Ask a Priest: Red or White?
I have often asked the question of house guests, “red or white?” It’s a question of hospitality and welcome. Whatever wine the guest chooses is appropriate. When we come to the Eucharist, however, there are some other considerations. The wine of communion is both a sign and symbol. A sign is something that points to something else, like a stop sign which signifies the place stop but also the law of the road which by mutual agreement allows safe passage. Symbols are “deeper”, in that they participate in the thing they signify. For example, the American flag is a sign marking American territory, but also for Americans it is a powerful symbol of the freedoms and values of the Constitution and all of the sacrifices that have been made throughout our history to provide those freedoms and to uphold those values. Communion Wine is a sign of Jesus’ blood and also a symbol of his sacrifice for our atonement. Even beyond that, it is part of the sacrament of the Eucharist–a “visible and outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”
With this in mind, technically, communion wine can be any wine made from grapes because it should be “fruit of the wine” as Jesus drank at the Last Supper. It is efficacious to use Red Wine as it better symbolizes blood. The use of fortified wines such as sherry and port in some Anglican churches (which in my opinion should not be used, as the additives used to fortify the wine make it not purely of the vine) dates back to the late 1600s when England was at war with France and Spain, but allied with Portugal. England doesn’t produce wine and couldn’t import from France and Spain; so, they brought in port from Portugal.
The choice of communion wine varies by community, but the decision should always be based on theological and symbolic reasons. My vote is for a simple red wine to best be a sign and symbol of the blood of Christ, the simple carpenter who saves us all with his simple message of love.
– Fr. Jason Emerson