Liturgy: Are Glass Chalices OK for Mass?

ROME, SEPT. 16, 2003 ( With this column ZENIT is launching a feature on common questions about liturgical norms and the proper way to celebrate the Mass. The questions are answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum. The feature will appear every other week.

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Q: May a celebrant at Mass use a glass chalice when consecrating the wine?

A: From the historical point of view, glass chalices were known in antiquity up to about the time of St. Gregory the Great (died 604), although most Christians preferred gold and silver vessels, even in time of persecution.

The most relevant document regarding this theme are numbers 328-332 of the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) whose adapted English version recently received approval from the Holy See and is now in force in the dioceses of the United States.

No. 328 states clearly: «Sacred vessels are to be made from precious metal.» Liturgical law, however, allows the bishops’ conference to propose other esteemed materials for use in sacred vessels.

The U.S. bishops have allowed for the use of other solid materials «that, according to the common estimation in each region, are precious, for example, ebony or other hard woods,» but, «provided that such materials are suited to sacred use and do not easily break or deteriorate.»

No. 330 has an added proviso that chalices and other vessels destined to serve as receptacles for the blood of Christ should have bowls of nonabsorbent material. These norms are topped off by No. 332, which gives some leeway to artistic taste with respect to the outward form of the sacred vessels, «provided each vessel is suited to the intended liturgical use and is clearly distinguishable from those intended for everyday use.»

So, can a priest celebrate with a glass chalice? The above-mentioned norms don’t allow for a crystal clear response as they do not specify very much at all. Glass is not widely regarded as a precious material; it generally seems more like a household product. Then again, a glass chalice might recall, for some parishioners, the pleasures of cognac.

Some cut crystals, however, especially if artistically and uniquely fashioned with liturgical motifs, might pass the quality test. It is certainly not porous and does not easily deteriorate. But most glass is easily breakable.

A rule of thumb in deciding if a material is suitably strong for use as a chalice could be called the «clumsy server test.» What happens if a server hits the rim of the chalice with a cruet? If the result is splinters, then the material should go to the rejection pile.

On the basis of these considerations I would say that in most cases glass is unsuitable material for use as a chalice, but the latitude provided in liturgical law does not allow for an outright prohibition.

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