QUAERITUR: disposing of glass “chalices”

From a reader:

I live next to a mission parish where I observed this past summer the
use of glass vessels. I brought this to the attention of the pastor, a
faithful, though unformed man, referencing GIRM & Sacramentum
Caritatis. He got around to ordering a silver communion cup months
later. [That’s good, right?] Knowing the malformation of the “sacristans” and the priests, I set aside all the glass vessels so that I could have Father send them back to the diocese for proper disposal. Sure enough, the pastor came to me asking for one (or possibly several) of the glass vessels back so that he could return them to the parishioner of the mission, ostensibly for use. I told him I had the intention of returning them to *him*/ the diocese, but that the glass vessels could not be used for non-sacred use, and they actually need to be disposed of respectfully. He balked at that assertion, half-responding that “maybe they’re going to put it in a [home] shrine.” A friend who’s a canon lawyer thinks there’s a canon (besides liturgical common sense) that says he cannot simply give away a liturgical appointment, and he needs to either 1) return it to the diocese, or 2) formally request permission to destroy/dispose from the diocese. When I give these back, I want to make it clear to him what the proper responsibility is, but if I can’t point to Church documentation, he tends to ignore me. If anything, say a prayer for me. Thank you!

Part of the problem here, as I see it, is that you are in the middle.

Also, I am glad that the priest was willing to obtain suitable vessels.  That’s a plus, right?

After consultation with a canonist here is an opinion.

Sacred vessels can be alienated unless they are of artistic or historical value (cf. c. 1291) though they should not be sold.  For example, a priest can leave his chalice in his will to his family, and something given to the Church for use can be returned to the donor.

Sacred vessels should not be used for sordid use, of course (c. 1171) and someone who does so is liable for a penalty (c. 1376), presuming that the vessels “are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing.”

Were the chalices blessed? Or were they simply used? An argument can be made that a chalice is blessed simply by holding the Precious Blood, but that might not hold canonical water, as it were, especially when we talk about the application of penalties.  Strict interpretation of the law is required.

That said, this whole situation needs to be sorted out.  You are in the middle here and don’t really have a proper role.  You don’t have the right to keep these vessels from the priest.  The priest gets to make the judgment about how they are to be disposed, since he has oversight of the goods of the parish and it cannot be argued that these things are of great historical or artistic value.  He can dispose of them.

But… wouldn’t it be sad if the priest had an accident with those glass things?  I know of more than one macrame banner that went to its reward because someone (read = traditional priest/seminarian) accidentally got that candle flame just liiiiiitle too close.  Glass vessels… gosh… they are soooo easily broken.  Clay… glass… they sometimes fall and break!  It happens!  It’s all very sad, of course.

But it is consoling that the pieces can be swept up and thrown away without too much fuss.

In the meantime, I will here repost a photo I was sent a while back.

There are uses for glass vessels.

glass chalice

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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23 Responses to QUAERITUR: disposing of glass “chalices”

  1. Gail F says:

    How many glass vessels are we talking about? Surely the easiest thing would be to buy some new ones and give THOSE to the priest, who can give them to whoever wants the glasses back. Glasses are not expensive. Then the other glasses could meet an accident or get taken to the bishop (or sent there — shipping glasses is also not particularly expensive). If money is an issue, look around for a Knights of Columbus group or some other Catholic group that could front $20 or $30.

    If this gentleman or lady has already asked advice from a canon lawyer, then that person ought to be able to write a quick corroboration to go to the priest. I think this writer is making things more difficult than he/she needs to. It doesn’t sound sensible that simply using a glass as a chalice in mass (without blessing it) can make it a sacred object, or whatever the correct term is. Over the past 2000 years plenty of regular glasses/cups must have been used for various reasons — wars, natural disasters, etc. — I can’t imagine that there is not a rule about this.

