Thursday, January 21, 2010

That Voodoo You Do Do

So, the water and the wine: what's up with that?

I'll be honest, I didn't really know myself. So I looked around. And I'll tell you, most of the theological explanations get really expansive and super poetic really fast (which is usually another way of saying, "we have no idea"). Most of what I found doesn't seem to hold much weight.

1) The water and the wine symbolize the intermingling of Jesus' humanity and divinity.
Evaluation: I like the poetry, the whole intermingling thing. And, this loosely jives with the little mumbled prayer the priest says at the time: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

But push even a little and there's problems. First of all, what exactly is the mystery of the water and wine? Are we talking about the presence of water with blood coming from his side wound? (And if so, what does that have to do with his humanity and divinity?) Plus, we add just a drop of water, but we believe he's fully human, fully divine.

And the whole thing still begs the question, how exactly did we come to make the intermingling of water and wine mean humanity and divinity? It's certainly not obvious.

2) When Jesus died, water and blood came out of him. Therefore, water and wine.
Evaluation: This argument connects the material that came out of Jesus' side wound with what we consume. But why? There's no necessary connection.

And every article I've seen with this point ends up basically turning back to "because I said so." Not good.

3) At the wedding at Cana, Jesus turned water into wine.
Evaluation: But if that were the point, if that's the mystery, shouldn't we just use water? And that doesn't fit the Last Supper at all.

4) Jews never drank the wine straight at Passover. They always cut it with water.
Evaluation: This, I like. It's rational, it's easy to understand. And rather than add a layer of meaning that seems really unnecessary (and unclear), this interpretation fits the liturgical action. During the eucharistic prayer, we re-present the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper. We do so because we want God to be present now in the way he was for Jesus. One very basic way of understanding the eucharistic prayer is as this petition: Hey, you, big guy, do it again. Save us, too. So, adding water to cut the wine, like Jesus would have -- it's still a little flimsy, I admit, but it fits.

Either way, one of the great suggestions made in the current rules for liturgy is for the priest not to say that little prayer aloud. The reason being, it's a little bit of a distraction from the main action. We're supposed to be offering gifts and now suddenly it looks like the priest is doing a little incantation. Knock it off, or take it all the way.

But enough irreverence for one week. Cheers!


Jeanne said...

Hi Fr Jim ,
Loved your take on this... When I see the Priest hold up the cup at the Consecration.. I picture the scene from Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.. where the derop of Blood fell to the earth.. .. followed by the teardrop from Heaven.. I can imagine a Host of Angels circling over the Altar in praise.. I am busy in my own head at that time... Guess I always did wonder what secret words the Priest was saying when he bowed over the Altar and whispered... Blessings on your day... Jeanne

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

Thanks, Jeanne!