The Lord’s Supper and Alcohol-Removed Wines

A common area of pastoral concern regarding Holy Communion centers on the responsible communing of those with health issues related to alcohol (e.g. alcohol intolerance; medication reactions; alcoholism). There may also be members of a parish who have an aversion to alcohol due to some past experience in their lives.

First and foremost, every one of these cases is going to require individual pastoral care: discussion, prayer, and study of the scriptures together.

Questions arise from time to time – and in fact I came across one posted to Twitter overnight – concerning what may be used for the elements? For example: “Is it alright to use gluten-free hosts?” Another question (this is the question linked to above): “Is it permissible to use non-alcohol or alcohol-removed wine in the Supper?”

First, it is not in keeping with our Lord’s institution nor faithful to the meaning of the text of Scripture to use pasteurized, unfermented grape juice in the Supper. Amongst discussion of this topic, a common argument is that the phrase “fruit of the vine” used in Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18 would not mean fermented grape juice (wine) but instead unfermented (e.g. Welch’s Grape Juice). This is an erroneous interpretation of the text. The use of grape juice in the Holy Communion is a modern innovation, with exegetical arguments made following the change in practice.

The Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) has written concerning the question of not using wine, and includes discussion of pastoral practice when dealing with certain exceptional circumstances, such as those listed at the beginning of this article :

All four accounts of the Lord’s Supper speak of “the cup.” The content of this cup was most definitely wine. The references in Matt. 26:29 and parallels to the “fruit of the vine” would not have suggested anything else to Jesus’ listeners than the grape wine of the Jewish Passover ritual. In 1 Cor. 11:21 there is corroboration that the early Christian church understood wine for “fruit of the vine.” Some of the Corinthians, sadly, had abused the Holy Supper by becoming drunk.

The color, type, or origin of the grape wine is a matter which Christians can select in accord with their situation.

In the oft-cited pastoral circumstance of an alcoholic communicant, the counsel of foregoing Communion for a period of time or the action of diluting the wine with water (perhaps done at the Lord’s Supper itself) are preferable. In the extreme situation where even greatly diluted wine may lead to severe temptation, no fully satisfactory answer, in the opinion of the CTCR, can be formulated. The counsel of completely foregoing Communion is clearly unsatisfactory. In this situation, too, the actions of diluting the wine with water or intinction would be preferable. The substitution of grape juice raises the question of whether the Lord’s instruction is being heeded. Luther’s openness to Communion in one kind is difficult in view of confessional texts which strongly urge the Biblical paradigm of both kinds, though the Confessions do not address the extreme situation.

A similar pastoral problem is posed by those rare instances where a severe physical reaction is caused by the elements (as, for example, when the recipient is concurrently taking certain medications, or is simply allergic to one or the other of the elements). The pastor, in such cases, will surely stress the Gospel’s power and total effectiveness in the individual’s life and patiently seek a practical solution that both honors Christ’s word and satisfies the desire to partake in the Lord’s Supper.

(Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper, 1983, pp.15-16)

This is a helpful outline of the concerns and solutions, relying on faithfulness to the institution of our Lord while at the same time stressing the importance of individual pastoral care. There is debate concerning whether or not the practice of intinction is faithful (which the CTCR describes as a possible practice), but that’s outside of the scope of this article.

The CTCR does not discuss the use of now commonly-available wines which are advertised as “alcohol-removed.” A type with which I’m familiar is Fre from Sutter Home, although there may be others. The question cited above from Twitter directly relates to the use of this type of wine in the Lord’s Supper.

The question boils down to whether alcohol-removed wine is still truly wine. In the Scriptural use of the word “wine” (οἶνος), as well as in our common everyday usage of the word, wine is the “fruit of the vine,” that is, made from grapes, and is fermented. As the CTCR document discusses, the wine used in Holy Communion should be made from grapes; varietal, color, etc. are a matter of Christian freedom.

Fre wines are grape wines. As they state:

The process of making our alcohol-removed wine isn’t really that different from making regular wine. We source grapes from premier California vineyards known to produce the very best characteristics of each varietal.

