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Water and Wine


Water_WineWhen I was a member of St. Joseph’s parish in High Bridge, New Jersey, the church was so crowded at one Easter Sunday Mass that the pastor invited standees to take seats in the sanctuary.
 
The only people to accept the invitation were a woman and her teenaged daughter.
 
After Mass, the woman remarked to me that she was delighted, because she had never witnessed the liturgy at such close range, and she noticed many details that had escaped her up to then.
 
Among those details was part of the ritual in which the celebrant or the deacon pours a little water into the chalice of wine before the consecration.
The woman noticed that the deacon, in this case, said something inaudible while he was pouring that drop of water.
 
She was referring to this prayer: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
 
I don’t know why we are instructed in the Roman Missal to say that prayer quietly, but the prayer and the ritual itself refer to a fact that is central to our faith, a fact that we celebrate in an especially solemn way on Christmas.
 
On that holy day, we celebrate the moment in time in which God, while retaining his divine nature, took on human nature in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, so that Jesus was fully God and fully human.
 
In the symbolism of the ritual we’re discussing, the wine represents the divine nature of Jesus, and the water represents his human nature; once the wine and water have mingled they cannot be separated, and so it is with the divine and human natures of Christ.
 
And there’s more.
 
While we acknowledge in that prayer that Christ is both divine and human, we also pray that we who are human may share in his divinity.
 
That idea can be found in Scripture—for example in the Second Letter of Peter in which the author writes that Jesus “has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire’’ (2 Peter 1:4).
 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite explicit about this, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote: “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods’’ (Catechism, paragraph 460).
 
Through the grace of the sacraments, through Scripture, through prayer, and through acts of justice and mercy, we spend our lives being formed more and more in the image of the one who was born in our image, to the delight of angels and shepherds.
 
As the prayer over the wine and water says, God “humbled himself” when he assumed human form, but he also beckoned us sons and daughters to realize the full potential of our humanity, to become fit company for him.
 
We achieve the full transformation when God welcomes us into communion with him for eternity—into heaven, as we say—a destiny that, because of original sin, was unimaginable before the Nativity.
 
We hear it each year in the carol: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, then he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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