“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’” — Luke 22:19-20
In the Christian faith, communion is a traditional rite in which church-goers receive the body and blood of Christ, given as bread and wine. The act is based on Jesus’s command at the last supper to ‘do this in memory of me’. The communion, also known as the Eucharist has a sacred symbology for Christians. Certain denominations, such as the Catholic church believe the eucharist actually becomes the body and blood of Christ when receiving it called transubstantiation and is a necessity to salvation.
How often this ritual is done— whether it’s once a week or only on special occasions like Easter and Christmas— depends entirely on the church, the town it’s located in, and who runs the service in which communion is given. Churches vary in their implementation, some providing an open communion for all to practice, others closed to church members. Communion is widely considered a holy and profoundly spiritual act; so, it can be very personal for many people of faith to reconnect with Jesus’s sacrifice. The Catholic church takes the strongest stance on the necessity of the Holy Eucharist saying ‘Communion is prescribed for adults’, concluding that those of free will and of reasoning must take of Communion. The Catholic church says ‘without it, a given end cannot be attained’ and that ‘it is a necessity of free will’. But what happens when a person of faith is in recovery for alcohol addiction? Must they relapse for the sake of this ritual?
The Debate Surrounding Communion in Alcohol Recovery
As of right now, there isn’t a clear consensus on how to handle this particularly tricky set of circumstances. Experts in the field of addiction treatment and individuals who are in recovery themselves seem to have varying opinions on the matter of communion during alcoholism recovery. Some claim that any exposure to alcohol or other triggers could pose a threat to the individual’s hard-earned sobriety. Others insist that such a small amount of alcohol should, theoretically, pose no such threat especially when done in the spirit of reaffirming commitment to your higher power. In any case, it is understandable that devout Christians in recovery would have concerns about the pressure to consuming wine while abstaining from alcohol.
Is Taking Communion a Form of Relapsing?
The debate as to whether or not taking communion in church during recovery is (or should be) considered a relapse is one that has been prevalent in the religious community for many years. In any other situation, drinking wine or any other alcohol would undoubtedly be a relapse. So, why would taking communion be an exception? It’s all a matter of context.
Most AA groups and 12-Step programs recognize that taking communion is an essential part of practicing faith for many people. Still, taking communion is more about the symbolism of accepting Christ than it is about consuming literal bread and wine. So, Christians in recovery who choose to sample wine as part of taking communion are not considered by their groups to have relapsed. Although, there are still alternatives if you believe that taking communion crosses the line into potential relapse and are concerned about your long-term sobriety.
Discuss your concerns with your pastor or priest.
Many churches offer other means of taking communion outside of bread and wine. For young church-goers, non-alcoholic beverages like grape juice are usually provided in place of wine. If you are uncomfortable with sampling real wine as part of taking communion in your local church, you always have the option of talking privately with the pastors or priests. Most churches are prepared to accommodate in situations like this, so don’t be afraid to ask.
The Necessity of Communion
Denominations vary on the meaning and importance of partaking in the Eucharist. Jesus did instruct us, some would say, command us to do this in remembrance of me. If you, and your church view the communion as a symbol for appreciating Jesus’ sacrifice, likely the time during communion is just as valid spent dwelling on that act, making abstaining a valid option However, if you believe the command must be done for your salvation, as the Catholic church does, appropriate alternatives must be found.
Explore the alternatives.
Alternative methods of taking communion don’t always involve grape juice. Several denominations of the Christian faith have communions where the worshippers’ interaction with wine is exceptionally minimal. Depending on the church, you may be able to take communion by:
- (Shallowly) dipping the bread in the wine
- Consuming only the bread and forgoing the wine
- Kissing the cup of wine, or kissing your hand before touching the cup of wine
- Replacing the wine with grape-juice or Mustum (non-fermented grape juice)
- Communion without Wine
- Without becoming too entrenched in the Catholic catechism, it is a held belief that you can receive just one ‘species’ (the bread) and not the other and it still be considered communion. Since Christ is present under each of the species, you can take only one and still receive all of the ‘fruit of the Eucharistic Grace’. Although it is a ‘fuller’ act of communion to receive both.
Follow your instincts.
This is the most important thing you can do during recovery. If you are unsure about whether or not drinking wine during communion will trigger a relapse for you, then it’s always best to air on the side of caution. Even a small sip of wine in a religious setting may be enough to trigger a larger relapse. Remember, everyone experiences addiction and relapse differently, so always follow your instincts and act accordingly.
Road to Freedom is Here to Support You
Whether or not you choose to take traditional communion during your recovery from alcohol addiction, it’s important to remember that God does not tempt us. Communion is not a trap for those in recovery. Instead, the practice of taking communion is meant to express devotion to God, Christ, and the Christian faith— and it doesn’t have to involve wine if you feel it threatens your well-being. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, Road to Freedom offers a wide variety of highly successful faith-based addiction treatments that work together to form an individualized recovery plan. For more information about our programs and services, please call (844) 402-3605 to speak with one of our counselors. All calls are confidential.