Tuesday, December 27


Wine on St. John's Day

Today is the feast of the Beloved Disciple, St. John the Apostle. It is apt that we find St. John, as one of Christ's most devoted friends, close to Christ's birthday in the calendar; and this feast (which he originally shared with St. James the Greater) is attested from ancient times at Rome. A mysterious feast of St. John's "departure," or "assumption" à la Enoch, is found in the Menology of Constantinople on 26th September, and the old Roman Calendar also contained a commemoration of St. John's near-martyrdom at the Latin Gate of Rome on 6 May.

St. John, in addition to a panoply of patronages including such diverse professions as bookbinders and art dealers and the town of Taos, New Mexico, is closely associated with protection against poison because of an old tale that he exorcized a poisoned chalice, from which the potion rose and departed in the form of a serpent. This attribute, which some authors say is a fairly late addition to the saint's depiction in art, may also relate to the Last Supper.

In any case, the Church in Her wisdom and Her delighful sense of fun, has traditionally encouraged the blessing of wine on St. John's feast day. It's funny I should be writing this, as I'm only beginning to accustom myself yet to the way alcohol tastes (it still seems a bit bitter to me, though white wine is a little easier on my palate, and there's a few other beverages I've enjoyed here and there); nevertheless this Christmas I've found a few libations that I find most pleasing to the tongue, such as the Spanish dessert sherry Viña 25, a favorite of my late grandfather back during his Cuban days, which is very good and rather on the sweet side, and also Chaucer's Mead from someplace called Bargetto Winery in California, which my father recently ran across while shopping for Christmas dinner. I don't know the first thing about wine--a flaw in my Catholic cultural education, I know, but I'm working on it. I'm not an expert, so if the stuff tastes awful, don't blame me. I don't think it will, though.

But anyway, the Church in Her wisdom has an elaborate blessing for the occasion, appropriately enough for a libation so tied into human culture and also into the central act of the Christian mystery. Traditionally, it's been done after the Last Gospel on St. John's Day:

First, Psalm 22 is recited:
The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing. / He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment. / He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for His own name's sake. / For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for Thou art with me. / Thy rod and Thy staff, they have comforted me. / Thou hast prepared a table before me, against them that afflict me. / Thou hast anointed my head with oil: and my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is it! / And Thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. / And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto the length of days.
The psalm is followed by the Our Father and a series of versicles. Then the priest says three prayers:
O holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God, who didst wish that Thy Son, co-eternal and consubstantial with Thee, should come down from heaven and be born in the fullness of time of the most holy Virgin Mary in order to seek the lost and wandering sheep and carry in back on His shoulders to the fold, and also that He might heal the wounds of him who fell among robbers, pouring in oil and wine; bless and sanctify this wine which Thou hast made from the vine for man's drink, and grant that all those who drink or partake of it in this sacred solemnity may obtain health of body and soul, and if they be on a journey they may be comforted through Thy grace and that their journey may be completed successfully. Though the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, Thou didst call Thyself the vine and Thy holy apostles the branches, and Thou didst wish to make a good vineyard out of all those who love Thee, bless this wine and pour into it the power of Thy benediction, so that all who drink or partake of it, by the intercession of Thy beloved disciple, the holy Apostle and Evangelist John, may be freed of every disease and pestilential attack and obtain health of body and soul. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.

O God, Thou didst create bread for the food of mankind and wine for its drink so that bread might strengthen the body and wine rejoice the heart of men; Thou didst also grant to Thy beloved disciple, Saint John, the grace of being able to drink the poisoned cup without harm and also of raising from the dead those killed by poison, grant to all who drink this wine the attainment of spiritual joy and everlasting life. Though our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Now, I'm unsure whether there's an equivalent ritual in the new Book of Blessings which would substitute for this, but we're allowed to use the old ceremonies when no newer option has been set forth. Perhaps an abridgement of the last three prayers might work. Anyway, grab a bottle, grab your parish priest, and get your wine blessed. If you can't do that, there's also a toast for the day, described in the 1955 book The Twelve Days of Christmas by Elsa Chaney:
The wine is poured into a glass by the father, who drinks and passes it first to the mother, and then around the table to children and guests, in commemoration of the disciple of love. A greeting showing that it is love that binds the family together goes round with the cup: "Drink to the love of St. John, the Apostle." "And where love is, there is God," responds the next member of the family, taking the cup and drinking.
Sounds like a fine tradition. For more information, see Catholicculture.org and the original text of the blessing at Catholic Forum. Have a blessed, safe and holy St. John's day!

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