Believe it or not, I was once a wee Catholic schoolboy. I never bought into the religion all that much, but frequenting church was an essential component of attending Catholic school. Though, for me, the only essential component of church itself was snacking on communion wafers and sipping that sweet, sweet wine.
I think about church wine now and again, despite not having set foot in church for years now. I sometimes wonder if anyone ever has the gall to slug the entire chalice and get completely slammered while praising Jesus (a completely normal thing to think about, I know). I sometimes wonder if I could get away with attending church as a free pregame. Inspired by these strange thoughts, I did some research, and the answer is… maybe?
Matthew Schaeffer, theology teacher and director of campus ministries at a L.A. high school, explains that the only significant difference between church wine — also known as altar wine or sacramental wine — and standard wine is it being consecrated, or declared sacred by a priest. “You could use Two-Buck Chuck,” he says. “It just has to be grape wine with alcohol.”
Some churches use fortified wine, Schaeffer adds, which has an increased alcohol content, and therefore stays fresh for longer and could be slightly more sanitary when served in a communal cup. Other churches also use white wine to prevent the staining of altar linens and garb.
In a National Catholic Register article about church wine, they note some minor specifications, but it mostly boils down to the wine being natural and not containing extra preservatives: “Unlike table wines, the altar wines from these vintners have to meet requirements set by canon law and the General Instructions of the Roman Missal (GIRM). Briefly, Canon Law 924§3 declares what qualifies for valid and licit matter: ‘The wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine and not corrupt.’ GIRM 322 continues: ‘The wine for the celebration of the Eucharist must be made from the fruit of the vine (Luke 22:18), natural and unadulterated, that is, without admixture of extraneous substances.’”
The only hurdle to getting smashed in church, then, is managing to slug enough church wine before you get smited by the holy hand of God (or told to leave by a priest). I researched a few communion chalices, and they appear to have a standard capacity of about six ounces — one ounce more than your average glass of wine. Assuming you require at least one glass of wine to feel even slightly buzzed, if you want to get slammed at church, you somehow need to chug several chalices, which Schaeffer says would undoubtedly trouble the priests in attendance. “I think the response would depend on the priest,” he says. “But most would probably have a chat with that person after mass.”
Instead, if you really want to get crunk at church, your better option would be to somehow masquerade as an altar server or volunteer as a member of the service. Apparently, they have the privilege of finishing off any spirituous leftovers, of which there can be plenty.
Alternatively, you could save yourself the trouble and grab some Two-Buck Chuck. Church wine is pretty much the same, after all.