Organic and/or Fair-Trade Wines for Eucharistic Celebrations

The Bible contains many passages which denounce hypocritical worship, that is, worship undertaken by persons who practice injustice and who have no intention of reforming their ways. Passages in Isaiah 58 and Amos 5 come to mind, as does this passage from Sirach 34:23-26.

If one sacrifices ill-gotten goods,
the offering is blemished;
the gifts of the lawless are
not acceptable.
The Most High is not pleased
with the offerings of the
nor for a multitude of
sacrifices does he forgive
Like one who kills a son before
his father’s eyes
is the person who offers a
sacrifice from the property
of the poor.
The bread of the needy is the life
of the poor;
whoever deprives them of it is
a murderer.

Writing in the early 1980s on the sixteenth-century figure Bartolomé de las Casas, Enrique Dussel drew upon these lines from Sirach. Las Casas was a cleric who, during the Spanish Conquest of the New World, came to recognize the crimes of the conquistadores.

Dussel writes:

The Indians of the Arimao river had to hand over to Bartolomé part of the crops they grew and part of their working day, as a form of tribute and under the violence of domination, according to the economic system of “sharing-out.” Bartolomé then came to understand the “misery and slavery (of) these peoples,” and to discover the “blindness, injustices, and tyrannies” of the conquistadores. He suddenly discovered that the “bread” he was about to offer had been snatched from the poor; that it was unconsumed bread; that it was murdering the Indians to deprive them of the fruit of their work… He saw the bread stained with blood.[1]

Dussel argues that in the bread, Las Casas saw contained “the objectivised life of the worker, his blood, his intelligence, his efforts, his love, his enjoyment, his happiness, the kingdom.”[2] This leads Dussel to offer the following reflection:

So those who offer God bread stolen from the poor give God the life of the poor as their offering. The poor is “the Son” (the Indian) and the celebrant (Bartolomé, the “rich man”) who offers this bread unjustly snatched from the poor is offering the “Father” (God) the very life of his Son: “kill–a son before his father’s eyes.” The father who perversely desires the sacrifice of his son, who wants his blood, cannot be a loving father, but only a bloodthirsty idol–Moloch, Mammon, Money.

This is why the text says: “The Most High is not pleased with the offering of the godless.” How could he accept such an offering, which is sacrifice to the Idol, the Fetish, Satan? God does not want the life of his Son to be offered by killing him in his presence. God wants the life of the Son to be a free existence; what he justly wants in sacrifice is the denial of the death of the dead, which death is the need of the poor, the oppressed. Giving the hungry to eat, giving life back to the dead, giving life to those who lack life is the worship required by the Most High. Fetishistic worship offers the Idol stolen bread, the blood of the poor; eucharistic worship offers the Father of goodness the bread of justice, the bread that has satisfied hunger.[3]

Writing twenty years after Dussel, Vince Miller invites us to

consider the awkwardness of praying the offertory over bread and wine that were produced under oppressive conditions. The reference to “fruit of the vine and the work of human hands is destabilizing.” Where indeed does the wine being offered come from? Where do these vines grow? How are they tended? How are the humans whose hands pick the fruit from the vine treated? Anyone with even a vague knowledge of the wine industry in the United States cannot ask those questions without being unsettled.[4]

My question, then, to the world of Pray Tell: Are you aware of parishes or dioceses that have policies in place requiring the use of organic and/or fair-trade wines for their Eucharistic celebrations? I sent out a similar inquiry in a recent edition of the newsletter for the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions; responses are still coming in but so far no diocese has indicated having any policy on the subject.




[1] Dussel, “The Bread of the Eucharistic Celebration as a Sign of Justice in the Community,” in Can We Always Celebrate the Eucharist? ed. Mary Collins and David Power (New York: Seabury, 1982), 60. Dussel quotes the passages from Sirach on the following page of this article.

[2] Ibid., 61

[3] Ibid., 61.

[4] Vincent Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum, 2003), 191.


  1. The question at the end is loaded, starting from a gigantic and mostly unfounded assumption that “organic” and/or “fair-trade” have anything to do with any meaningful facts about the way the wine was produced.

    IF you want to talk about justice issues and communion elements, a better place to start would be those factory-produced, “not touched by human hands” communion wafers that idiotically defy the words of the Eucharistic prayer in the their marketing (“work of human hands”) and also have put a bunch of nuns out of work.

