The Roman Missal: The Institution Narrative (Part II)

One of the traditions when a priest is ordained is that he receives a chalice for the celebration of his First Mass.  In my case, this involved a bit of adventure.  My family and I decided to take a trip to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Ground Zero, and (grudgingly) Yankee Stadium, but the main purpose of our trip was to look at chalices from a company there.

I don’t know if too many people have seen my chalice close up, but it is truly a blessing to be able to celebrate Mass with such a beautiful chalice.  It is decorated with floral engravings and small icons of the Holy Family, and I was even able to mount the stones from my grandmothers’ engagement rings on the cross at the base of the chalice.  One of the most beautiful aspects, however, is that around the lip of the chalice are inscribed the Words of Institution in Latin: “Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei”, in English, “This is the chalice of my blood.”  Trust me, it’s not there so I can remember my lines!

We discussed last time about the importance of these words in the celebration of Mass.  While there aren’t many changes to the Words of Institution for the Body of Christ, there are some significant changes for the Blood of Christ.  One of the primary changes is the replacement of the word “cup” with the word “chalice”.  The primary reason for this change is because “chalice” is a better translation of the Latin word “calix”.  They even look similar, right?  But there is more to it than translation.

We use cups all the time.  I drink from a cup at the bathroom sink in the morning in front of my mirror.  You drink from a paper cup at the water cooler in the gym or at work, simply throwing it away when finished.  Your children might have thrown cups of juice all over the floor on several occasions.  A cup is something very general, and in a sense, pretty mundane.  But a chalice is a special kind of cup.  It is one set aside for a noble and sacred purpose.  You wouldn’t drink a refreshing Coca-Cola from a chalice because it would just seem wrong!

The instruction for Mass makes it pretty clear that chalices must be made of precious metal, or at least lined with it where the Blood of Christ is held.  Many chalices have beautiful and ornate decorations as well.  Some might wonder why something so valuable would be used here instead of the money given to the poor.  But remember, Judas asked the same question!  Just as the woman in the Gospel used her most expensive perfume to anoint Jesus (Matthew 26:6-13), so we offer our best to Christ.  Certainly a chalice is valuable because of its materials, but that is irrelevant.  A chalice is only really valuable because of what it holds.

In changing the English word from “cup” to “chalice”, the Church his helping us to foster reverence for the actions going on at this point in the Mass.  When we go to Mass, are we aware of the sacredness and importance of what’s going on?  Tune in next week when we run into one of the most noticeable changes in the new translation!


By the way, if anyone ever wants to see my chalice, stop by and let me know, and I’d be happy to show you!

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