Andrea D’Angelo, processing archivist with the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, with some of the items available to parishes through the new SOX — Sacred Objects Exchange. Photo By Ruane Remy.

Dusting off sacred objects

By 
  • April 6, 2014

TORONTO - When a chalice has been tarnished by the years or a monstrance set aside due to the changing tides of style, it will no longer need to spend the rest of its shelf life on an actual shelf. The Sacred Objects Exchange, a new initiative in the Archdiocese of Toronto, is bringing these valued liturgical items out of retirement.

The exchange, or SOX, is an initiative run by the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto and was developed in partnership with the archdiocese’s Spiritual Affairs and Special Projects offices. The program allows parishes and religious communities to donate to the exchange ecclesiastical items — chalices, tabernacles, vestments, relics, statues and art — that are no longer in use.

“As far as we know, it’s the first one of its kind in Canada and potentially North America,” said Matthew Sanders, Special Projects Manager in the archdiocese’s Office of the Moderator of the Curia. “The Sacred Objects Exchange is meant to centralize items that are in parishes and hold them collectively.”

SOX takes ownership of the items on behalf of the archdiocese and makes them available on permanent loan to parishes, religious orders, chaplaincies and lay movements recognized by the archdiocese. The borrowing parish has the option to pay for the item to be restored, though restoration is not mandatory, and parishes in financial need can petition for funds to cover the restoration. For as long as the borrowing community needs the item, it can keep it. If no longer required, the item can be returned to the exchange so that another community can put it to good use.

“There are some parishes that have sacred objects, but they’re not using them, and there are other parishes that need sacred objects but can’t afford them,” said Sanders on the origin of the exchange. “How can we bring together these two communities and put the stuff in the right hands?”

Among the items waiting for a new home is a monstrance donated by the Cardinal Flahiff Centre at the University of St. Michael’s College. Originally from France, its unique flare of ruby-like grape clusters and sunburst design is sure to be embraced in its new home. The exchange has also compiled sacred objects with more traditional designs from parishes such as St. Brigid’s and St. Peter’s.

The first and only item to leave the hands of the exchange to date is a crucifix from the Catholic Pastoral Centre that is on long-term loan to CTV for Sunday TV Masses.

Sanders, when thinking of the right hands to administer the SOX project, turned to Marc Lerman, director of archives. As an archivist, Lerman values history and tries to preserve the sacred patrimony of the Church. In his 30-year career, he has received numerous requests from religious orders and missions in Canada asking for liturgical objects. For years, he has wanted to establish storage space to preserve, collect and reuse such sacred items. Even Pope John Paul II encouraged dioceses to inventory and catalogue its sacred objects as cultural heritage; the late pontiff established the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church in 1993. And with priests encouraged to dig for sacred objects in the Archdiocese of Toronto, the exchange may discover historical treasure.

Running the exchange is a “natural fit” for archives, said Andrea D’Angelo, processing archivist. It’s D’Angelo’s job to collect and determine which items are in good enough condition to enter the exchange. As SOX co-ordinator, she ensures the sacred objects go to organizations that will use them as they were intended.

Items that have already passed through her hands on the way to the exchange holding facility include chalices, patens, ciboria, monstrances, a set of sanctus bells, pyxes, reliquaries, incense boats, chasubles, stoles and albs. The oldest item to date is from the 1920s.

Old-school black chasubles are making a comeback, said D’Angelo. She doesn’t expect those to stick around the exchange for long.

Many of the chalices and patens in the exchange were given to priests by parishioners and organizations when priests were ordained or to honour their service to the community and are stored when the priest passes on.

“The SOX provides an opportunity for such sacred objects to be made use of once again, which I feel is a beautiful way of honouring both the priest’s life as well as those communities that generously donated them,” Sanders said.

D’Angelo hopes the exchange will soon receive artwork and relics.

“Oftentimes, parishes will have relics that are in drawers. Really relics should be distributed to parishes who want to venerate them,” she said.

There has been a renewed interest in “more dramatic pieces, more dramatic altar candles,” said Sanders, items more common in the past that may become available through the exchange. Today, new versions of such historic items would be sold at a premium. The exchange “makes these objects, which would be inaccessible to most, accessible,” he said.

There can be up to 75-per-cent savings in having SOX inventory restored compared to purchasing an item new, said Sanders. Some of the sacred objects are gold plated and made of silver or brass with a higher level of detail and craftsmanship. Buying such items today could cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.

“Many of the objects in the SOX were painstakingly crafted by artisans who surely considered it a rare privilege to be able to use their gifts to craft sacred objects that would be used to honour God, serve the community and enrich the pious life of the faithful,” said Sanders. “The SOX provides an opportunity to restore and make available these sacred treasures once more, which in a way connects us to our past and the faithful who worked so tirelessly to ensure we might benefit from such sacred objects today, as they once did.”

Beauty is a tool of evangelization, said Sanders.

“Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke at length about the importance of beauty in the New Evangelization. Beauty has the universal power to deeply move and call people to a sense of awe and wonder… And so, the SOX helps foster the important role beautiful sacred objects can play in helping to direct peoples’ attention to the wonderful inspiration of beauty itself, which we know as Catholics is God.”

The SOX stock is housed within the diocese. The exchange is in possession of mainly liturgical items used in Mass and borrowers can browse current inventory, request to borrow an item and request a restoration quote, all online. The link to the SOX site will be available on the archives home page, www.archives-archtoronto.org.

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