Liturgical Glossary Part 1


After a recent incident that left me amazed and amused, I think I would have to agree with those people who feel that there has been a loss of ecclesial literacy in recent decades.
I was present when the parish co-ordinator of ministers to the sick asked one of them if she had returned the pyx. With a look of utter confusion on her face, the minister replied that she had been visiting the sick, not assisting with the working bee!
In this ‘Liturgy Lines’ column and the next, I will list some of the terms used in liturgy - this week for the various vessels. It is helpful for all who participate in liturgy, not just those who prepare and lead it, to know our liturgical vocabulary.
Among the requisites for the celebration of the Mass, the sacred vessels are held in special honour, especially the chalice and paten, in which the bread and wine are offered and consecrated, and from which they are consumed. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal 2000 # 327, emphasis added)
The chalice is the cup used for the wine at Mass and the paten is the plate used for the bread. They must be made of non-porous materials of suitable dignity. The fact that these vessels have special honour is reflected in the fact that they are dedicated with a special blessing before use.
The chalice and paten are placed on a corporal, a square of white linen cloth that is spread out on the altar.
A ciborium (the ‘c’ is pronounced as an ‘s’) is the vessel in which hosts that have been consecrated at Mass are reserved in the tabernacle. It is usually shaped like a chalice with a lid. The word ciborium derives from the Greek kiborion which described a cup shaped vessel made from the lotus seed.
A monstrance is the container that is used to hold the Blessed Sacrament when it is exposed for veneration. It is usually a decorative metal vessel with a glass- windowed central section, called a lunette, for viewing the host. When the practice of Eucharistic adoration began in the late Middle Ages, the host was venerated in a closed ciborium. It first appeared in its present form in the 16th century.
Most people have cruets in their kitchen, small bottles for vinegar and oil, or other condiments. In the past, the water and wine for the Eucharist were brought to the altar in similar matching glass containers. Now that communion under both kinds for all the faithful is encouraged, larger vessels for the wine are needed, but a cruet of water is still used for the water that is added to the wine during the preparation of the gifts.
A pyx is not a tool for digging, as the confused special minister imagined, but a small metal container that holds consecrated hosts for communion to the sick. The term is also used for the vessel in which the large host for exposition is kept in the tabernacle. The word comes from the Greek for a boxwood vessel.
A thurible or censer is the container for the ceremonial burning of incense. It is often covered and suspended on chains so that it can be swung.

Elizabeth Harrington