Chalice or cup?

Here's a portion of an interesting article in the current issue of Commonweal by John R. Donahue, SJ on the new translation of the Roman Missal.  Donahue looks at the new translation's rendering as chalice what we'd become accustomed to understanding as cup.
In the Greek original of all the New Testament accounts of the Last Supper, after the blessing of the bread, Jesus takes a cup (potērion) and says that this is the blood of the new covenant (Mark and Matthew), or “this cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke) and “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:25). Though Hellenistic Greek had a word—kylix (the basis of the Latin calix)—that suggests a larger ceremonial vessel often used in religious rites, the New Testament authors chose potērion, the normal term for an ordinary drinking cup in daily life.

When St. Jerome translated the New Testament from Greek to Latin he chose the Latin term calix (from which “chalice” derives) to translate potērion, but he did not intend it to mean a liturgical vessel. In both the secular Latin of the time and in Jerome’s translation of the Scriptures, the term calix meant primarily an ordinary drinking cup. In Matt 10:42 Jesus says, “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” While the original Greek has potērion for “cup” of cold water, the Latin translation reads “calicem aquae frigidae.” Given the context it would be absurd to translate this “a chalice of cold water.” Similarly, to translate “my cup overflows” in Psalm 23:5 (Vulgate 22:5) as “my chalice overflows” would be ludicrous.
Read the complete article here.
Response to the new missal from the kind of perspective Donahue offers here is important for understanding and critiquing what is now the prayer of the Church in the English speaking world.

Father John Donahue, SJ was for many years Professor of New Testament at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA, and was the first Raymond E. Brown Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore.  He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.  He is author of The Gospel in Parable: Metaphor, Narrative and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels, co-author with Daniel Harrington, S.J. of The Gospel of Mark.


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  1. Thus?

    I mean what's the point of writing things like this and quoting them? Does anybody seriously think we're going to get a new translation anytime soon? If not, what good does it do the Church to stir up discontent?

  2. Fr. Fleming,

    Are you sure it is important to critique the new translation at this point? It has been overwhelmingly studied and approved, for good and logical reasons. Somehow revisiting the subject seems less than productive. The new translation should be adopted with charity; the job of pastors is to lead their people to celebrate in the manner deemed most worthy by the Church.

    (And of course it is forbidden in canon law to alter, add or subtract to the sacred liturgy.)


  3. The new translation, intended in large measure to correct problems in the previous translation, has indeed been studied and found to be lacking in many ways - including failing to be always faithful to Liturgiam Authenticam.

    I do expect that there will be yet another new translation (and more after that one) but I have no way of knowing when that will happen.

    And so it was for those who critiqued the previous translation from its first days and did so (sometimes less than charitably) for some 40 years without knowing at what point a new translation would finally be in hand.

    I know from my own experience that it's entirely possible to be critical of the new translation while at the same time faithfully using it in the liturgy.

    To the best of my knowledge, I have not, even inadvertently, used cup instead of chalice since the new translation went into effect. Fidelity to the new text, however, does not preclude an honest inquiry into its substance.

  4. Fr. Fleming,

    I would take your response at face value were it not for the fact that you've posted about changing words during a funeral liturgy because you thought them hard to understand. You've also written in this blog that you are sticking to only one version of the Eucharistic Prayer, because you dislike the others. I fear this attitude of yours may infect your parishioners and set them against the translation, without giving them a chance to experience it or appreciate it in its many forms.

    As for faithfulness to the liturgy, I have to say I wish the rubrics were followed at Holy Family. The congregation should kneel after the "Lamb of God" prayer, through the breaking of the bread and into communion. They don't at the Masses I attend. Perhaps a prompt from the altar would educate your flock.


  5. I did not find the words in the memento for the deceased hard to understand - my concern was that they might be misunderstood by those who heard them. My posting on this drew a helpful comment from one reader which brought some clarity to the phrase in question.

    I wrote only regarding my disappointment in the new translation of the Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation 1 and mentioned that I would not be using it - as is any priest's choice and not a violation of the new translation or the rubrics of the new Missal.

    Although I've not indicated here my attitude toward the other Eucharistic Prayers, I have written that for the time being I'm using Eucharistic Prayer II which, as a matter of fact, was the EP I most often used over the years with the previous translation. Not much change here in my practice. My using other EP's will come in time.

    I have to wonder what readers from afar might be thinking is the liturgical practice in my parish, given the comments above!

    We have complied carefully with the new translation. I wrote a series of 9 letters in the parish bulletin preparing for and prior to the introduction of the new translation. We offered four, two- hour sessions (apart from Mass) to introduce the new translation. These sessions included a light meal to draw more people. We have pew cards for the responses and I call people to use them every Sunday for the Nicene Creed, the longest new text the people have. We are using all new musical settings for the acclamations in the Eucharistic Prayer. I believe my parish and I have adapted well to the new translation.

    (And yes, it is still the custom in my parish to follow the older rubric of remaining standing at the Lamb of God.)

    And with this, the sandbox on this post is closed.

  6. Because I know that when I step into the sandbox, it's time to close it! :-)