Alcohol is complicated, and today many don’t know what the Catholic Church teaches about it. Are we even allowed to drink? What does the Bible say? Would Jesus drink a beer with me? Here’s a quick guide to clear things up.
“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.“
– G. K. Chesterton
Is Drinking Alcohol Inherently a Sin?
No. In fact, alcohol is inherently good. God created it for joyful celebration, as seen repeatedly in the Bible1. Problems arise when alcohol is abused through drunkenness. Other examples of abusing good things include overdosing on medicine, neglecting your health and family because of work, and even eating too much chocolate cake. With all good things, we must practice moderation.
“Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do.”
What does the New Testament have to say about all of this?
For starters, Jesus drank. He was no stranger to alcohol:
- Some tried to accuse Him of being a glutton and a drunkard.
- His first public miracle was transforming at least 120 gallons of water into fine wine.
- At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Christ took the wine and declared it to be His Blood, fulfilling His earlier request to drink His Blood. At His request, this has been continued in the Mass.
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
The Catholic Church continues to support alcohol consumption in moderation. For centuries, monks have brewed beer to support their monasteries. We even have patron saints of beer, wine, hangovers, and alcoholics (St. Augustine, St. Urban, St. Bibiana, and St. Monica respectively).
When Is It a Sin?
Drinking is a sin when done in excess. If we consume so much that we cannot properly make decisions, we go too far. This can have disastrous consequences. 10,076 people who died in 2013 because of drunk driving (or one death every 52 minutes)2. Yet, even if you don’t drink and drive, excessive alcohol consumption greatly impairs your ability to reason. Simply put, you aren’t your true self when drunk.
“The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.“
– Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2290
“Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit”
What about underage drinking? As Catholics, we are required to respect the civil governing authority assuming that they are working for the common good and that the law is not unjust. For example, waiting a few more years to drink in America (21 years old) compared to Spain (16 years old) is not unjust.
Should I Abstain From Drinking?
Sometimes. If you become dependent on alcohol, seek help. God gave us a community to help us strive for holiness. Never battle alone.
Similarly, don’t drink in a situation where it could lead someone else to sin. For example, don’t drink when hanging out with a friend who struggles with alcohol. St. Paul explains:
“Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.”
If you enjoy alcohol, try fasting from it for a time. Fasting means taking a break from it for a time to grow closer to God. It helps strengthen our control over our bodily desires and avoid unhealthy attachment to the material world. Our true dependence should be on God. Alcohol is simply a gift, not our end goal.
Drinking should be a time of joyful celebration and fellowship! Don’t let it leave you empty inside. Instead, let it bring you together with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
- A list showing the alcohol for good purposes: Genesis 14:17-20, Gen. 27:26-29, Deuteronomy 14:26, Psalms 104:14-15, Proverbs 31:6-7, Ecclesiastes 9:7, Isaiah 25:6, Matthew 11:18-19, Luke 7:33-34
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration FARS data, 2014
- Here is an extensive list against drunkenness, or abuse of alcohol: Proverbs 20:1, Proverbs 23:20, Proverbs 23:29-35, Isaiah 28:1-8, Luke 21:34-36, Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:18, 1 Timothy 3:1-3, Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 4:1-4