  2. Gail F says:

    Or how about this (to be Jesuitical): Put the glasses in the trunk of your car, so that they aren’t in your house. Go buy some new ones. Give them to the priest and say, “I’m pretty sure that those old glasses shouldn’t be used for anything outside of mass now, but it doesn’t matter anyway. I’ve looked all over the house and they’re not there. I know XXX want them back, so I just bought some new ones as much like the old ones as I could find. I’d feel a lot better about this if I knew these were not going to be used at mass.”

  3. Allan S. says:

    Every Easter, without fail, my pastor consecrates during the Mass a huge glass decanter of the Precious Blood, in addition to the usual chalice. The decanter is nver used nor seen again, and I have no idea what it’s for. I’m always a little creeped out by the idea of one day that glass decanter shattering.

    Personally, I’d like to think it’s used during exorcisms or something. But I doubt it.

    Very curious.

  4. Re: “I can’t imagine there is not a rule about it.”

    Sure there is. Burn, break, bury, or keep it safe and unused for lesser things ever after. Since you can’t usually guarantee that a plain glass won’t be grabbed by mistake and used for something else, destruction is much safer.

    Dorothy Day had some priest insist on saying Mass with a coffee cup, back in the bad days of the Sixties and Seventies, so right afterward she took the coffee cup out to the yard and broke and buried it. What else are you going to do?

  5. Phil_NL says:

    Allan S.,

    I believe there was a worldwide prohibition against reserving the Sacred Blood, so unless there’s going to be a huge numbert of communions under both species, this would be very strange…

  6. tobiasmurphy says:

    When I was a seminarian, our priests used glass chalices. Another concern is that glass isn’t entirely solid. It’s also a “highly viscous” liquid that can be stained by the Precious Blood. If the Precious Blood stains the glass, is the Precious Blood in the stain? However disposed of, either legally or “accidentally,” the problem remains that the Precious Blood may be horribly mistreated. I always thought to myself that a glass chalice would have to be reserved permanently somewhere so that the Precious Blood could not be mistreated.

  7. Father S. says:

    As for the disposal of such things, if one knows a good Catholic gravedigger, (or just a good gravedigger) he can simply give his items to be disposed of to the mortuary and they can be buried underneath a grave when the grave is being dug. The cemetery is consecrated ground, so it is a fitting place to destroy such things.

  8. Bthompson says:

    A few years back I was helping a priest rearrange his sacristy. We found some glazed clay chalices. We took them outside, put them in a bag, smashed them several times and buried the bag in the garden. Much safer than their previous place, in the back of the chalice cabinet, waiting…

  9. Joe in Canada says:

    I like the idea of burying pieces in consecrated ground; I wouldn’t just sweep them up and throw them away. I also wouldn’t use them for undignified purposes such as propping up cards.
    ps Gail F – Jesuits don’t think like that any more, do they?

  10. DavidJ says:

    Please tell me your comments are not in favor of some deliberate malfeasance against what is not this person’s property.

  11. DavidJ: How about reading the top entry again and then thinking it through once more.

  12. Anonymous Seminarian says:

    On a related note, does anyone know what to do with the ‘left over’ Paschal Candle? I discovered one of these in the house of a (very devout) disabled parishioner once; it was handy for when I brought Holy Communion. But is this legit?

  13. RichardR says:

    ” I know of more than one macrame banner that went to its reward because someone (read = traditional priest/seminarian) accidentally got that candle flame just liiiiiitle too close. ”
    So the “accidental” destruction of something made by a faithful person for the honor and glory of God is OK if it is done by an arrogant, hedonistic narcissit (read = …) who doesn’t like it? Just askin’

  14. frspecht says:

    A number of years ago I was assigned as the chaplain to a Catholic High School. The liturgical appointments were atrocious including much glass, clay and horrible polyester verstments. One vestment was burlap with children’s handprints painted haphazordly all over. Makes me shudder to even recall the thing. The school was building a new addition and the night before the foundation was poured I climbed into the huge hole with eight boxes of the stuff. There I buried it all. The next morning a few tons of concrete sealed it all until the second coming (I hope). I am relatively sure that these things will never be used again for either a sacred or secular purpose.

