Can Simple Wine Be Transformed into the Blood of Christ by Immersion of a Consecrated Host?

by Markus Tymister

In some manuscripts of a pontificale ( = ritual book for the bishop) of the Roman curia from the 13th century, an interesting indication is found which led to the formulation of the title above. It concerns the combined rite for Reconciliation-Anointing of the Sick-Viaticum. Viaticum, Communion for the dying, is to be given to the dying person after the anointing. The corresponding rubric and formula of administration are:

“Tunc tradat ei sacerdos eucharistiam dominici corporis intincti vino et vinum tali intinctione sanctificatum, <in Christi sanguinem transmutatum,> dicens: Accipe, frater, viaticum corporis <et sanguinis> domini nostri Iesu Christi, qui te custodiat ab hoste maligno et perducat te ad vitam eternam. Amen.”

[Then the priest gives him the Eucharist of the Body of the Lord dipped into wine, which is sanctified through this immersion, <transformed into the Blood of the Lord,> and says: Receive, brother, the Viaticum [journey-food] of the Body <and Blood> of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he may preserve you from the evil foe and lead you to eternal life. Amen.] (Pontificale Curiae Romanae sec. XIII: Le Pontifical Romain au moyen-âge, vol. 2, Le pontifical de la curie romaine au XIIIe siècle, L, 3, ed. M. Andrieu (StT 87), Città del Vaticano 1939, 493.)

Now how is that to be interpreted?

raphael-dispute-eucharistIt should first be stated that the addition set in brackets <in Christi sanguinem transmutatum / transformed into the Blood of the Lord> is found in 8 out of 21 manuscripts. But in three manuscripts it was removed by a later hand. The addition of the formula <et sanguinis / and the Blood > is found in 14 of the 21 manuscripts.

In the nature of things it was still completely taken for granted in the 13th century that Communion was always to be given in both forms; naturally this also concerned Viaticum. For a long time the severely ill person was to be brought into the church, if at all possible, for anointing followed by Communion. If that were not possible because of the person’s health, the priest could visit the person at home. In this case he brought with him oil and the Eucharist (under both forms).

In Rome of the 13th century the concern most certainly became greater that the eucharistic wine would be spilled in travelling, so simple wine was brought. But administering Communion under only the form of bread was utterly unimaginable – so great was the understanding that the Church should do what Christ had done, and he had given bread and wine to his apostles as his Body and Blood.

Through the immersion of the Host in the wine it was sanctified (this is beyond dispute) and – as 8 manuscripts add – transformed into the Blood of Christ. This phrase does not yet reflect later theological clarifications concerning the consecration, but rather a fundamentally more ancient conviction, according to which the Church was obligated to do what Christ had done, and thereby fulfill the commandment of her Lord. This conviction was initially stronger than the viewpoint, only beginning to develop at that time, which tied the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ to the moment of utterance of the words of the Lord, “This is my Body” – “This is my Blood” over the bread and wine lying on the altar before the priest.

It may well be that precisely this developing theological clarification was the reason why the phrase was eliminated in three manuscripts. Above and beyond this, 14 manuscripts retain the formula “Receive […] the Viaticum of the Body and Blood of our Lord […].” The question was secondary as to whether the “words of institution” were spoken only over the bread or also over the chalice with wine. In any case it was sanctified by the immersion of the consecrated Host. Of primary importance was much more the action: the Church does what Christ himself had done, and therewith bread and wine is also the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. (To speak of “consecratio per contactum” [consecration by contact] would be at best anachronistic, for one would thereby retroject a later theological standpoint into an earlier era.)

However, a short time later the understanding of Eucharist as an action was completely overshadowed by the question of the exact moment of consecration and interest in its results; and then wine was no longer offered as Viaticum. As a replacement, theologians emphasized that one receives the whole Christ even under one form. And this also shows that interest disappeared in the action, and interest increasingly concentrated on the results of the action. So it is only consistent that vessels increasingly developed for the reservation and distribution of the Euchrist which had the form of a chalice (ciborium), in order to emphasize the whole Christ is present under the form of bread.

It remains true today for all participation in the Eucharist: of course I do not receive more of Christ when I communicate under both forms. But in Communion under both forms I comply with the mandate of Christ to do this in memory of him (1 Cor 11: 24, 25), and I share in the cup of the new covenant in his Blood (1 Cor 10:60 and 11:25).

