ASK FATHER: Glass chalices…. again?

From a reader…


I read about a parish using invalid hosts made from several varieties of grain. I have been to a mass recently where a glass chalice was used (as a matter of fact, with a simple blessing, the new chalice was “inaugurated”).
I always thought and what I found in internet was that the chalice must be made from noble materials and of course may not absorb the wine. Glass does not react or absorb. But is it considered a noble material?

Thanks for the question.

Various opinion might be given about the “nobility” of glass.  Certainly glass can be beautiful.  Also, materials that are called “glass” can be really really tough, such that even if dropped they would not shatter, whereas a metal chalice might dent.

That’s all beside the point.

The document Redemptionis Sacramentum clearly states that glass is not to be used.

3. Sacred Vessels

[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. [Cf. Missale Romanum, Institutio Generalis, nn. 327-333.] 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, [Cf. ibidem, n. 332] 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. [Cf. ibidem, n. 332; Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,, Instruction, Inaestimabile donum, n. 16: AAS 72 (1980) p. 338.]

A key word here is reprobated.  This is a technical term meaning that it is abolished, or forbidden in such a complete way that no one can appeal to custom (‘but I’ve been doing this for years now!”) nor can anyone try to establish a custom by violating the law over a long period of time.

In other words…. NO GLASS CHALICES.

But WAIT!  There’s MORE!

It seem that the USCCB (the Conference, mentioned above) has allowed that other materials can be used, provided that they do not break easily and that the material is suitable for sacred use.

Firstly, it seems to me that the sacred “idiom” should be protected.  What do I mean?

For example, in music, when you hear a pipe organ, you generally think of church. Gregorian chant does the same, whereas a brass band does not.  Once upon a time the early trombone was used in sacred music.  Only later was it employed in secular music.    The same goes for architecture.  Although this escapes a lot of people today, churches look one way, and municipal airports another.  Things used for sacred worship have a certain appearance while things for daily use have another.  That, I think, applies to chalices for Mass.  We should avoid chalices that look like they are meant for drinking beer or sipping brandy.

So, once again, we are in a situation where in the post-Conciliar context we lack clarity about what can be done and what can’t.

Finally, however, it seems to me that, while a metal chalice will dent, it won’t shatter or crack into pieces.  Unless the glass is actually as tough as that stuff 600 times stronger than stainless steel made from superheated powdered iron and sintered with a spark-plasma process and subjected to electric current under 1000 atmospheres of pressure, or maybe even the amazing “Prince Rupert’s Drops” or Scotty’s transparent aluminum, we shouldn’t even think for a nanosecond about using it.

Are those noble materials?  They are impressive, for sure.  They’re not noble.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. mysticalrose says:

    Glass chalices and glass PITCHERS (yes, I shudder) are legion in university settings, at least those where they are still relying on the St. Louis Jesuits for their hymnody.

    Of all the decades to play on constant repeat, why the 70’s???

  2. Hidden One says:

    Perhaps, in the spirit of Laudato Si’, the old remaining–and newly inaugurated–glass chalices could be melted down and recycled into stained glass depictions of preconciliar priest Saints saying Mass.

  3. teomatteo says:

    Funny this came up. I was out of town and attended the Holy Sacrifice and noticed a glass chalice. Hadn’t seen that in a while, maybe the local bishop allowed it. Curious.

  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    I once had to attend a vigil mass for a holy day of obligation, at a parish I had never visited before.

    There was nothing irreverent about the way the mass was said, and nothing objectionable in the sermon, but the priest had a shiny black chalice. Three possibilities: black glass, black lacquer, black chrome plating. None are noble materials.

  5. JabbaPapa says:

    The teaching that I have read on this topic suggests that glass is only possible in a situation of emergency when there is nothing better. And this is virtually never the case in the Holy Eucharist offered in Holy Mass at a consecrated altar in church.

    Charles E Flynn, there’s an outside chance it was obsidian, quite very much unlikely I grant, but that is a bit less not-noble than glass, for it counts as a gemstone. But the shatterability of obsidian makes it unsuitable AFAIK for non-emergency cases, despite the relative nobility of the material.

    The particular nobility of gold is that it is non-shatterable, noble/precious, and “chemically unalterable” (the traditional explanation is here totally consistent with the chemistry one).

  6. crownvic says:

    Back a few years when I was a business manager at an unnamed Midwestern parish, Fr. Youngtrad began a process of replacing the glass chalice with a gold one. After months of catechizing the Parish Council and Worship Committee the switch was made. I’d like to tell you that they took it well. I’d like to tell you that their response was mature, thoughtful and engaging. That would be a lie. They threw a Holy Hissy Fit, verbally abused a Priest (during Mass), and showed how intolerant their self professed tolerance is. The new gold chalice remains while they are slowly leaving.

