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Altar Vessels

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The chalice is the cup in which the wine and water of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is contained. It should be either of gold, or of silver with the cup gilt on the inside or it may have a cup only of silver, gilt on the inside; in which case the base and stem may be of any metal, provided it be solid, clean, and becoming (Miss. Rom., Ritus celebr., tit. i, n. 1). According to the Roman Missal (De Defectibus, tit. x, n. 1) it may be also made of stannum (an alloy of tin and lead), with the cup gilt on the inside, but authors permit this only by way of exception in case of extreme poverty. Chalices made of glass, wood, copper, or brass are not permitted, and cannot be consecrated by the bishop (Cong. Sac. Rit., 16 September, 1865). The base may be round, hexagonal, or octagonal, and should be so wide that there is no fear of the chalice tilting over. Near the middle of the stem, between the base and the cup, there should be a knob, in order that the chalice, especially after the Consecration, when the priest has his thumb and index finger joined together may be easily handled. This knob may be adorned with precious stones but care should be taken that they do not protrude so far as to hinder the easy handling of the chalice. The base and cup may be embellished with pictures or emblems, even in relief, but those on the cup should he about an inch below the lip of the chalice. The cup should be narrow at the bottom, and become gradually wider as it approaches the mouth. The rounded or turned-down lip is very unserviceable. The height is not determined, but it should be at least eight inches.


The paten is a vessel of the altar on which the altar-bread is offered in the Holy Sacrifice. It should be made of the same material as the chalice, and if it is made of anything else than gold it should be gilt on the concave side. Its edge ought to be thin and sharp, so that the particles on the corporal may be easily collected. It should not be embellished, at least on the concave side, in any manner; however, one small cross may be set near its edge to indicate the place on which it is to be kissed by the celebrant. Any sharp indentation on the upper side prevents its being easily cleaned. Those having a plain surface throughout, with the gradual slight depression towards the centre, are the most serviceable. By a decree of the Cong. Sac. Rit., 6 December, 1866, Pope Pius IX allowed chalices and patens to be used which were made of aluminium mixed with other metals in certain proportions given in the "Instructio", provided the whole surface was silvered, and the cup gilt on the inside, but this decree is expunged from the latest edition of the Decrees. Both the chalice and the paten, before they can be used at the Sacrifice of the Mass, must be consecrated by the ordinary, or by a bishop designated by him. Only in exceptional cases can a priest, who has received special faculties for doing so from the Holy See, consecrate them. By virtue of Facultates Extraordinariae C, fac. vi, the bishops of the United States may delegate a simple priest. The mere fact of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice with an unconsecrated chalice and paten can never supply the place of this rite, specially ordained by the Church.

Loss of consecration

The chalice loses its consecration when it becomes unfit for the purpose for which it is destined. Hence it becomes devoid of consecration: (1) when the slightest break or slit appears in the cup near the bottom. This is not the case if the break be near the upper part, so that without fear of spilling its contents consecration can take place in it. (2) When a very noticeable break appears in any part, so that it would be unbecoming to use it. (3) When the cup is separated from the stem in such a manner that the parts could not be joined except by an artificer, unless the cup was originally joined to the stem, and the stem to the base, by means of a screwing device. If, however, to the bottom of the cup a rod is firmly attached which passes through the stem to the base, under which is a nut used to hold the different parts together, then, if this rod should break, tutius videtur to reconsecrate it. (4) When it is regilt (Cong. Sac. Rit., 14 June, 1845). A chalice does not lose its consecration by the mere wearing away of the gilding, because the whole chalice is consecrated; but it becomes unfit for the purpose of consecrating in it, for the rubric prescribes that it be gilded on the inside. After being regilt, the celebrating of Mass with the chalice cannot supply its consecration (St. Lig., bk. VI, n. 380). The custom of desecrating a chalice, or other sacred vessel, by striking it with the hand or some instrument, or in any other manner, before giving it to a workman for regilding, is positively forbidden (Cong. Sac. Rit., 23 April, 1822). By making slight repairs upon the chalice or paten the consecration is not lost. The Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office in 1874 decided that a chalice loses its consecration if it is employed by heretics for any profane use, e.g. for a drinking cup at table. The paten loses its consecration: (1) When it is broken to such an extent that it becomes unfit for the purpose for which it is intended, e.g. if the break be so large that particles could fall through it. (2) When it becomes battered to such an extent that it would be unbecoming to use it. (3) When it is regilt. A chalice which becomes unserviceable is not to be sold, but should, if possible, be used for some sacred purpose.


