During the first week of November, Catholics in the United States celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week, a weeklong celebration “dedicated to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This year from Nov. 3-9, the USCCB is encouraging parishioners to pray for vocations in accordance with the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the teachings of popes since the council.
Among the programs promoted by the USCCB is the Chalice Program, which serves as a visible reminder for families to pray for vocations.
In an effort to encourage the laity to pray for vocations, Serra Atlanta, a group that supports vocations in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, launched the Chalice Program, or “the Elijah Cup,” through which parish members take home a special chalice for a week at a time to pray for vocations. The program is named for the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath in which he assured her that if she fed him during a time of drought and famine, “The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth” (1 Kgs 17:14). Since its launch, the program has spread to many parishes of the archdiocese — and parishes around the country.
Each weekend at Mass, an individual or family is selected to receive a chalice bag and special blessing. The bag contains a blessed chalice, a poster of seminarians, a prayer card and paper to write notes of encouragement to seminarians, priests, deacons and religious. The individual or family takes the chalice home to put in a place of honor for the week. They pray for vocations during that time and return the chalice the following weekend for someone else to take home.
“It not only helps the mission of the Church with prayers for vocations,” said Ed Schafer, a member of Serra Atlanta since 2005, “but as we hand out the chalice at Sunday Masses, it reminds the whole congregation about the importance of vocations and the need to support them.”
Schafer coordinates the Elijah Cup program at his parish, St. Joseph Church in Marietta, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb. He started the program at his parish more than a decade ago.
Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Land O’ Lakes, Florida, in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, has had the Elijah Cup program in its parish for nearly a decade. It has resulted in several men going on to the priesthood, said Connie Whittington, director of children’s ministries for the parish. “Our good results demonstrate how important prayer is to vocations,” Whittington said.
Jeff Stephanz coordinates the take-home chalice program for his parish, Prince of Peace Church in Sun City Center, Florida, also in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. His family has taken home the chalice many times in past years, and he’s seen direct results. His son, Jonathan, was ordained a priest for the diocese in 2016 and now serves as both a diocesan parochial vicar and a high school chaplain. “There’s no doubt in my mind that our prayers contributed to Jonathan’s vocation,” Stephanz said.
Prince of Peace is a parish made up of many retirees, Stephanz said, who “receive the chalice with great joy” and know the importance of praying for vocations. At the conclusion of Sunday Mass, when individuals or couples receive the chalice from the priest, Stephanz noted, the congregation applauds. “It’s a wonderful reminder that we need to pray for vocations.”
Schafer noted that Serra Atlanta has launched a new variation of the Elijah Cup — a traveling crucifix to promote prayers for vocations in the archdiocese’s schools. The organization purchased and distributed crucifixes to each of the archdiocese’s schools; the plan is to have them rotate from classroom to classroom for a week at a time throughout the 2019-20 school year.
“As with the Elijah Cup, we want people to appreciate and spiritually support vocations, as well as encourage our young people to consider giving their lives to Christ in the priesthood and religious life,” Schafer said.
Jim Graves writes from California.