Question: I serve on my congregation’s altar guild. What is the proper way to dispose of the wine that remains after celebrating the Lord’s Supper?
Answer: After a congregation celebrates the Sacrament of the Altar, it’s not unusual for some
of the consecrated bread and wine to be left over. (Pastors and theologians have a fancy Latin word for these remaining consecrated earthly elements. We call them the Reliquiae.) No one ever asks about how to deal with the remaining communion wafers; most questions have to do with the wine.
It is worth pointing out that the way someone disposes of remaining communion wine does not cause one to sin against the blood of Christ. Outside of the sacrament, the elements are only bread and wine. Jesus did not only say of the cup, “For this is my blood of the new covenant.” He also said, “Drink from it, all of you,” and, “This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (Matthew 26:27-28, 1 Corinthians 11:25, NKJV). When the eating and drinking of the sacrament is over, the real presence of Christ’s body and blood does not continue.
The major concerns, however, are how best to demonstrate a proper respect for the sacrament and how to avoid giving offense to those who have a weak faith. Consider how a new Christian may be impacted by seeing the wine that had just been used in the sacrament unceremoniously poured down the kitchen sink. Someone in that circumstance might even be led to doubt the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament. Therefore, believers will want to show by their actions the deep respect they have for the Lord’s Supper.
With that in mind, different congregations have different practices for disposing of the remaining communion wine. The wine from the ﬂagon (the pitcher, usually silver) as well as the individual cups can be returned to the bottle and saved for the next celebration of the Supper. In some churches the pastor and/or elders, as the ﬁnal communicant(s), consumes what remains in the chalice (the cup). In other congregations, whatever wine is left in the chalice is disposed of reverently by pouring it out onto the ground, returning it to the earth. In some cases, the wine is poured at the root of a tree near the church building. At least one ELS church even has a special sink with a drain that opens into the ground.
If your church has a traditional way of disposing of the remaining communion elements, then learn what that tradition is and follow it. If your church has no tradition, consider adopting one for the sake of uniformity, teaching, and good order. In the end, this is an area where Scripture has given us the freedom to choose which ways will best give glory to God and serve our neighbor.
Rev. Piet Van Kampen
Christ The King Lutheran Church
Green Bay, WI