What Is a Chalice and Paten?

Updated July 19, 2017

The Catholic catechism describes the sacrament of Holy Eucharist (Communion) as "the source and summit of the Christian life." Because of its significance, special altar vessels are used. The chalice (cup) and paten (plate) hold the bread and wine that Catholics believe become Jesus Christ's body and blood during the sacrament celebrated at Mass.


According to the Catholic Church, the first chalice and paten were used at the Last Supper when Jesus and his apostles observed the Jewish Passover. During this celebration, Christ identified the bread and wine as his body and blood and asked his followers to observe the ritual in his memory (Luke 22:14-19).

Holy Grail

The legendary search for the original altar vessels (the Holy Grail) captured the imagination of Christians and non-Christians alike, from the 13th century chronicler Helinandus to the popular 1989 Indiana Jones film. However, according to the "Catholic Encyclopedia," most "clerical writers do not mention the Grail and the Church ignored the legend completely."


Because of their sacred nature, the Catholic Church requires chalices and patens to contain precious metals. Their ascetic beauty and ornamentation remind believers of spiritual matters and are much admired by art lovers worldwide, especially the highly ornamented Ardagh and Tassilo medieval chalices.

Ordination Gifts

Bishops present each priest with these altar vessels at ordination saying, "accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross."

Other Christians

The Orthodox and Anglican denominations also use chalices and patens in their Holy Communion services.

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About the Author

Mary Lovee Varni specializes in nonprofit communication. She has over 14 years experience in Catholic ministry, real estate education and the electrical distribution fields. Varni's writing has appeared in "YOU! Magazine," the "Hawaii Catholic Herald," "The Electricial Distributor Magazine" and Express Schools curriculum. Varni has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Culver-Stockton College.