Sacred Vessels and Furnishings


Many ask what is appropriate for use in things destined for liturgical service. The governing document for such items is the "General Instruction of the Roman Missal."

Sacred Vessels

The 2002 GIRM gives the following guidance:

328. Sacred vessels are to be made from precious metal. If they are made from metal that rusts or from a metal less precious than gold, then ordinarily they should be gilded on the inside.

329. In the Dioceses of the United States of America, sacred vessels may also be made from other solid materials that, according to the common estimation in each region, are precious, for example, ebony or other hard woods, provided that such materials are suited to sacred use and do not easily break or deteriorate. This applies to all vessels which hold the hosts, such as the paten, the ciborium, the pyx, the monstrance, and other things of this kind.

330. As regards chalices and other vessels that are intended to serve as receptacles for the Blood of the Lord, they are to have bowls of nonabsorbent material. The base, on the other hand, may be made of other solid and worthy materials.

331. For the consecration of hosts, a large paten may appropriately be used; on it is placed the bread for the priest and the deacon as well as for the other ministers and for the faithful.

332. As to the form of the sacred vessels, the artist may fashion them in a manner that is more in keeping with the customs of each region, provided each vessel is suited to the intended liturgical use and is clearly distinguishable from those intended for everyday use.

The Congregation for Divine Worship elaborated in 1980 in its Instruction on Certain Norms concerning the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery (Inaestimabile donum), saying,

16. The form of the vessels must be appropriate for the liturgical use for which they are meant. The material must be noble, durable and in every case adapted for sacred use. In this sphere judgment belongs to the Episcopal Conference of the individual regions. Use is not to be made of simple baskets or other receptacles, nor are the sacred vessels to be of poor quality or lacking any artistic style.

Most recently, in 2004 the Congregation for Divine Worship, addressing abuses in these matters (such as the use of glass vessels), decreed in Redemptionis sacramentum,

117. Sacred vessels for containing the Body and Blood of the Lord must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and of the liturgical books. The Bishops’ Conferences have the faculty to decide whether it is appropriate, once their decisions have been given the recognitio by the Apostolic See, for sacred vessels to be made of other solid materials as well. It is strictly required, however, that such materials be truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, so that honour will be given to the Lord by their use, and all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species in the eyes of the faithful will be avoided. Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate. [emphasis added]

Rome's purpose seems evident. In poorer countries it may be necessary to have some latitude owing to the cost and availability of the material. What is considered noble in a region is fit for use in the liturgy, though the articles should be made for sacred use and not be profane vessels pressed into sacred service. It should be remembered, too, that among the saints, even those like St. Jean Marie Vianney who was noteworthy for his personal simplicity and evangelical poverty, there was never any skimping on the sacred objects used in the Divine Liturgy.

Vestments

In the matter of vestments the 2002 GIRM states,

343. In addition to the traditional materials, natural fabrics proper to each region may be used for making sacred vestments; artificial fabrics that are in keeping with the dignity of the sacred action and the person wearing them may also be used. The Conference of Bishops will be the judge in this matter.

344. It is fitting that the beauty and nobility of each vestment derive not from abundance of overly lavish ornamentation, but rather from the material that is used and from the design. Ornamentation on vestments should, moreover, consist of figures, that is, of images or symbols, that evoke sacred use, avoiding thereby anything unbecoming.


Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL

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