After Viaticum had been given under only one form for a long time, according to the revised rite of 1972 it can again be given in both forms. For this, if Mass is not celebrated in the home of the sick person, the eucharistic wine can be reserved in the tabernacle and brought to the sick person in a securely sealed vessel (Rituale Romanum […] Ordo unctionis infirmorum eiusque pastoralis curae 95, ed. typica, Città del Vaticano 1972, 40). The rite fundamentally speaks of Viaticum of the Body and Blood of Christ (OUI 93) with which the dying sick person is to be strengthened.

Translated and reprinted with permission from the blog Populo Congregato. Original: “Kann einfacher Wein, durch Eintauchen einer konsekrierten Hostie, in Christi Blut gewandelt werden?” Fr. Markus Tymister is faculty member at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. Art: “Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” by Raphael.


  1. There’s certainly development here. In the early church (ca 2nd and 3rd centuries, as I recall), there’s textual and archaeological evidence of people taking the bread of the Eucharist home with them to eat throughout the week.

    I think it’s also fair to consider a bit of “both – and” when discussing communion and withholding the chalice. There’s clear tension here. On the one hand, there’s plenty of textual evidence in the Medieval period suggesting that clergy frequently besought people to receive communion more often than they did. On the other hand, people clearly did not wish to do so. There’s also evidence on both sides for the chalice; on the one hand, it does eventually get officially withheld. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence prior to that policy of laity purposefully avoiding the chalice for fear of spilling. I’m not here defending this or that practice, so much as observing that the situation was frequently ambiguous.

  2. Perhaps a person who understands Byzantine liturgy well, or is Byzantine Catholic or Orthodox clergy, could answer my question. From what I understand, in this tradition a dried particle of the Eucharist and unconsecrated wine are carried to the ailing or dying. The Eucharist is reconstituted with the wine. I am not certain if the contact between the consecrated bread and unconsecrated wine consecrates the wine. I am under the impression that the reconstitution of the consecrated bread does not consecrate the wine.

    It’s unfortunate that I am using Roman terminology to describe a rite that is not Roman or “western”. Now there are two complications within my question: the status of the eucharistic species and also an ignorance of the terminology of the Eucharist in the Byzantine tradition.

  3. of course I do not receive more of Christ when I communicate under both forms.

    No, you receive the full Christ under either form.

    But — and this is the point — the fruits of Communion are different when received under both forms, compared with under the form of bread alone. Ed Foley gave a magnificent talk to FDLC on this topic in 2002, when he discussed the thesis that the fruits of Mass and the fruits of Communion [outside Mass] are not the same. His paper is available at

  4. In “Issues in Eucharistic Praying in East and West” (pp 301-303) there is a difference mentioned pertaining to the consecration of the wine via contact with the Lamb, with the Russians, generally, answering this question in the negative and the Byzantines, generally, in the positive.

    1. @David Wesson:
      Presently, I don’t think there is a clear line dividing “Greeks” and “Slavs” on this matter. It would probably be more accurate to attribute divergent practices to particular schools of liturgical thought. Many parishes have multiple cups for Communion at the Sunday liturgy. In some parishes, sanctified wine from the primary cup is poured into the other cups for Communion. In some cases, those cups already hold some wine, in others, only the wine from the one cup is used, to honor the principle of all receiving the gift from one bread and one cup. I have also seen presiders intinct the portions of the Lamb in the primary cup (already sanctified) and then place those intincted lamb portions into the other cups, which hold unsanctified wine. The idea is, if Christ has entered the cup, everything in that cup is now sanctified. So divergences are probably attributed to particular liturgical schools of thought.

  5. I serve as deacon in a Greek Catholic temple. When reserving a Lamb for the ill (or, during the Fast, for use at the Presanctified Liturgy on certain weekdays), we put a few drops of the Blood into the crosswise cut in the Lamb, before drying It. As David mentioned, when mixed with wine, the Greeks generally hold the more ancient view that the wine is also sanctified, whereas the Slavs would say the wine is not sanctified even though the dried Blood gets dispersed/suspended in the wine (and, consequentially, infants are not communed at the Presanctified, and the deacon would not drink from the chalice so as not to break the fast before finishing any leftover Lamb at conclusion of that Service).

