You may have noticed that most parish churches use beautiful and sometimes ornate gold or silver chalices for the celebration of Holy Mass. How would you feel if you happened to see your parish priest drinking his morning coffee from one of those beautiful chalices? I presume that you would be scandalized, and rightly so! It is not a bad thing to drink coffee in the morning. And yet we know instinctively that it would be wrong to use a chalice in this way. The chalice is meant for the celebration of Mass and that alone. In biblical language, the chalice is consecrated, set aside, for the service of God. It is dedicated to receiving and containing the wine destined to become the Blood of Christ. In fact, chalices used to be anointed with sacred Chrism as part of the blessing of a new chalice.
On the day of your baptism, you too were anointed with sacred Chrism – anointed a member of Christ Jesus, “Priest, Prophet, and King.” Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen once gave a reflection on this profound truth. I regret that I do not know the setting, but his address entitled “Old Pots” may be found on YouTube. I recommend it to you; it will be 30 minutes very well spent. In the address, the bishop reviews the Scriptures to present the biblical notion that we human beings are, and were made to be, vessels. We are, as he says, like “earthen pots” made for the “treasure of grace.”
Recently, we celebrated the great Solemnity of Pentecost, giving thanks to God for the outpouring of the Spirit. In a few days, we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus, in his deep love for us, desired to feed and care for us as the Lord had provided for his people in the desert. On the night before he died, he gave us this gift so that we might come to know the meaning of his death. His death was not defeat, but the perfect offering in trust and love to Our Heavenly Father for the sake of our redemption. His sacrifice becomes our offering as in the Mass he draws us to his heart and brings us to the Father. His blood washes us clean, his love transforms us, his manna feeds and sustains us.
When we gather this Sunday, I hope that we all pay close attention to the vessels used upon the altar – the beautiful chalice and the paten and ciborium that hold the bread of the Eucharistic sacrifice. I hope we understand that in a mystical sense, we are meant to be there in the chalice and upon the paten. St. Paul taught that we ourselves are to become one with the Eucharistic sacrifice (1 Cor 11:26). In your mind’s eye, place yourself, with all your fears, all your longing, all your love alongside the bread and wine that become Jesus’ Body and Blood. Be filled with his grace and mercy.
As we go forth from Mass, may we remember to “be the chalice!” For we too have been made for the things of God, consecrated in baptism and set aside to receive, carry, and share that precious treasure in earthen vessels.