  15. ipadre says:

    I found a case of matching clay chalices in a closet. I smashed them and had them buried on the church property.

  16. I have had the honor of disposing of several of these in the following fashion. Dig a hole on the church property. Place the vessels in the hole and break them. I think they need to be broken to prevent their use in a profane manner.

  17. Faith says:

    My pastor was left a glass chalice from a priest friend who died. So he wants to use it. He got permission from the bishop. The sacristan varies the chalices so that they are all used. I guess people donate them in memory of loved ones, so the Celebrant uses a different chalice each Sunday.

  18. DT says:

    Mwahahahahaha!! *snort!*

    That is a great photograph!

    *plug for the Holy Father*
    If anyone has a grasp of Italian, Libreria Editrice Vaticana is publishing the “Joseph Ratzinger Opera Omnia” series. Vol 1 (Teologia della Liturgia) was released earlier this summer. ;)

  19. DT says:

    @ Anonymous Seminarian-

    I am not certain of the proper way to dispose of a Paschal Candle once a new one is blessed. Perhaps you have access to Msgr Peter Elliott’s “Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year”? Msgr Elliott may have provided an answer there. Hope that helps!

  20. pjsandstrom says:

    On glass chalices and patens: they are not a modern aberation. There is one pair dated from the 14th or 15th century made of ‘soda glass’ on display in the treasure room of the Cloisters Museum in New York City. And the treasury of the Archdiocese of Sens in France has a whole series of ‘lead crystal chalices’ in the more or less standard ‘tulip shape’ along with their ‘lead crystal patens’ from the 17th and 18th century. They are also on display at Sens. They therefore were not so uncommon and were definitely in use for the Mass. As far as I know none of them are being used presently because of their venerable age. But they are witnesses that the ‘glass chalice’ is not at all a modern novelty in the history or practice of the Western Church.

  21. pjsandstrom says:

    The correct spelling in my comment is ‘aberration’! I am sure the idea passed anyway.

  22. Philangelus says:

    I have the chalice the priest used in our wedding Mass. He stopped by a couple of weeks after we got married and gave it to us. It’s a regular crystal wineglass. I put it into our china cabinet because I thought it was a nice idea.

    Are you guys saying I should break it and bury it, or otherwise ensure it won’t be used again? I don’t want to be disrespectful. Since the priest gave it to us himself (and it had been purchased only for use at our wedding) I figured it was okay to keep it in the china cabinet.

  23. fiatlux says:

    Thank you, Father, for your prompt reply. I completely agree with you that I am in the middle, and I simply need to relinquish said vessels to Father/ The diocese. I agree that it was good that he finally got around to replacing the glass vessels. The problem is that in light of the poor clerical formation around here, I was looking for the proper canonical & liturgical support so that, upon returning the vessels to the priest, it could be a teaching moment to ensure that the glass vessels didn’t become somebody’s new party-ware. The problem isn’t just the “sacristans,” it’s the pastor. It must be said that I when I pointed out that glass vessels were forbade, he disagreed with me and didn’t believe me. Even when I pointed it out in the GIRM/ Sacrimentum Caritatis, he wouldn’t agree with me.

    Gail, you must be in a fairly populated and well supported diocese, and you are not giving me the benefit of the doubt. I am in in a very small diocese, and our diocesan contact didn’t even know what was the proper thing to do for sure, particularly what the Church documents had to say about this situation. Further, I *did* consult the only canon lawyer I know, and was waiting overlong to hear back when I wrote Fr. Z. Regarding the “bait and switch” recommendations–the glasses are not simple wine glasses–a kind of unique but tacky design that would be hard to replicate, but by no means “of historical or artistic value.”

    Lastly, our pastor wants to please people rather than doing what is correct and appropriate, so therein lies the difficulty. Now that I have a least a canonical reference and a recommendation, I can return the vessels to the pastor with liturgical and canonical references, and have peace of mind that I did my best.