  6. I believe we settled this and restored the chalice in the 16th Century. I am intrigued by the concept of intinction interepreted this way, and come down on the affirmative side, though not my practice….I bring consecrated bread and wine to the bedside.

    1. @Padre Dave the Lutheran:

      Padre Dave, is it customary for Lutheran pastors to bring unconsecrated bread and wine to the ill and pronounce the verba over the bread and wine before the communion? What I’ve gathered over my years of non-academic reading is a spectrum of comfort with eucharistic reservation within Lutheranism. Perhaps the sometimes heated debate within Anglicanism over eucharistic reservation is a good analogue.

  7. “In the nature of things it was still completely taken for granted in the 13th century that Communion was always to be given in both forms … administering Communion under only the form of bread was utterly unimaginable…”

    Actually, St Thomas Aquinas seems to have more than imagined it when he wrote (around 1260), “But in some Churches, due to the danger of spilling the Blood, the custom is for it to be received only by the priest, while the rest receive Christ’s Body. Even so, this is not acting against our Lord’s command, because whoever receives Christ’s Body receives his Blood also, since the entire Christ is present under each species, even his Body and Blood.” (In Ioan., cap 6, lect 7). He makes a similar point in an earlier work (c. 1252), the Commentary on the Sentences (d. 12, q.3, a. 2, qla 2). Notice that St Thomas says “in some churches.” Obviously the practice was changing in the 13th century. Thomas was well travelled in France and Italy, and had no doubt encountered both practices, and thought them both legitimate. So it was “imaginable” in 13th century, actually.

    On another tack, the great liturgical historian Jungmann, speaks of the practice of pouring the Precious Blood from one chalice into several chalices containing unconsecrated wine for the communion of the faithful. This is detailed in the Roman ordines of the 7th century, and seems to have been practised earlier in the East. (Missarum Sollemnia, (Eng. ed.), II, p. 383.

    1. @Martin Wallace OP:
      I believe the reference here is to Rome in the 13th century, where administering under just one form when still unimaginable. But you are correct – it was gradually starting to change in other places.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Even so, given this was after Lateran IV where the Church imposed a requirement of annual Communion at Easter for the faithful, for the average laic (non-aristo, without a frequent confessor, et cet.), we are not talking something frequent in either case.

        Then consider the 14th century…

      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Yes, you are right that the original post was about Rome. I suppose I am quibbling about “utterly unimaginable”, which is, I suggest, a bit of an exaggeration, even for Rome. St Thomas was in Rome around 1265-1268… the 13th century was a time of great freedom of movement around Europe – so I cannot think that the Romans had not heard of the practice of witholding the chalice from the laity, even if they had not yet adopted it. I don’t know what the practice was among the Dominicans concerning communion from the chalice, but I do know that the elevation of the chalice was not introduced into the Dominican Rite until 16th century.

  8. For me the more important question is are we transformed into Christ’s body and blood when we receive the Eucharist to take him out into the world and transform it into a place where all can live out their dignity as sons and daughters of God? I think it was Augustine who said something about becoming what we receive…

  9. One more point:

    Per the quotation of the Pontificale Curiae Romanae sec. XIII by Markus Tymister: Tunc tradat ei sacerdos eucharistiam dominici corporis intincti vino et vinum tali intinctione sanctificatum, <in Christi sanguinem transmutatum,> […]” [my bold]

    I’m confident that transmuto [1] does not exist in generally accepted classical lexica. This does not, certainly, preclude the use of the term in the classical eras. Still, I’m relatively sure that the perfect passive participle transmutatum is scholastic and medieval in origin.

    What I find curious about transmutatum is the reduplication of meaning in the term. muto alone means “to change”. So, transmuto would mean “to transform change” or similar. The combination of prefix trans– with muto appears at first glance to be redundant. I suspect, however, that transmutatum is not redundant but a specific theological term (ie. trans– is semantically integral). I would ask: what is this specificity, and why is it important to this particular passage?

  10. To keep the metaphysics precise, people might want to avoid using the word “transformation” to refer to the change that Catholics believe happens when the elements of the Eucharist are consecrated. In transformation, as I understand it, the appearances or nonessentials (the form of a thing) are altered while the substance remains the same. It’s the opposite of transubstantiation.

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