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Chalice, Paten, and Veil


The chalice and paten are vessels used in the Eucharistic liturgy; the veil, a covering for them. This article treats of their development and use.

The most essential of all the liturgical vessels is the chalice in which the wine at Mass is consecrated. It is the only vessel mentioned in all four scriptural accounts of the institution of the Eucharist. Early chalices were akin to the drinking vessels normally in use and were distinguished from these only by ornamentation. They were made from any metal, and chalices of glass, wood, or horn were not unknown; since the 9th century, however, only precious metals have been used. Besides the chalice there have existed at various times in history the calix ministerialis, a cup without a base and with two handles, used for giving communion to the faithful; and also the calix offertorialis, which was a larger form of the same shape, into which the faithful poured their contributions of wine at the Offertory procession. By the 9th century these chalices for the faithful had fallen into disuse; there remained only the priest's chalice, to which a base was added. The bowl became hemispherical; next a stem was introduced between bowl and base; then a node (knob) was made in the middle of the stem. During the Middle Ages the base became large, the bowl smaller, eggshaped, and (later) conical. Under baroque influence the base was made larger still, the node pear-shaped, the cup shaped like a lily. Decorations of engraved patterns on early chalices gradually became more complicated by the 8th century and sometimes included texts on the base or around the bowl. Later decorations became even more lavish, often incorporating inlaid precious stones, pearls, and enameled medallions. The modern chalice, under the influence of functional design, concentrates on gracefulness of line, balance of proportion, and excellence of material rather than applied ornament, and its shape is inspired chiefly by forms in vogue during the 1st millennium. It is prescribed that the cup be of gold, of silver, or even of tin, but goldplated within; its neck should be designed in a way that does not impede handling by the priest, and its base, wide enough to ensure relative stability.

Until the Middle Ages it was customary for each church to have but one chalice; since Masses have become more numerous, most churches have several chalices, and a great many priests possess their own.

The paten is a shallow plate on which the large host rests at times both before and after consecration. It may be of gold or silver, gilt on the concave surface. Originally, a paten was a very large dish, sometimes of metal but often of wood, from which the Eucharist was distributed to the faithful in the days when unleavened bread was in use. By the 9th century, when Communion of the faithful had become infrequent, the paten was reduced in size and in time assumed its present form.

The veil covering the chalice and paten as they are carried to the altar is, at least in the Latin rite, of comparatively recent origin. Not until 1570 was it prescribed for the Roman Rite. Since the reforms of Vatican II, its use is now optional.

Bibliography: j. braun, Das christliche Altargerät in seinergeschichtlichen. Entwicklung (Munich 1932). h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 190753) 2.2:15951645. j. baudot, ibid. 164651. v. h. elbern, Der eucharistiche Kelch im frühen Mittelalter (Düsseldorf 1961). m. righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, 4 v. (Milan): v.1 (2d ed. 1950) 1:46171.

[c. w. howell/eds.]

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