Monday, November 1, 2010

The Chalice - Early History and Legislation...

The chalice occupies the first place among sacred vessels, and by a figure of speech the material cup is often used as if it were synonymous with the Precious Blood itself. "The chalice of benediction, which we bless", writes St. Paul, "is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16). No reliable tradition has been preserved to us regarding the vessel used by Christ at the Last Supper. In the sixth and seventh centuries pilgrims to Jerusalem were led to believe that the actual chalice was still venerated in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, having within it the sponge which was presented to Our Saviour on Calvary.

To quote the words of St. Chrysostom (Hom. l in Matt.): "The table was not of silver, the chalice was not of gold in which Christ gave His blood to His disciples to drink, and yet everything there was precious and truly fit to inspire awe." So far as it is possible to collect any scraps of information regarding the chalices in use among early Christians, the evidence seems to favour the prevalence of glass, though cups of the precious and of baser metals, of ivory, wood, and even clay were also in use. (See Hefele, Beiträge, II, 323-5.) A passage of St. Irenæus (Hær., I, c. xiii) describing a pretended miracle wrought by Mark the Gnostic who poured white wine into his chalice and then after prayer showed the contents to be red, almost necessarily supposes a vessel of glass. But the tendency to use by preference the precious metals developed early. St. Augustine speaks of two golden and six silver chalices dug up at Cirta in Africa,  (Contra Crescon., III, c. xxix), and St. Chrysostom of a golden chalice set with gems (Hom. 1 in Matt.).

As regards shape, our principal information at this early period is derived from certain representations, said to be meant for Eucharistic chalices, which are found in early mosacis sarcophagi, and other monuments of Christian art. The general prevalence of an almost stemless, vase-shaped type with two handles, inclines us to believe that a glass vessel of this nature discovered in the Ostrian catacomb on the Via Nomentana, and now preserved in the Lateran Museum, may really have been a chalice. At an early date it became common to inscribe the donor's name upon costly vessels presented to Churches.

In many of the specimens described or preserved from the Merovingian, Carolovingian, and Romanesque periods, it is possible to make a distinction between the ordinary sacrificial chalice used by bishops and priests in the Mass and the calices ministeriales intended for the Communion of the faithful at Easter and other seasons when many received. These latter chalices are of considerable size, and they are often, though not always, fitted with handles, which, it is easy to understand, would have afforded additional security against accidents when the sacred vessel was put to the lips of each communicant in turn. In a rude and barbarous age the practical difficulties of Communion under species of wine must have been considerable, and it is not wonderful that from the Carolingian period onwards the device was frequently adopted of using a pipe or reed (known by a variety of names, fistula, tuellus, canna, arundo, pipa, calamus, siphon, etc.) for the Communion of both clergy and people.

One of the rarest survivals of this early type of chalice is the "Chalice of Ardagh," so called from the place in Ireland where it was accidentally discovered in 1868.

According to the existing law of the Church the chalice, or at least the cup of it, must be made either of gold or of silver, and in the latter case the bowl must be gilt on the inside. In circumstances of great poverty or in time of persecution a calix stanneus (pewter) may be permitted, but the bowl of this also, like the upper surface of the paten, must be gilt. Before the chalice and  paten are used in the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass they require consecration. This rite is carried out according to a form specially provided in the "Pontificale" and involving the use of holy chrism. The consecration must be performed by a bishop (or in the case of chalices intended for monastic use, by an abbot possessing the privilege), and a bishop cannot in an ordinary way delegate any Priest to perform this function in his place. Further, if the chalice lose its consecration — which happens for example if it be broken or the cup perforated, or even if it has had to be sent to have the bowl regilded—it is necessary that it should be reconsecrated by the Bishop before it can again be used. Strictly speaking, only Priests and  deacons are permitted to touch the chalice or paten, but leave is usually granted to sacristans and those officially appointed to take charge of the vestments and sacred vessels.

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