    Brick by Brick.

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Just saw a documentary on Bl. Ukon Takayama. And not to be mean about Japanese Catholics, and it was very nice pottery that was probably expensive…

    But a ciborium and chalice are not supposed to be made out of black and white pottery, and the wabi-sabi aesthetic of imperfection and rusticity is not suitable for liturgical vessels, unless you are acting out of the necessities of poverty or danger. There is a native Japanese tradition of exquisite metal vessels made with precious metals, and an aesthetic of beauty in perfection; so inculturation did not explain it. It was just an “argh” moment in a very nice film.

  8. Markus says:

    As a gold/silversmith that has been commissioned to make chalices, at times over the last 48 years, one can observe what is technically wrong with glass “chalices.” Observe the photo in the post.
    A. It does not have the traditional node or nope.
    B. It does not has a cross on the foot (base) which traditionally faces the priest.
    C. The foot of the chalice has a foot that is narrower than the cup. Two things happen. The cup is heavier (weight of the glass) at the top and will easily tip. The smaller diameter base also lends to tipping. The priests vestments will easily tip the cup when reaching for the it. A metal base can be narrower but is weighted.
    D. Glass has a thicker edge. Thus when drinking from it, the Blood of Christ does not “break” after drinking from it, thus causing a “dribble” down the outside edge.
    E. Metal may “dent” but if the base metal is sterling (or even brass), it can always be repaired and the inner cup re gold plated. Metal can be repaired and modified, such as gemstones added. Glass cannot. It shatters. And the paten?
    F. While the Holy Grail could have been glass, it was used only once. And by Whom?
    G. Where is the “artistic merit” in a cast, glass goblet? Where is the embellishment?

  9. JustaSinner says:

    Just wondering when the Jesuits will start using environmentally friendly recycled paper cups..just askin’!

  10. Semper Gumby says:

    crownvic: Interesting story, and God bless that priest. Brick by brick indeed.

    That recalls this:

  11. Adelle Cecilia says:

    (I will make an intense querie after this post, but) I thought that inside of chalices had to be lined with gold?

  12. Adelle Cecilia says:

    Internet querie*

    The first result (i know that doesn’t make it authoritative) states, “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.”

  13. Chrissin says:

    Multi-grain hosts- huh? How about rye? Could it be Jewish rye? Oy Vey!

  14. Markus says:

    No they do not have to be silver or gold. Prior to the 19th Century, before commercial electroplating was invented, they were gold gilded. The process involved the “burning off” of lead and most gilders did not live long. Electroplating (very thin layer of gold) is still used today and has to be replaced as it wears away over time. The law was that the cup had to be of a material that did “not tarnish”, Italian translation. Today, the requirements are that it not be absorbent (like wood) and be of a “noble” material. Carved stone has been used, an example of a Medieval chalice (cup portion) in Germany carved from a piece of clear quartz. Quartz is very hard and it was quite an effort to make in those days. The vast majority of chalices made in the last 170 years or so are made of brass that is gold and/or silver electroplated.

  15. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    I think we are moving into a phase where a metal goblet, will not be profane.
    We have more disposable income nowadays so that things that were opulent are accessible easily.
    Personally, I have seen more beautiful wine glasses that were more fitting than some chalices.

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  17. PostCatholic says:

    A seminary rector I had in college had a chalice carved from some rare and sacred African wood, then fitted with a gold bowl, the rim of which overlapped the outside for about half an inch, preventing the contents from coming into contact with anything but gold, even when sipping. He was immensely proud of it but we thought it ugly. It was shaped and fluted like a plastic tumbler and we called it “the milkshake chalice.” I wonder whether the composition would be “reprobate.” Possibly on the lack of artistic merit?

  18. Shonkin says:

    A parish where I lived 1991-1999 was very trendy. They commissioned a set of chalices made by a local artist. Horrible! Not only were they ceramic; they were UNGLAZED ceramic, so that the Precious Blood was guaranteed to seep into the pores in the material.
    Closer to the original subject of this post, here’s an interesting question: At one time (less than 200 years ago) aluminum was considered a precious metal, worth more than gold. Then the Hall-Heroult process was invented, which made aluminum relatively inexpensive. Does the current price of a metal determine whether it is a precious or base metal? That is not a trivial question. Over the past few years the price of palladium (a noble metal) has increased almost tenfold, to the point where it is now worth much more than gold. Rhodium, another noble metal, has gone in the past year from $575 an ounce to $9000. What constitutes precious?

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