It was truthfully said that if Catholicism had not elevated wine to a sacrament, another religion would have. But as it turns out, it is Catholicism that heightens the romance of things over their physical nature, and so of course it is in our fantastic Church that wine is God. What a radical statement that is! And yet how understandable. It’s as if the world was preparing for wine to become salvation. Actually, if you’ll forgive the stream of consciousness, let me correct myself: The world prepared wine to become salvation. And once more. God worked through his unworthy people to prepare wine worthy enough to become His Only Son.
A thing altogether different from the crude beer that the early world drank in it’s cradle, wine was the first drink to be given the status as special. In ancient Egypt beer was still being sipped communally, in big pots through straws, but wine was cradled in a bowl. It was set apart, even at it’s beginning. The Greek’s then made it a symbol; it was civilization, it was the sign of their royal race, it distinguished them and was thus worthy of being elevated. How prophetic are the words of Euripides! How absolutely striking they should be to the catechized; “To rich and poor alike hath he granted the delight of wine, that makes all pain to cease.” To enjoy this pagan sacrament so essential to their way of life, to their god-like status, it could not simply be taken straight, but mixed with water. And now our priest prays, as he mingles water and wine, that “by the mystery of this water and wine…we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” As if this were not enough, wine was given a god. Dionysus is wild and untamed, but only a pale shadow of the wine that is to be God, a drunkard angry – perhaps – because he knew he was but a prideful stepping stool to a humility that would actually become the wine that he could only ever revel in.
Now, if God were really working to prepare wine a special place, it stands to reason that the culture destined to become his Church would emulate these incredibly prophetic principles set up by the Greeks. It was so. Rome, in an effort to tame their otherwise uncouth, conquering nature, emulated the Greeks in the elevation of wine, making it more ritualized than ever.With the spread of the Roman Empire spread the grape, and when the Empire became the Holy Roman Empire, the grape followed. When Christ took the wine and said, “this is my blood,” I imagine he looked at it with a certain fondness; “You’ve come a long way, little vine. Now, be fulfilled.”
So coffee is suffering, beer is happy carelessness; what is wine? It is true that we, as individuals, can bring a lot to the glass. It might be romantic one night, contemplative the next, joyful or solemn, happy or sad. But the underlying substance I believe wine carries with it, the poetry that becomes more important than the reality, is hope. Wine is hope. Wine is the incredible potential for holiness. It is such a small and yet such an infinite step between the grape and the God, and a glass of red wine is that space, that hope for better things. How like humanity, how fitting for our own experience of reality; beings begging to be blessed, our very natures striving for consecration. We are always one step from Heaven, one blood clot or car crash away from Eternity. That tension shouldn’t sadden us, but like a glass of wine cause us to rejoice. Like it we shall be transformed, indeed we are – as we speak – being made worthy for such a transformation. Our lives, our history and our very beings are aimed at salvation. And that is cause for great hope.