Toasting through the Liturgical Year

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Jul 31, 2015

When Jesus gave us the gift of the Eucharist, He used the universal basics of life, bread and wine, to be transformed into His Body and Blood. The Mass, repeated daily all over the world, transforms the humble offerings of bread and wine into the Eucharist. In every county grapes are grown and wine is made and shared. For many years people drank wine (or other alcoholic beverages) instead of water because of poor sanitation.

Wine has now become more of a luxury than necessity, but it is still is a universal and social component of life. And while the Catholic Church did not invent wine, we can thank Catholics (priests, monks, nuns, etc.) for improving and preserving the method of winemaking. So much of Church history can be traced through the history of alcohol. (Many aspects are included in the The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, & Song by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak. It's an A to Z approach to various beers, ales, wine, etc. with short lessons on the Catholic Church, the Catechism, history, and culture. It's delightfully written and includes delicious recipes.)

Enjoying Wine with the LIturgical Year

As a Catholic we don't have to be ashamed to enjoy drinking wine. Wine, approached temperately is a drink to enjoy socially. My family has always enjoyed having wine for our get-togethers. The two questions always raised are "Who is bringing the wine?" and "What kind?" (Generally my extended family enjoys bold reds, usually Cabernets. )

My own courtship and marriage has been highlighted by the enjoying of various wines, for extra-special occasions and evening hours after the children are in bed. We have enjoyed sharing certain wines together, and those memories have enhanced the flavor of certain vintages. My husband and I try different varietals and various countries of origin, but always return back to the bold reds.

Wine can be incorporated quite easily into adult celebrations of the Liturgical Year. I have a few unorthodox suggestions for expanding and trying different wines, and incorporating them into family and feast day celebrations at home. Of course wine connoisseurs may not agree with some of my suggestions, but truly, our family has found some very fine wines this way. It's fun to experiment and wander away from the usual standards.

To begin, I suggest familiarizing oneself about different types of wines and varieties from various regions from different countries. Next, know what flavors appeal most to you. Do you prefer sweet wines, bold reds, dry white wines, traditional varieties, or newer grapes? What countries do you want to "visit" by tasting? After all, wine doesn't only come from France and California.

Have fun by trying out different wines. In my local area Trader Joes, Costco, Total Wine, and even Wal-Mart have many wines priced very reasonably, so one can experiment without breaking the bank. Read labels and descriptions and pick something that appeals to you. I'm in no way suggesting buying "Blue Nun" for a blue bottle for a Marian feast or a sister's habit for a nun's feast day, but if some of the choices do come down to a choice of a label, go with what appeals to you! There are hits and misses, but the madness of this method is for a twofold purpose: enjoy the wine, and get to know a saint more intimately.

Suggestions for Celebrating with Wine with the Liturgical Calendar:

  1. Follow the feasts in the Church that incorporate wine and blessings.

    The older Roman Ritual contains several blessings for wine and the current Book of Blessings also has one. There are specific feast days officially connected to the blessing of wine. St. John the Evangelist on December 27 has two blessings for wine, and there is one for the feast of St. Blaise, February 3. The feast of the Transfiguration also traditionally has a blessing of grapes. which will be used for wine.

    There are also local church traditions connected with wine, such as the upcoming feast of the Transfiguration in Rome. In France on the feast of St. Martin of Tours, November 11, Beaujolais Nouveau is drunk. Both feasts locally celebrate the new wine in various stages. There are also annual blessing of grapes in different vineyard of California, such as Woodbridge Winery, for example.

  2. Find a winery or type of grapes grown near where a saint was born or lived, or where his remains are held.

    Pinpoint the region of origin or mission territories or relics of saints. Finding out about the wine of the region helps one understand the local climate and geography. Is the region arid and dry, very wet through the year, or does it have very wintry weather? Is the landscape mountainous or coastal? Knowing the terroir of the saint can reveal some of his/her daily hardships. 

    Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a saint from Basque country of Northern Spain. Basque country wines are not universally known, but there are quite a few to try. St. Josemaria Escrivá was born in Barbastro, Spain near the Somontano Region, which produces several varieties of wine. For more Spanish ideas see Spanish wine and map of regions. Cava, port, and sherry would also fit into the Spanish heritage.

    Frascati, a refreshing white wine, would be perfect for any pope's feast day, particularly those that fall during summertime. While on a trip to Rome, we had a day excursion nearby the pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. We enjoyed with our dinner the local wine, Frascati, and found out that it is a favorite with Romans (including the Pope) during the summertime.

    St. Robert Bellarmine was from Montepulciano, Italy which is a town in Florence, but also a type of wine grape is from that area.

  3. Find the type of drink from time period of saint or an old winery that dates from around time of saint.

    Since the majority of saints on the calendar are mostly from Europe, the choices will generally be European wines. Blessed Junipero Serra is an outside example. He founded many of the older vineyards during his mission work in California. According to the book The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey & Song, mission wines have been used in the United States since 1769. The priests needed wine to say Mass, so they planted their own vineyards, bringing European vines to strengthen the American wines. Angelica is the first variety produced. "Private companies raising the old Franciscan grapes include Robert Mondavi and Gallo. Angelica is often bought by churches for use as altar wine at Mass by priests...."

    Loosely one could use American Mondavi or Gallo wines to cover feasts like the angels, Saint Anthony, Saint Francis, and any other saints used for Californian missions.

  4. Find vineyards/wineries named after saints, feasts, religious orders, popes, maybe same country of origin.

    My husband and I have enjoyed California's Franciscan for Franciscan saints, Italian Feudi di San Gregorio for our family's name saint, St. Gregory and other Italian saints.

    One special treat wine for us is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. According to Zmirak, "[t]his spicy, dense variety of wine is usually red, and typically excellent." The name means "the pope's new Chateau or Castle", with the papal keys usually found on the label. The vineyards were established during the time of the Avignon Papacy or Western Schism. I consider using this wine for a) French saints near this region, b) for saints like St. Catherine of Siena, who worked so tirelessly to bring the pope back to Rome, and also for c) papal saints, just because the visual of the papal keys on the label is great for discussions.

  5. Match the wine to the type of personality of the saint.

    For saints like St. Jerome and St. Paul, how about fiery, red, bold wines, like red Zinfandel? For St. Therese the Little Flower it seems fitting to have a dessert or sweet wine, or widen the choices with any French wine. Saint FrancisSaint John Bosco and Saint Philip Neri were known for their joy; a bubbly or sparkling wine would imitate their personality. For saints such as Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas Aquinas, it seems a scholarly port would be a perfect match.

  6. Match the season with the saints.

    Consider cool whites for summer saints and reds to warm oneself during the winter months. Also consider Wassail or mulled wines for those colder seasons.

  7. Reflect the liturgical colors in the wine.

    For feasts of virgins, papal saints, the liturgical is white; the wine can be white to match the color. Red is the liturgical color for feasts of martyrs, apostles, saints that were bishops and cardinals, which makes red wine appropriate for those feasts. On Pentecost, with the red vestments, this is another feast to serve red wine. For the high solemnities like Easter and Christmas and Epiphany, serve white sparkling wine or champagne.

    But the color is merely a suggestion. Our family favorites are bold reds. We just spend a little more for a fancier wine on special feast days.

This looks extensive, but I'm really not suggesting anything out of the ordinary or difficult. It's the process that's fun.

A toast to the love of our Mother Church and her saints!

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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