  2. Might be worth consideration/investigation.
    From my experience, the communion hosts made by the nuns eventually lost touch with the human hands as the orders were either employing similar machines or were just selling what was made commercially. I don’t know whether some of these orders have sufficient hands to produce hosts by hand anymore.
    On a similar note, I have attended “Coffee and…” gathering after Mass that served fair trade coffee.

    1. @Bruce Janiga – comment #2:
      There are plenty of religious communities, both within the United State and abroad who are still producing altar breads by the work of their hands. One of the larger ones in the U.S. are the Benedictine Sisters at Clyde, Missouri.

      We order our altar bread from them, both on principle and on quality. We feel it’s good stewardship to support a religious community by purchasing our altar bread from them. Plus, it’s an infinitely better product than “that big altar bread company.”

      As Jordan pointed out, wine is a much more expensive item. We’re currently using a common table wine, but I’d like to move towards working with a local winery to find something that is both affordable for us, and fair for the producer.

  3. The use of fair trade or organic wines is commendable. However, these wines might be expensive in comparison to commonplace California table wine, for example. Parishes which place an emphasis on communion under both kinds might not be able to fulfill this goal if organic or fair trade wine is unduly expensive.

    One positive aspect of organic wines is the possibility that the wine is much less likely to be adulterated. Also, sulfite levels might be lower, which is helpful for some people.

  4. I’m not aware of any policies like these, but I know a fair number of parishes that “buy local” when it comes to their wine. In some cases, a local wine maker (a member of the parish) donates the wine; in most cases they simply purchase it (often with a “wine club” discount given to regular purchasers) from a nearby winery. At a recent synod assembly (ELCA-speak for diocesan convention), I was in charge of worship and this was the practice we followed.

    People tend to think of Napa and Sonoma and huge sprawling fields of grapes when they think of winemaking, which betrays a very limited view of things. Small wineries are flourishing all over the country, and residents of these areas would have no trouble answering the questions Vince Miller poses — and in most areas, they would not be troubled at all. These are not massive industrial wineries with transient exploitable labor, but are more akin to the old family farms, where a single family or two runs the place with a certain amount of hired help who live nearby. “The vines grow over by highway 127, and they’re tended by Sylvia and her crew. Come harvest time, we hire a bunch of others to help bring in the grapes and get the crush going, and we throw one whale of a party when the crush is done!”

    Yes, there are problems in parts of the wine industry, but rarely do they show up in small family-owned operations.

    [Along these lines, years ago I took a group of first communion students and their parents to visit a small local winery as a part of their preparation, and the winemaker gave them a wonderful behind-the-scenes personal tour.]

  5. Please don’t conflate the fair trade wine issue, which involves wines produced (primarily) in Chile, Argentina, and South Africa, with the important concerns about the pay and working conditions of migrant workers in the US.

    Fair trade labeling that is done on wines from those three countries is based on specific criteria and economic practices. Using the term for other purposes trivializes it or renders it meaningless.

    State laws govern minimum pay and working conditions for vineyard and winery employees, along with all other workers. The work begun in California in the 1960s by the National Farmworkers Association, led by Cesar Chaves and Dolores Huerta, involved grape and wine boycotts that many churches supported.

    The question of organic wines is complex. It includes growing and fermentation practices. The use of sulfites to stabilize fermentation and preserve wine from microbial degradation is, as noted, a concern for some people, primarily steroid-dependent asthmatics. Research indicates that <4% of asthmatics have a sulfite sensitivity.

  6. In the UK there are also orders of nuns who bake altarbreads with their own hands. Some are brown, rather than white, and thicker, more chewy, more like real bread than the wafers that are commonly used elsewhere.

    I do not know of any Fairtrade wine policies in parishes or dioceses, but there is a significant number of parishes in England who use wine made in Bethlehem (the Holy Land, not Pennsylvania) in order to support the oppressed people who live the “wrong” side of the wall. One such is Cremisan (see It is imported into England by

    Incidentally an international visit to this area by bishops from all over the world including the US, Canada and the UK is taking place even as we write. See

  7. My parents rural parish in California celebrates with wine made by parishioners from grapes grown and tended by parishioners (it’s an area — not Napa – replete with vineyards and small wineries). The line “work of human hands” has a certain depth to it when I’m standing three feet away from the person who harvested the grapes, that carries over even when I’m back in Pennsylvania. Which argues for not only thinking about it, but talking about it in a parish. Where does the water for baptism come from, the bread and wine we are presenting, the candles?