After harvest, our winemakers carefully craft each wine using traditional methods. Once the desired flavor, texture and balance is reached, we use state-of-the-art spinning cone technology to remove the alcohol while preserving delicate aromas and flavors.

Likewise, the “fruit of the vine” used in Holy Communion should be fermented; that is, it is faithful to Christ’s institution that there be alcohol present. Fre wines, while being “alcohol-removed”, do retain some small percentage of alcohol.

Although we remove most of the alcohol during our spinning cone process, a small fraction of a percentage of alcohol remains—less than one half of one percent (<0.5 %).

It is my pastoral opinion, humbly offered, that it is acceptable to use Fre wine as an alternative to a “fully-alcoholic” wine in certain, carefully considered pastoral situations.For the sake of the conscience or health of each individual in these situations, I believe that using Fre wine or an equivalent is faithful to the institution of our Lord. I believe it to be more or less equivalent to placing a drop or two of regular wine into a small amount of water in order to be consumed by a communicant. I think either practice would be faithful, and thus guard that Christian’s conscience or health.

I do not think it would be a helpful practice to fully replace the usual sort of communion wine with Fre wine or an equivalent (that is, made from grapes and still retaining even a minuscule amount of alcohol). It would be better to retain commonly used communion wine for the sake of confession against those who insist on grape juice. This would also serve well the consciences of those who desire to be faithful to the institution of our Lord in using wine and who would not have had a pastoral conversation regarding the use of Fre wine or an equivalent.

For an introduction of any type of non-alcohol or alcohol-removed wine in his congregation, the pastor should do his homework and ensure that the wine is made from grapes, has been allowed to ferment (that is, allowed to become alcoholic), and following the process of alcohol removal still retains some measure – no matter how small – of alcohol.

Sermo Dei: +Mary Brockhouse+

Text: Psalm 23

Maurice, Patti, Tony, David, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ: our Lord has seen fit to call our beloved Mary to Himself. “What God ordains is always good.” That’s a hymn text you can cling to over these next weeks and years. What else can we say but “Amen”?

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus.

That same Lord Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and indeed He is. He was Mary’s shepherd. He’s my shepherd. He’s the shepherd of all his sheep. And like a Good Shepherd, He goes out and seeks and finds and saves the lost. He found Mary. Continue reading “Sermo Dei: +Mary Brockhouse+”

Ash Wednesday – Repent and Behold the Lamb of God

I’ve spent much time during the last few days by the bedside of our dear sister in Christ, Mary Brockhouse, who awaits our Lord’s summons to come home to Him in heaven.

Mary’s waiting in great weakness to behold the full power and glory of Christ’s cross. We too wait, perhaps for longer than she and perhaps for less. Lent is a time for us to ponder and feebly attempt to comprehend the power and glory of Jesus’ cross. We begin this on Ash Wednesday. With ashes traced on our foreheads in the shape of a cross, we behold the sacrifice that Christ has made for us: slaughtered, burned by the fiery wrath of God, yet saving us.

Would you make plans to begin Lent with your congregation this Ash Wednesday? Take the time to set aside whatever it is that might keep you from the Divine Service. Come and receive from Christ.

In preparation, I want to share with you something from the Reverend Harold Senkbeil, a retired pastor and one of my professors at the seminary. Consider these words about your Lord Jesus:

There’s a note of sobriety and somberness about the Lenten season. That’s as it should be; Lent’s liturgical silences and somber worship serve to underscore the profound tragedy of our sin and the awesome penalty that sin exacted: the very death of God! But the somberness of this season is tinged in victory. For Christ’s cross is actually not an emblem of defeat but a sign of conquest.