The ciborium is an altar-vessel in which the consecrated particles for the Communion of the laity are kept. It need not necessarily be made of gold or silver, since the Roman Ritual (tit. cap. i, n. 5) merely prescribes that it be made ex solida decentique materia. It may even be made of copper provided it be gilt (Cong. Sac. Rit., 31 August, 1867). If made of any material other than gold, the inside of the cup must be gilt (Cong. Episc. et Reg., 26 July, 1588). It must not be made of ivory (ibid.) or glass (Cong. Sac. Rit., 30 January, 1880). Its base should be wide. its stem should have a knob, and it may be embellished and adorned like the chalice (vide supra). There should be a slight round elevation in the centre, at the bottom, in order to facilitate the taking out of the particles when only a few remain therein. The cover, which should fit tightly, may be of pyramidal or a ball shape, and should be surmounted by a cross. The ciborium ought to be at least seven inches high. It is not consecrated, but only blessed by the bishop or priest having the requisite faculties according to the form of the "Benedictio tabernaculi" (Rit. Rom., tit. iii, xxiii). As long as the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in it, the ciborium must be covered with a veil of precious material of white colour (Rit. Rom., tit. iv, 1, n. 5), which may be embroidered in gold and silver and have fringes about the edges. When it does not actually contain the Blessed Sacrament, this veil must be removed. Hence, after its purification at Mass, or when filled with new particles to be consecrated, it is placed on the altar, the veil cannot be put on it. Even from the Consecration to the Communion it remains covered. Just before placing it in the tabernacle after Communion the veil is placed on it. It is advisable to have two ciboria as the newly consecrated particles must never be mixed with those which were consecrated before. In places in which Holy Communion is carried solemnly to the sick, a smaller ciborium of the same style is used for this purpose. The little pyx used for carrying Holy Communion to the sick is made of the same material as that of which the ciborium is made. It must be gilt on the inside, the lower part should have a slight elevation in the centre, and it is blessed by the form "Benedictio tabernaculi" (Rit. Rom., tit. viii, xxiii). The ciborium and pyx lose their blessing in the same manner as the chalice loses its consecration.


The ostensorium (ostensory, monstrance) is a glass-framed shrine in which the Blessed Sacrament is publicly exposed. It may be of gold, silver, brass, or copper gilt (Cong. Sac. Rit., 31 August, 1867). The most appropriate form is that of the sun emitting its rays to all sides (Instructio Clement., 5). The base should be wide, and at a short distance above it there should be a knob for greater ease in handling. The ostensorium must be surmounted by a cross. (Cong. Sac. Rit., 11 September, 1847). It should not be embellished with small statues of saints, as these and the relics of saints are forbidden to be placed on the altar during solemn Benediction. At the sides of the receptacle in which the lunula is placed it is appropriate to have two statues representing adoring angels. In the middle of the Ostensorium here should be a receptacle of such a size that a large Host may be easily put into it; care must be taken that the Host does not touch the sides of this receptacle. On the front and back of this receptacle there should be a crystal, the one on the back opening like a door, when closed, the latter must fit tightly. The circumference of this receptacle must either be of gold or, if of other material, it should be gilt and so smooth and polished that any particle that may fall from the Host will be easily detected and removed. The lunula must be inserted and recovered without difficulty, hence the need for keeping it in an upright position should be construed with this end in view. The ostensorium need not necessarily be blessed, but it is better that it should be. The form "Benedictio tabernaculi" (Rit. Rom., tit. viii, xxiii) or the form "Benedictio ostensorii" (Rit. Rom., in Appendice) may be used. When carried to and from the altar it ought to be covered with a white veil.

The lunula (lunette) is made of the same material as the ostensorium. If it be made of any material other than gold, it must be gilded (Cong. Sac. Rit., 31 August, 1867). In form it may be either of two crescents or of two crystals encased in metal. If two crescents be used, the arrangement should be such that they can be separated and cleaned. Two stationary crescents, between which the Sacred Host is pressed, are, for obvious reasons, not serviceable. If two crystals are used it is necessary that they be so arranged that the Sacred Host does not in any way touch the glass (Cong. Sac. Rit., 14 January, 1898). The ostensorium, provided it contains the Blessed Sacrament, may be placed in the tabernacle, but then it should be covered with a white silk veil. (Recent authors say that since the ostensorium is intended merely ad monstrandam and not ad asservanduam SS. Eucharistiam it should not be placed in the tabernacle.) When the Blessed Sacrament is taken out of the ostensorium after Benediction it may or may not be removed from the lunula. If it is removed it should, before being placed in the tabernacle, be enclosed in a receptacle, called the repository (custodia, repositorium, capsula), which is made like the pyx, used in carrying Holy Communion to the sick, but larger, and may have a base with a very short stem. If the Blessed Sacrament be allowed to remain in the crescent-shaped lunula both It and the lunula may be placed in the same kind of receptacle, or in one specially made for this purpose, having a device at the bottom for keeping the Sacred Host in an upright position. The latter may have a base and short stem, and a door, which fits tightly, on the back part, through which the lunula is inserted. This receptacle is made throughout of silver or of other material, gilt on the inside, smooth and polished, and surmounted by a cross. No corporal is placed in it. If the lunula be made of two crystals, encased in metal, it may, when containing the Blessed Sacrament, be placed in the tabernacle without enclosing it in a custodia. If the host be placed before the Consecration in the lunula made of two crystals, the latter must be opened before the words of Consecration are pronounced. The lunula and custodia are blessed with the form "Benedictio Tabernaculi" (Rit. Rom., tit. viii, xxiii) by a bishop or by a priest having the faculty. They lose their blessing when they are regilt, or when they become unfit for the use for which they are intended. All the sacred vessels, when not actually containing the Blessed Sacrament, should be placed in an iron safe, or other secure place, in the sacristy, so as to be safeguarded against robbery or profanation of any kind. Each ought to be placed in its own case or covered with a separate veil, for protection against dust and dampness.

About this page

APA citation. Schulte, A.J. (1907). Altar Vessels. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Schulte, Augustin Joseph. "Altar Vessels." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael C. Tinkler.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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