  8. I checked up on nn.320etc of the General Instruction, and wondered whether the requisites for making the Eucharistic bread and wine are so restrictive as to be practically speaking impossible? Wine always has additives to preserve it, doesn’t it? And can you make bread without some sort of oil to grease the baking tin?

    And is what we use for Mass really anything like bread? My Godson, when a child, didn’t think so. He thought I was eating a biscuit of some sort.


  9. As Todd Flowerday noted in his blog about the GIRM a few years ago (, there is a “tension between what the Church teaches, what it allows, and what we practice.”

    The GIRM gives several specifications for the bread:
    – only from wheat;
    – recently made;
    – unleavened;
    – have the appearance of food;
    – able to [be broken] into parts.

    Wheat is specified, presumably, as opposed to other grains or PRIMARY breadmaking ingredients, not with the intent of prohibiting the use of water, oil, or other customary ingredients. Further, the instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum” (RS 48) indicates that substances other than wheat may be used, so long as it would still “commonly be considered wheat bread.” RS goes on, “It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread,” so it is not entirely clear which substances are acceptable and which are not.

    “Recently made” is a specification given so that, as the Code of Canon Law explains, “there is no danger of spoiling.” How long do “manufactured” wafers last?

    “Unleavened” seems generally to be well understood, both as to its meaning and as to its purpose – connecting to the Passover and the Last Supper.

    “Having the appearance of food” may be the most neglected specification. There seems to be much more concern about the validity of the matter than the validity of the form. Alan’s question is an important one: is what we use for Mass really anything like bread? Looking like a cracker would not seem to meet this specification any more than wine that looked like water would be acceptable.

    The ablility to be broken is intended to “bring out more clearly the force and importance of the sign of the unity of all in the one bread, and of the sign of charity by the fact that the one bread is distributed among the brothers and sisters.” (GIRM 321) As Todd’s blog points out, this suggests there is value in everyone receiving from one “loaf” of bread.

    However, RS 49 seems to flat out contradict this when it says “indeed small hosts requiring no further fraction ought customarily to be used for the most part” when the number of people is large.

    Finally, the sources mentioned above also contain a few requirements for the wine used at Mass: made from grapes, no use of other fruits, without additional sugar (or other substances such as brandy, which is used in port wines). The Vatican has clarified that the use of sulfides to preserve wind in good condition is not prohibited.

  10. The scholars seem to indicate that what Jesus used at the Last Supper was actually not unleavened but semi-leavened bread, pretty much the same as the Middle-Eastern style pitta bread that we buy and eat today. Agreeing with Alan Griffiths, you need to make an additional act of faith when consuming a white “plastic” disk that it actually is bread.

  11. There’s not scholarly agreement about that, of course, given that there’s not even scholarly agreement about when the Last Supper was held vis-a-vis Pesach, and the obligation to eliminate hametz precedes the fall of Pesach, so Jews also had a tradition of eating unleavened bread just before Pesach (actually, it’s rather complicated – the current practice, which doesn’t necessarily indicate the practice in Jesus’s time, as the seder ritual we know post-dates Jesus, egg matzot are eaten during the immediately preceding days).

    In any event, the Eucharistic liturgy is a re-presentation of more than the Last Supper (and Calvary), but of the whole Paschal Mystery and more. It’s not historical re-creation; thus the scholarly debates, while very interesting, are not dispositive of what we do in our liturgy in this regard in the final analysis.

  12. Similar to some other commenters: The Parish that I grew up in was in the Finger Lakes Wine Region. The wine we used was donated by parishioners who worked at the local wineries. The same wineries where many people in our community worked in the fields, tasting rooms, or offices, and local teenagers tied vines for summer jobs. It put real meaning to “fruit of the vine and work of [our] human hands.”. The wines were not organic or “fair trade” from South America or somewhere else, they were local made by our OWN hands… donated from the business which helped to maintain the economic vitality of our local community.

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