|ROME, 5 JULY 2005 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: We recently purchased new chalices and a paten for our chapel to
comply with the instruction that sacred vessels must be made of metal.
My question is: What can we legitimately do with the old vessels, which
are gold-plated ceramic? Is it appropriate to put them to ordinary use,
for instance in festive meals? Or do we need to destroy them somehow?
M.H., Gaithersburg, Maryland
A: Regarding what to do with unusable chalices and other sacred vessels,
canon law states the following in Canon 1171:
"Sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication
or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for
profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons."
Indeed the profanation of a sacred object is a punishable crime under
It is possible that vessels no longer considered suitable for liturgical
use due to a legal prescription have "ipso facto" lost their blessing
and thus their sacred character.
In some cases a sacred object that has lost its sacred character may be
reduced to convenient profane uses. But this would be inappropriate in
the case of a chalice or ciboria, which are among the most sacred
objects of all. Certainly it would be incorrect to use the chalices for
festive meals or any other similar use.
Some ceramic vessels may be genuine works of art. In such cases, if they
cannot be converted to another convenient liturgical use they could be
conserved in an ecclesiastical museum alongside other valuable sacred
objects no longer used in the liturgy.
If, on the other hand, they are devoid of artistic merit, then, having
first consulted with the local bishop to assure their de-consecration,
they may be destroyed and buried in the ground in the manner suggested
by the bishop himself. ZE05070522
* * *
Follow-up: What to Do With Old Ceramic Vessels [07-19-2005]
Our suggestions regarding the disposal of ceramic vessels (July 5) gives
the opportunity to answer a couple of related questions.
A California reader asked: "The new instruction indicates that glass
chalices or ciboria may not be used at liturgy. When the Pope came to
our city and we had a marvelous liturgy for hundreds of thousands, the
archdiocese had glass bowls made for the distribution of holy Communion.
After the Pope left, the archdiocese asked parishioners to buy these
bowls for their parishes. Hundreds, if not a thousand bowls, were
purchased. It seems strange that these bowls could be used for the
Pope's Mass, but can no longer be used. What should be done with these
glass bowls which have been used in parishes? Should they be given back
to the buyer?"
Regarding the eventual disposal of such vessels, I refer to what I said
in the earlier column. Since the problem is generalized the bishop could
be asked to make some overall dispositions.
I would point out, however, that the fact that these vessels were used
at a papal Mass does not automatically mean they were liturgically
correct, as a lot depends on the local organizers.
At the same time, until the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum"
finally cleared up the doubts, the admissibility of glass and ceramic
was a disputed point. And so it is probable that the use of these bowls
was considered correct at the time.
Another reason could be that extraordinary occasions may require
exceptional solutions and, while the use of less expressive and easily
replicable vessels might not be justified for normal liturgical use, it
may be the only practical possibility on rare grand occasions with many
thousands of people receiving.
Indeed, I observed that ceramic ciboria were used recently to distribute
Communion at the Mass celebrated by Benedict XVI at Bari in southern
Italy to conclude a Eucharistic Congress.
A Minnesota reader asked: "I offered to purchase replacements for the
glass chalices and the 'fishbowl' that are used for Communion. While the
priest is willing to bend a little, offering to use gold-plated items
should I purchase them, he retains that he will still use the glass for
'catechism' of children during Mass, i.e. to let them see the body and
blood of our Lord so that they understand. I reminded him of the 'Redemptionis
Sacramentum' statement to not use glass, and he stated that the bishop
sent letters to the priests in the diocese saying not to implement RS
until he'd reviewed it and given it the OK.
"There are several issues here: 1. Is there any exception for the use of
glass as stated by my priest? 2. Does the bishop have a right to hold up
the implementation of RS which to me is just a clarification of the GIRM?"
I do not think that there are any exceptions which would allow for glass
chalices. To my mind the priest's "catechetical argument" is somewhat
specious — as if the visibility of the sacred species somehow
facilitated faith in transubstantiation.
The Church has managed to transmit faith in the Eucharist for centuries
without having recourse to glass chalices. It can probably manage
without them in the future.
As I have not seen the bishop's letter I cannot comment in particular
and I suppose that, at this stage, he has already taken action. I doubt
that he was claiming the right to veto the Holy See.
It is more likely that he was referring to the practical consequences of
the document and its application to the diocese. He probably wanted time
to study the document so as to assure a smooth diocese-wide transition
of any practices that needed reform. He might have also wanted to
resolve logistical difficulties, such as, for example, the bulk purchase
of new vessels at a favorable price.
Of course, some aspects of "Redemptionis Sacramentum," such as anything
reprobated as a "grave abuse," had to be remedied immediately and
without delay. ZE05071921