The cross in and of itself wasn’t much. In point of fact, it wasn’t worth anything. And crucifixion victims were a dime a dozen to the Roman soldiers. Life was cheap to them and their commanding officers, and they could nail a man to a cross as easily as you or I squash a bug. So the cross itself wasn’t all that extraordinary. And yet the cross of Jesus has tremendous power—because of the victim on it. Listen to what Scripture has to say about him who hung there: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”

Did you catch that? All the “fullness” of God dwelled in him. In other words, Jesus is the One who made the stars and set the planets spinning – the One by whom the Father called forth this infinite universe out of nothing. And yet, though he was God enfleshed, he allowed himself to hang there, naked and despised, the victim of the sins and spite – the pain and hurt – of all mankind. Can you get your heart around the infinite love of this God of ours who would stoop so low for us all?

And so, because of Jesus, the cross is a most powerful sign indeed. If you’ve ever wondered what God is really up to in your life, have a look at the cross. If you’ve ever wondered whether God is interested in you, or whether he really cares or actually loves you despite all evidence to the contrary, then take a good long look at the cross. For through the cross of Jesus we come to know God and what he’s truly like. This is all we know of God – and all we need to know: he is a God who dives right into the horror of our sin and death, all the hurt and misery of our private pain – taking all that onto himself and into himself and bearing it all away, even though it it cost him his life. All for you.

So the cross is no mere emblem of God’s love, or the possibility for forgiveness, or the potential of hope and healing for our misery and shame. Rather, the cross is where Jesus tackled the real sin, shame, and hurt of our lives head on and purchased real forgiveness and cleansing, “making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” This peace the world could never give and it surpasses all human understanding, but it’s all for you – purchased by the blood of Jesus, guaranteed by his glorious resurrection, and presented to you now within his church.

H Senkbeil, “Triumph at the Cross,” (Northwestern Publishing House, 1999), 50-52, alt.

Dear friends, I pray you’ll be in the Divine Service tomorrow, having traced on you the ashen cross and having placed into your mouths the very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

What Are You Giving Up?

Lent’s here: What are you giving up? That’s the question every year, isn’t it? Chocolate or sweets is always popular. Nowadays I’m aware of a whole bunch of people who step away from Facebook or Twitter for these 40 days.

Go ahead and give up chocolate or sweets or TV or Facebook or whatever for Lent. Do it; really, it’s good for you.

These are all fine and good. As Luther writes in the Small Catechism, “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” Far be it from me to dictate whether something you choose to give up is good or bad. Though, I would be remiss to fail to remind you that none of this will affect how our Lord looks at you: He sees Jesus, giving up His very life for you. God’s pleasure with you is not because you give something up; it’s because He gave up His only Son.

But allow me to encourage you to give up something more. Give up whatever it is that keeps you from being in the Divine Service every Sunday. Give up your meal plans or housework or whatever it is that drives you straight out the door after the Divine Service and keeps you and your children from the Sunday Scripture Study and Sunday School. Give up the distractions and hustle and bustle that keep you from stopping and reading some Scripture and praying every day, individually and as a family.

Lent is about reflecting on our weakness and sinfulness, and thus repenting. And that repenting can hurt. But the hurt is good; it’s ripping out the rotten cancer that’s leading us to put ourselves before God and our neighbor and not do those things which He desires of us. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

So please, allow me to offer this request and accompanying advice:

  • Put the Sunday Divine Service and Scripture Study on your calendar for the rest of February and all of March. Do it right now. Make it a non-negotiable appointment. It might hurt, but you won’t regret it.
  • After dinner each night, sit down with everyone in your household and have a devotion together. I’m not always good about this, either. I know from experience that it takes work to establish and sustain this habit. Remember, the devil and your old sinful flesh want you to watch American Pickers instead of being in the Word. But I promise: when you hear from God every day and pray to Him, your days will be better.
  • Ask your neighbors or coworkers how you can pray for them during Lent. It’ll help them, and it may provide an opportunity to talk more about Jesus; you might even get a chance to invite them to the Divine Service!
It is not good for Christ’s people to be absent from the Divine Service, to not be studying His Word together with their pastor, to not be reading and praying together as a household. Nothing good comes from this. We must repent of our distraction and laziness.

