Deacons and the chalice: a mystery of faith

Deacons and the chalice: a mystery of faith January 31, 2011

That’s how Taylor Marshall describes it, discussing that topic over on his blog.

A snip:

The Catholic Church has traditionally seen deacons as necessarily chaste and continent because they touch the sacred chalice. I would like to argue that the sacred chalice is itself “the mystery of faith” and this has become forgotten in modern liturgics.

One difficulty in the post-Vatican 2 liturgy, now recognized by many liturgists, was the divorce of the “mysterium fidei” from the words of consecration in the missal of His Holiness Pope Paul VI. Prior to 1970, the consecration of the chalice was as such:

Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei,
novi et aeterni testamenti:
mysterium fidei:
qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur
in remissionem peccatorum.

This is the chalice of my Blood
of the New and Eternal Testament
the Mystery of Faith
which is poured out for you and for many
for the remission of sins.

The place of “mysterium fidei” in the consecration of the chalice goes back to the 600s at least. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the words “mysterium fidei” should be preserved in the consecration of the chalice, just after the word “testimenti” (cf. STh III, q. 78, a. 3; Super I Cor, c. 11, v. 25).

By the way, nobody here (especially not I) claims that the consecration is invalid without “mysterium fidei.” Of course, all Novus Ordo Masses are valid. Eastern Eucharists are also valid, even though they also lack what the words “mystery of faith” or τὸ μυστήριον τῆς πίστεως. We’re just talking about liturgy and tradition here, not sacramental validity.

The phrase “mystery of faith” was not supposed to be an opportunity to recite an affirmation of the Faith (e.g. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”)

Previously, the “mystery of faith” is the chalice of the Precious Blood itself which is the New and Everlasting Covenant of Christ. It’s the Blood of Christ in particular that is our “mystery of faith” – not words that we recite.

Notably, the only time the phrase “mystery of faith” (Vulgate: mysterium fidei, Greek: τὸ μυστήριον τῆς πίστεως) appears in the pages of Sacred Scripture is at 1 Timothy 3:8-9:

“Deacons in like manner: chaste, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre: Holding the Mystery of Faith in a pure conscience.”

Deacons in all rites and traditions, East and West, are associated with the chalice in the liturgy. Deacons literally “hold the Mystery of Faith” at the minor elevation of the Holy Mass. Whether or not Saint Paul intended to denote the Eucharistic chalice by the words “mystery of faith” in 1 Tim 3:8-9, I suspect that the subsequent tradition had a gut feeling that deacons, the mystery of faith, and the chalice go together as an intact unity.

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4 responses to “Deacons and the chalice: a mystery of faith”

  1. I honestly do not understand some concepts that are seeming to be revived among some Catholics concerning the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.

    Deacons/priests continent because they touch the chalice or offer Holy Mass? Communion on the tongue so as not to be touched my our hands? Since when did our Gastro-Intestinal tracts become holy enough to contain the Blessed Sacrament while our hands are not?

    I can see using special care and ceremony to emphasize the awesomeness of the Eucharist. I can even see preference for Communion on the tongue as a way of reminding our senses that what we see is not what it is, but that this is the Bread of Angels. So I am not againts special actions that proclaim in body language the awesome mystery we are part of.

    But so often it seems that the human body and human actions somehow “taint” Our Lord. I cannot help but wonder if this is a remnant of a kind of dualism that every so often rears its heard in Church history.

  2. Good points, Dante.

    I’m reminded of what a priest once said — with tongue firmly planted in cheek — about being overly scrupulous in dealing with fragments of the body of Christ.

    “If Jesus was THAT concerned about disrespecting the sacred species,” this priest said, “he would have consecrated jelly beans at the last supper.”

    That’s not to say that we treat the body of Christ casually. Far from it. But I do know parishioners who see every bit of white dust on the floor as being a sacred particle, and worry about it being profaned. As I was finishing communion one Sunday, a woman came to me excitedly, brandishing a small piece of host. “Here,” she whispered, “I found this on the floor and didn’t know what to do with it.” I thanked her and consumed it on my way back to the tabernacle.

    It was a piece of paper.

  3. Whether or not Saint Paul intended to denote the Eucharistic chalice by the words “mystery of faith” in 1 Tim 3:8-9, I suspect that the subsequent tradition

    The tradition may have received an overdue tweaking post-council because the same passage which plainly mentions ordinary wine is unlikely to contain also an obscure reference to sacramental wine.

    Marshall’s argument – does he even offer one? – is not compelling.

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