Monday, 30th October 2017

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Holy wine added to ban list

The Bihar government has cancelled the licence given to churches to manufacture sacramental wine in Patna, citing it was in contravention to prohibition in the state.

By Dev Raj
  • Published 21.07.16

The Bihar government has cancelled the licence given to churches to manufacture sacramental wine in Patna, citing it was in contravention to prohibition in the state.

With this, the use of wine in prayer services also stands banned in the state.

Excise commissioner Aditya Kumar Das told The Telegraph: "All kinds of liquor are banned under prohibition and use of sacramental wine was not in conformity to it. There were chances of its misuse so the licence given to the winery for its production has been cancelled."

At present, there are around 150 churches in the state, and they procure the wine - also known as sacramental wine, communion wine, altar wine or mass wine - from a small winery run at the Xavier's Teachers' Training Institute (XTTI) campus at Digha in Patna, which produces and bottles it. It had been functioning since the 1960s.

Bread and wine were by Jesus in his last supper and have been an integral part of prayer services across the globe.

At the prayer services in churches, priests pray for consecration of bread (symbolising the body of Jesus) and wine (symbolising the blood of Jesus).

It is then distributed as Holy Communion among the devotees.

Asked about how Christians in the state will follow this ritual after the cancellation of the licence, Aditya said: "As far as rituals are concerned, different religions, including Hinduism have them, but have stopped in the wake of prohibition. It will not be correct to be involved in this conflict. Sacramental wine licence was in conflict with total prohibition."

Earlier, the state government had exempted the churches functioning here from complete liquor ban on religious grounds, and had allowed them to use wine during their daily prayer services, including the special masses held on Sundays.

The winery at XTTI was permitted to produce 2,000 litres of wine every year, but was producing around 1,000 litres per year to meet the demand.

It was supplied to authorised personnel from the churches, who used them for prayer services and used a miniscule quantity ranging from 5ml to 15ml for communion.

Meanwhile, the Christian community expressed shock over the cancellation of licence to the winery and fretted about how the prayer services would be conducted henceforth.

Father Devasia Mattathilani, spokesperson of the Patna Archdiocese told The Telegraph: "I am at a loss of words to react on this issue. Maybe we will represent our case to the state authorities and appeal to them that use of sacramental wine is an integral part of our religious fabric, and it should be allowed in Bihar, just like it is done universally."

Sources in the Church pointed out that use of wine in prayer services was only of symbolic value and was not being used by people to get drunk. It was not sold outside or provided to others outside churches.

Sources said though fresh grape juice could be used in place of wine in prayer services, it was not a viable option because fresh grapes are not available throughout the year, and cannot be stored for a long time or bought at all places in the state.

They added that the use of sacramental wine was exempted even during the previous prohibition imposed in the state from 1977 to 1980.

They also said that the issue would be presented before the higher church bodies at the national level, and it would be left to them decide the future course of action, including approaching the judiciary.

Meanwhile, liquor expert and president of Foreign Liquor Retailers' Association Nawal Kishore Singh welcomed the move by the excise department to withdraw the licence given to the winery, but criticised the government on implementation of prohibition.

"It was discrimination by imposing prohibition but allowing the winery to produce and supply wine, it was a failure of the state government on its part. You cannot discriminate on the grounds of religion in secularism," Nawal said.

Nawal pointed out that if exemption was made on religious grounds, then the same could be done for Hindus too, who use liquor as offerings to deities like Kaali, Bhairav, Goraiya Baba, and also in occult practices.