Chinese Church Vessels and Ornaments

A couple of years ago I commented briefly that Chinese communion vessels might be modelled after the sacrificial vessels of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Having looked into the matter a little, I think I can make some specific recommendations for the ornaments of the Chinese church.

Often, if one mixes the chalice of wine (a widespread and catholic usage in the Church, though in my opinion not everywhere necessary), there is need for a pair of cruets containing wine and water. For this purpose, in a Chinese church, one might use hú (壺):

Once the wine and water are mixed, we come to other vessels. Particularly if the wine is to be mixed, it is clear that the wine and the water must be mixed in a third vessel, a flagon. Here is a beautiful zūn (尊) from the Han dynasty, inlaid with gold and silver:

Easily one could imagine, instead of a rhinoceros, a ram to represent the Lamb of God, harking back to Abraham’s use of a ram instead of his own son. It would be an admirable flagon.

The jué (爵) was either used to serve wine in cups or else directly drunk from. It is roughly equivalent, therefore, to the chalice.

The jué’s distinctive shape and importance in archæological finds from early dynasties ensures that the historically informed will see the connexion between the representative sacrifice of today and the sacrifices of ancient times. It might be placed on top of a bì (璧), representing heaven in its circular form:

Ritual Bi

The dragons running the length of this and other bì might be taken to represent the cherubim and seraphim who praise the Lord unceasingly in heaven. A man’s blood is also his spirit, and above all the angels is the Holy Spirit, who by faith dwells within the believer and joins him to heaven in the blood of Christ. And by the most precious blood of Christ our souls are washed.

The guĭ (簋), formerly used for holding and serving cooked grain, can serve as the paten:

This paten might be placed on top of a cóng (琮), representing earth united with heaven by inscribing a circle within a square:


The representation of earth joined to heaven has eschatological significance, for it suggests the New Jerusalem, which in the vision of St John comes down from heaven to earth. For this is the consummation of human flesh, that in the flesh of Christ it should be made incorruptible, and its bodies be the bodies of citizens in the perfect city of God. For in the Lord’s Supper our sinful bodies are made clean by the body of Christ.

It would be remiss to omit mention of the famous dĭng (鼎), once used to cook and store sacrificial meat. Since the sacrifice of meat is no longer necessary in Christian worship, today it might be see use mainly as an incense burner, a use that might have a biblical case for it.



One response to “Chinese Church Vessels and Ornaments

  1. Road to Servitude

    Reblogged this on jonathan1723 and commented:

    Encounter between Christian ritual and Shang/Zhou


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