Catholic Ceremonies – The Vessels, Linens, Bread and Wine of the Sacrifice

the monstrance and Catholic Mass paraphernalia photographed by Jorge Royan in 2008; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsVessels of the Sacrifice

The Chalice and the Paten

To seal an alliance the ancients at the end of the banquet caused to be passed from one to another of the guests a cup to which each touched his lips. Our Lord followed this custom at the last supper. The chalice used at the altar is made upon the model of the one from which Jesus Christ drank on the eve of His death. While the chalice receives the blood of Jesus Christ, the paten is reserved for His divine body. It is a large plate, of gold or silver like the chalice, but always golden in that portion which comes in contact with the holy species. Like the chalice, before it is used in the sacred mysteries it is consecrated by chrism, and special prayers said by the bishop. Let us receive from the gold, the holy chrism, and the particular benediction of the prelate given to those vessels upon which the Holy of holies rests but an instant the lesson which the Church teaches us. lu communion our hearts become living chalices; our tongue is another paten upon which the priest lays Jesus Christ. May Our Lord always find 5ur tongue and heart bright with the gold of charity; let us consecrate this mystical chalice and paten with the unction of Christian sweetness and the perfume of prayer.

The Ciborium

Above the primitive altars was raised a canopy held up by columns, the base resting on the pavement of the sanctuary. Silken curtains adorned the space between these columns, which were drawn during a part of the holy mysteries, the priest finding himself then completely concealed from the gaze of the people, as if in a mysterious cloud. This top of the altar received, because of its shape, the name of ciborium, a kind of cup in use among the Egyptians; the upper part in fact resembled a reversed cup; the whole was surmounted by a cross. In the middle of these ciboriums were hung doves of gold or silver, upon which the host was laid. Toward the twelfth century the ciboriums were done away with; they were replaced by little domes built in the middle of the altar, held up by four columns; they received the vessels containing the consecrated species, which ceased to be suspended, as they had been formerly. The name of ciborium passed then to the vessel itself; the upper part, half spherical and surmounted by a cross, and also the curtains of velvet or silk hung around it, recalls the ancient ciborium.

Sacred Linens

The corporal is the linen upon which the priest places the chalice and the host during the Mass. The name shroud, which it formerly bore, and the white linen of which it is made, remind us of the winding-sheet used at the burial of Our Saviour. The learned author of the Rational says that the reason it is spread out upon the altar is because the winding-sheet of Our Lord was found unrolled in the tomb.

The burse, in which the corporal is enclosed after the Mass, was not known to the early Church.

The purificator is the linen which the priest uses to dry his fingers and lips, as well as the chalice, after the communion. The Greeks use a sponge, in memory of the one filled with gall which the soldier presented to Our Saviour.

The pall is the white linen, most frequently covering a card, which the priest lays over the chalice during Mass to preserve the precious blood which it contains from all accident.

The veil is not classed among the sacred linens. We will speak of it here because the matters of which we treat lead us to do so. Up to the time of the offertory it covers the chalice, the paten, and the pall; then it is raised, to recall to us the stupidity and ignorance veiling the great mystery of the Eucharist from the eyes of the apostles. Our Lord announced it to them often, but their faith remained wavering and blind; only at the last supper was this darkness completely dispelled.

The finger-towel is the linen with which the priest dries his fingers at the lavabo. It represents that other white linen mentioned in the Gospel used at the washing of feet before the last supper.

The Bread and Wine of the Sacrifice


The circular form was very early adopted for the eucharistic bread; the circle being the emblem of infinity, this form was peculiarly suitable to Him Who has no beginning and no end.

The whiteness of the sacramental bread should be to us an image of the sanctity of the Saviour, and a reflection of His glory.

The Latin Church uses the bread of the azyme, or un-leavened bread, and this for two reasons. In the first place, she wishes to imitate Our Lord, Who used this kind of bread in instituting the new Pasch; the Jewish law forbidding, under pain of death, to have leavened bread in the house during the paschal time. (Exodus 12:15) In the second place leaven was considered a sign of corruption, as Saint Paul distinctly states (1st Corinthians 5:6), and so leavened bread would not be suitable for consecration of the virginal body of Jesus Christ. What care on the part of the Church to withdraw from the Holy of holies, in the sacrament of His love, even the shadow of that which could recall sin! May we all learn in this elevated school the respect due to Jesus Christ.


Ecclesiastical history teaches us that the fruit of certain renowned vineyards was reserved for the service of the altar. For making the sacrificial wine the Greeks chose the fairest and purest of the grapes; they were not trodden by the feet, but the hands were used to express the juice.

Red wine has always been preferred by the Church as its color represents better the mystery wrought by the words of consecration. Besides which it cannot be mistaken for water, and so by its use many mistakes are avoided. It was principally this reason which called forth in several councils the prohibition of white wine for the Mass. Now it is permitted to use either.

– text taken from Catholic Ceremonies and Explanation of the Ecclesiastical Year, by Father Alfred Durand, published by Benziger Brothers, 1910; it has the Imprimatur of +Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan, New York, 23 July 1896