What are the ampullas for celebrations for? Let’s find out about the history and use of two small and precious sacred objects, which are essential for Eucharist celebrations.
Ampullas for celebrations or ampullas for liturgy are those two small sacred vases that contain the water and the wine used during the Eucharist celebration. Usually, the wine ampulla is made of glass and is bigger, while the water ampulla is smaller; ampullsas are made of transparent glass so that their contents is immediately visible. In ancient times, when they were not made of glass, they used to mark them with a distinctive element, such as a pearl for the water ampulla and a garnet for the one used for the wine.
Usually, the deacon or the minister prepared ampullas for liturgy before the Mass, along with the other sacred objects, on a table, so that they could easily reach them when needed. They are usually placed on a tray next to the folded manuterge, the small cloth used for drying the hands.
The deacon or minister takes the ampullas from the table to the altar during the Offertory, as written in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, along with bread, chalice, pyx and all of the other necessary objects.
Why does the priest mix water and wine during the Offertory?
Once the ampullas for celebrations have been taken to the altar, the priest pours a few drops of water in the cup of wine. The habit of mixing wine and water dates back to the origins of Christian ceremonies, when they used a very alcoholic wine and was therefore necessary to mix it with water. Besides the practical aspects, such gesture of mixing water and wine contained in the ampullas for liturgy became the object of theological speculations.
First, there is a gospel reference to that (John 19,34), where water and wine both spill out from Christ’s chest, wounded by Longinus’ sword. In general, water defined human nature, wine defined divine nature. Clement of Alexandria, in the II century A.D., recognized the salvation that Christ’s blood can give to all those trusting in Him in the union of water and wine. In the III century A.D., Cyprian and the agnostics claimed that wine mixed with water recalled the image of Christ, who, ‘merging’ with the faithful, collected all of their sins upon him, creating an indissoluble and inseparable connection, just like the one between water and wine once they have been mixed.
In the Roman Missal, when the priest pours the water into the chalice, he utters the following words: ‘By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity’. Therefore, we can read the mixing of water and wine as a clear reference to Christ reincarnation, to His double divine and human nature showing themselves.
The water inside the ampulla must not be used for any other purpose, such as washing the hands. To purify his hands and the sacred vases, the priest will use water from a pitcher. The ampullas for liturgy must be cleaned very often, and their contents must be replaced frequently, in order to avoid the wine becoming sour.
History of the ampullas for liturgy
The word ampulla comes from the Latin word ampŭlla (diminutive for amphŏra, that is, “amphora”), meaning small amphora.
The ampullas for celebrations were first used in the Catholic ceremonial only in the XI century. Earlier, and since the origins of Christianism, faithful used to bring the wine for the Mass themselves in containers called amulae. The priest or deacon poured the contents of the amulae into the chalice from where everyone would drink later, mixing it with water; or else, they collected the wine in a bigger bowl, the hama, and then gave the container back to its owner. The wine collected were later used for consecrations, and then distributed to the poor of the community. The water that was mixed with wine was contained in the so called fons.
During the Würzburg Synod in 1298, it was established that the ampullas for celebrations must be made of glass, pewter, gold and silver, while there are no specific instructions concerning the shape they must have, as long as they are small enough. We can distinguish three main types of shapes:
flask, with a long neck whose upper edge is a bit opened to create a small spout, and no handle;
pitcher, with a rounded body placed on a foot, long neck with a regular or S-shaped spout, and a volute handle;
mug, usually with no foot, spout upper edge and handle.
Ampullas for celebrations are often adorned with decorative patterns, in particular wine shoots and grapes.
Look at the gallery!
The altar servers
The altar servers are in particular the Masters of Ceremonies. Their duty is to take the sacred objects to the altar after the Offertory, and take them back after the Communion.
Who are the altar servers? As we deepened in a previous article, they are the altar boysor ministers, who help the priest during Mass. They owe their name to the Latin verb ‘ministrare’, that is, ‘to serve’, and are recognized by the Conciliar Constitution as an integral part of the liturgical ministry. The altar servers take the objects with the following order from the sacristy to the altar: the chalice and the corporal (the square cloth that covers the chalice and that is later laid on the altar during the Offertory), the purifier (the small cloth used by the priest for drying his lips after drinking, and to clean chalice and paten), the paten (the plate containing the host), and then the ampullas for wine and water. Plus, they prepare the water and the purifier that the minister will use to wash his hands.
We underlined the importance of water in the Christian religion in many articles. And not just holy water, which renovates the value of our Baptism every day, and fosters a direct contact with Jesus. We must keep in mind that water is the element that determines life par excellence, because without that, men could not survive. Furthermore, it has the power to purify and wash away the dirt from our body, but in a spiritual meaning, also from our souls, washing it from all sins, first of all the original sin, washed away thanks to the water of the Baptism font. It is not a surprise then if it is so important and precious!