Why chalices are of gold or silver, not wood

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.

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. Any other substance is not considered worthy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In circumstances of extreme poverty or in time of persecution a ‘calix stanneus’ (pewter chalice) is permitted, but the bowl of this also, like the upper surface of the paten, must be gilt.

Wood and horn forbidden

In early centuries the materials used for chalices varied greatly.In the eighth, ninth and following centuries much legislation was devoted to securing that chalices should be made of becoming material. England seems to have taken the lead in this matter, which soon afterwards were enforced everywhere. The laws of the Northumbrian priests imposed a fine upon all who should offer Mass in a wooden chalice. Horn was also rejected because the precious blood could enter into its composition.

Brass, copper and glass also forbidden

The most famous decree that codified the chalice is called “Corpus Juris” (cap. xlv, dist. i, de consecratione), where it states: “That the chalice of the Lord, together with the paten, if not gold, must be entirely made of silver. If, however, anyone is so poor, let him at least have a chalice of pewter. The chalice must not be made of brass or copper, because it generates rust (i.e. verdigris) which causes nausea. And let no one presume to say Mass with a chalice of wood or glass.” This decree is traditionally attributed to a certain council of Reims.

Who can touch the chalice

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.

Consecration of the Chalice

Before the chalice and paten are used in the Sacrifice of the 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.

If the chalice loses its consecration

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.

(Source: Catholic Encyclopedia)

Semper Excelsius is a website for the defense of the Catholic faith through instruction and informative articles. Its focus is on explaining the rich history and traditions of the holy Roman Catholic Church, while defending her teachings against false assumptions and doctrinal errors.



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