several times when our priest has taken advantage of the five second rule and eaten a wafer that has hit the floor. She’s even offered to eat the slobbery half eaten wafer that my child was playing with though she was probably hoping that bringing it to my attention would take care of the matter.

  29. When I was a little girl growing up in a Baptist church in NY, I would hang out in the kitchen after service and wait for the Deaconesses to pour me some of the juice before they poured it back into the bottle.

    I’m all grown up now (yeah, right!), but I’m sure they still pour the juice back into the bottle.

  30. In the CofE (UK)we reverently consume what is left over. And I pray I don’t have to drive anywhere afterwared, if there has been a lot left over!

    Love this site PeaceBang – wonderful! I’ll be recommending you to my female preistly colleagues.

    Happy Easter!

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