What to Do With Old Ceramic Vessels


What to Do With Old Ceramic Vessels


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 Canon 1376.

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

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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

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