Advertisements ad

December 6, 2009

Sacred vessels have deep meaning for priests

By Alicia Torres


How can I repay the Lord for all the good done for me? I will raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

The supernatural vocation to the priesthood is an invitation God extends to men whom he chooses, and the man who generously responds truly becomes alter Christus — another Christ — when he is ordained. The most sacred and mysterious act the priest participates in, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, requires a most precious vessel, the chalice.

The chalice is a vessel used during Mass to hold the wine, paired with the paten that holds the bread. Children preparing for first Holy Communion can tell you that the bread and wine, at the consecration, through the miracle and mystery of transubstantiation, become the Body and Blood of Christ. Because of this, the chalice is one of the most sacred objects a priest uses.

“The chalice is more than just something functional that is used at Mass. Especially when a priest has his own chalice, it really embodies the gift of the crucifixion from which flows the gift of the resurrection — that is why we call it the cup of eternal life,” said Father Steve Bauer, director of the Integritas Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

17th century vessel

Bauer, an archdiocesan priest ordained in 2004, has a very old chalice. Received as an ordination gift from his parents, the chalice dates back to 17th century and is originally from a small country parish in the Naples region of Italy. (See top right photo.)

The most striking feature of Bauer’s chalice is a hand-etching of the madonna and child at its base.

“Mary herself carried the body of Our Lord … she is analogous to a chalice, she is a sacred vessel carrying the Lord. The chalice … shows us how we imitate Mary, [how to contain] the presence of Christ in us, to treasure and share,” Bauer said.

The reality that Jesus Christ is truly present — body, blood, soul and divinity — in the Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine is impossible to comprehend. This is the sacrifice the priest is invited to offer, on behalf of the people of God.

“One drop of the precious blood is more than enough [to redeem humanity]. … To participate in Communion is to participate in heaven here on earth to the extent that we can,” Bauer said.

Spanish roots

Father Ramil Fajardo from St. Clement Parish, 642 W. Deming Place, sees the chalice as a vessel that connects time and eternity.

“When I lift up the bread and the chalice both the doorway between heaven and earth is open and that doorway is Christ himself. It is that glimpse into heaven,” he said.

Like Bauer, Fajardo also has a unique chalice. It was crafted for him by an artisan in Spain, and given as a gift from his parents.

“Around the very bottom of the chalice … are the words from John 12:32, in Latin. ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.’ I think it is pretty evident that [Christ] was lifted up on the cross. The priest is also lifting the Lord back up when he lifts the chalice … drawing all men to Christ by the very blood of Christ,” Fajardo said.

Consistent thread

Father James Hurlbert, pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish, 1429 W. Wellington, has a chalice crafted by Montreal artist Gillies Beaugrand. His silver and gold chalice has been with him since his ordination in 1990.

“You do kind of develop an intimate relationship with your chalice, when you go from parish to parish, it is a thread of consistency throughout all of your priesthood. The chalice I celebrated my first Mass with is the chalice I use every day, it was the chalice blessed the day of my ordination,” Hurlbert said. “I suppose there is an emotional attachment to it.”

In a sense, the chalice is a sacred vessel that the priest is entrusted with, to keep safe the precious Blood of Christ. “There is a reason we don’t use a Dixie cup at the Mass. It has to be a worthy vessel,” Bauer said.

Fajardo agreed. “That is why precious metals are the norm. Chalices can last for centuries. Think of how many priests, how many Masses, how many souls were saved with Father Steve’s chalice. The sacrament of the Eucharist is a public work. … The chalice itself has to work; it is busy saving souls. …You need something that can stand the test of time.”