I was blessed to attend a college friend’s Baptist wedding reception (and the wedding) once, and I had a fantastic time. These many years later, two details stick out (three if you count the bride’s lovely, cap-sleeved gown). First, the reception ended very quickly and much earlier than I expected, and second, the desserts were some of the best I’ve ever eaten. I don’t know for sure, but that might have been the case because there was no dancing and no alcohol.
At every Catholic wedding reception I’ve been to, there has been dancing, and there has been alcohol. I attended my first Catholic wedding in 2012, so my sample size isn’t very big, but I’ve found that to be true across the board. (There also tend to be babies.) Not so for other Christians. Due to the Temperance Movement’s longstanding legacy in evangelical and Baptist Christianity, Christians and alcohol have a tricky relationship. As in other areas, the Catholic point of view is different, and I like it.
I was inspired to reflect on this topic by multiple sources:
- Austin CNM’s very own Cris Almanza,
- an interview of Derek Brown by the Catholic News Agency,
- and Michael P. Foley’s essay “How to Drink Like a Saint”.
Catholics Need Alcohol
The major point across all these sources is that the Eucharist requires wine. It’s hard to say that Jesus meant for alcohol to be off-limits to his followers if he used it as the essence of such an important sacrament. His first public miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding feast—another sacramental celebration. And those people had already “drunk freely” (John 2:10)! When the apostles preach for the first time after the Resurrection, the crowds wonder if they are day drunk (Acts 2:13). Nope; they’re just drunk on the Spirit after receiving the first ever Sacrament of Confirmation. If you count the Last Supper as the original Ordination Mass, that connects four sacraments with wine. Wine is a part of Catholic identity.
However, drinking alcohol is never obligatory for ordinary individuals. The Eucharist is contained entirely under both species (both physical forms: bread and wine). This means that people who cannot or do not want to consume gluten can receive the entirety of the Eucharist under the form of wine. People who cannot or do not want to consume alcohol can receive the entirety of the Eucharist under the form of bread. Together, we receive the fullness of the sacrament; separately, we still receive the fullness of the sacrament.
I’ll Drink to That
“Alcohol is an important part of how we connect with each other.” —Derek Brown, mixologist, bartender, and bar owner
Furthermore, and getting back to wedding receptions, alcohol brings people together and is often used to highlight important moments in relationships. Drinking alone is a different experience than drinking with friends. Michael P. Foley offers several characteristics of drinking like a Catholic. Two of them are drinking with ritual and drinking with memory. As to the former, a drink among friends is rarely complete without a toast or even a simple clinking of glass. As to the latter, there is a stark contrast between drinking to remember and drinking to forget. If you don’t know which you’re doing, you should probably stop.
Not all alcohol has the same social implications, though. A bottle of wine is a common hostess gift. A bottle of vodka does not quite have the same character (even if it is local, high-quality, or expensive vodka). Alcohol consumed from cocktail glasses has the connotation of being relaxed, and even classy. Alcohol downed from shot glasses does not. Champagne is consumed fairly quickly, in small quantities, and almost always in a celebratory mood. Drinking has its own social and emotional contexts, and it is an activity generally shared with others and their social and emotional points of view.
Drinking Has Rules
“All drinking is rule-governed behavior.” —Derek Brown
In his popular post “Drink Like a Catholic”, Cris Almanza writes, “If you choose to drink, it’s important to learn how to drink with virtue.” Yes! Remember to:
- Drink with faith (knowing that all created things can be used for good or for evil).
- Drink with hope (believing that God will forgive your sins, yet avoiding sin anyway).
- Drink charitably (helping others who have drunk too much).
- Drink temperately (in moderation).
- Drink justly (not using money that you should spend on basic needs).
- Drink prudently (obeying your physiological limits).
- Drink with fortitude (don’t “blame it on the alcohol”).
Cris also offers 8 tips for drinking like a Catholic at a bar. In particular, he suggests avoiding venues with inappropriate themes or theme nights. Where you drink matters as much as what, with whom, and how much.
It is completely acceptable to avoid drinking alcohol for health reasons, social reasons, or personal preference. Don’t drink if you shouldn’t; don’t drink if you don’t want to. It does help keep the dance floor full, though, and the conversation flowing, and the spirits high (pun intended).