But every good comes when God’s people are listening to Him and receiving His Supper; when they are being taught by His pastors; when they are caring for one another in daily study and prayer.

So again I plead: come to the Divine Service, come to Scripture Study and Sunday School, devote yourselves daily to the word and prayer. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Dear Christians, what a treasure we have from Jesus! Let us use it as fully as we can during this Lententide, and always.

Septua*what*ima?

I’ve recently begun sending a weekly pastoral letter to my congregation. When the contents of the letter are universally helpful, I’ll post them here for the benefit of all. This week, I cover the practice of preparing for Lent with the “Gesima” Sundays (something which was done in many Lutheran congregations through the lifetime of The Lutheran Hymnal, but which was dropped with the lectionary used in Lutheran Worship. It has been restored along with the Historic One-Year Lectionary in Lutheran Service Book. I believe this is one of the stronger arguments for use of the Historic One-Year Lectionary over against the Three-Year.

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Dear beloved in the Lord,

Last Sunday we said goodbye to our alleluias as we came down from the mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, Peter, James, and John. Just after the events of the Transfiguration, Luke records that “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)

Jesus knows that His glory is not revealed fully until He is hanging from the tree. When John writes in the beginning of his Gospel “We beheld his glory,” the event of the crucifixion for the sin of the world is to which he is referring.

We sing of this in the hymn “Alleluia, Song of Gladness” at the end of the Transfiguration Divine Service:

Alleluia cannot always Be our song while here below;
Alleluia, our transgressions Make us for a while forgo;
For the solemn time is coming When our tears for sin must flow.

That solemn time is all of Lent, though most specifically Holy Week (from Palm Sunday through sunset on Holy Saturday), when we hear of the full impact of our sin: the Son of God dies in our place.

The season of Lent is a penitential season in which we spend 40 days pondering the weight of our sin. We gather on Wednesday evenings to hear in Scripture and sermon of our desperate need for God to provide the solution to our sinfulness. Sometimes Christians will fast – that is, give something up – as an expression of their striving against sin. Lent itself is not static: As the season progresses the liturgical custom of the Church is to continue giving things up in the Divine Service. We’ve given up the Alleluia. On Ash Wednesday we give up the Gloria in Excelsis. Finally, from Judica (5th Sunday in Lent) we also stop saying the Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father, etc.) All this is done as an action which expresses our great sorrow over our sin. Is it mandated or required? No. But it is good to teach just how serious our sin is, and these ceremonies help convey this truth clearly to all who are gathered in the Divine Service.

In fact, Lent is taken so seriously by Christ’s Church that we’ve even set aside the three Sunday before Ash Wednesday to begin preparing for the seriousness of Lent. These three Sundays are called Pre-Lent or sometimes the older name of Gesimatide is used.

These Sundays are a way of coming down the mountain. We’ve been through the joyful Time of Christmas, ending with Transfiguration. Now we prepare to face the seriousness of our sin yet again. We don’t do this without hope, though: The conclusion of Lent and Holy Week has traditionally been the great Vigil of Easter, which takes place after sunset on Holy Saturday (the night before Easter morning). While we don’t yet meet for the Vigil here at Good Shepherd, we can keep in mind the main theme of the Vigil: baptized by God into the death and resurrection of Christ, our sin is conclusively dealt with, having been washed away from us as far as the east is from the west.

The Gospel readings for the three Sundays of Pre-Lent preview this truth that God Himself is for us, is with us, and is helping us. The three Sundays respectively reflect the wonderful Gospel truth that we are: saved by Grace Alone; converted by Scripture Alone; received by Faith Alone.

You’ll notice these three themes highlighted on the bulletin covers for the next three Sundays. Listen carefully to the readings, and especially the Gospel reading, to discover these truths. I’ll do my best – by the grace of God – to clearly bring these out in the preaching as well.

If you want to know more about Pre-Lent, look for an insert in this week’s bulletin. We’ll leave some extras on the center counter in the narthex if you’re unable to be in the Divine Service this Sunday.

In the Peace of Christ,
Pastor Schuermann