Cup Instead of Chalice

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


"Cup" Instead of "Chalice"

ROME, 17 JAN. 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Why does the second response to the celebrant's invitation, "The mystery of faith" retain the term "cup" instead of "chalice" as contained in the words of consecration? Is this an error in translation or is it correct? — T.A., Makurdi, Nigeria

A: I was not involved in the translation so, to be quite honest, anything I say will be speculative at best.

The text says: "When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again."

It is unlikely to have been a simple oversight or a cut-and-paste job because the acclamation has been changed. The former translation said: "When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory."

The new translation of this text is generally more accurate even though in this case the Latin calicem is translated "cup" instead of "chalice" as is done elsewhere in the missal.

By keeping the word "cup," it is probable that the translator wanted to follow as close as possible the original inspiration for this acclamation in 1 Corinthians 11:23-28:

"For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup."

Practically all English-language Bibles translate the Greek poterion as "cup" rather than chalice, as current English attributes a technical meaning to this word which it did not have in the original. In a similar vein the word calicem in Latin can refer to many drinking and cooking vessels and not just those reserved for liturgical use.

These memorial acclamations constitute a novelty within the Latin rite, and they were only introduced with the liturgical reform. With the removal of the acclamation "Christ has died …," which was found only in the English missal, the remaining three are basically scriptural quotes.
For this reason I think the translator is justified in following here the commonly accepted biblical translation while translating the same word as "chalice" in the texts that manifest the Church's 2,000-year development of her liturgical traditions.

Although respecting the biblical text is probably the principal reason for retaining "cup," the translator may also have been influenced by a desire to allow continued use of melodies already well-known by the faithful who often sing this part of the Mass. The addition of an extra syllable would likely make this particular text a bit more difficult to manage.

* * *

Follow-up: "Cup" Instead of "Chalice" [1-31-2012]

In the wake of our comments on the retention of the word "cup" in the new translation of the Roman Missal (see Jan. 17), an Indiana reader asked: "Would you please comment on the significance of the new word 'poured' to replace the former word 'shed' in the words of consecration of the Precious Blood? We have learned from your comments the reality that every one of these word-changes is for a reason. What is the reason for this one?"

There are probably several reasons. First, "shed" is a perfectly valid translation of the Latin "effundetur," as this English word means to "pour forth." The expression "pour out," however, captures better the voluntary aspect of Christ's sacrifice. Blood can be shed voluntarily but not necessarily so.

"Pour out" also recalls the text of Exodus 24:8 which the Lord invoked at the moment of instituting the Eucharist. In this passage Moses, after the people had accepted the Covenant at the foot of Mount Sinai, threw the blood of the oxen upon the people saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words."

The new and eternal covenant is also sealed by the pouring of sacrificial blood over the people.

Another reader wrote: "At the end of your commentary regarding the use of language in the Memorial Acclamation you speculate that another reason for retention of the word 'cup' may have to do with musical considerations. I respectfully disagree with this speculation because there are a number of places where the language-changes negatively impact the declamation of the text relative to the music, but clearly song traditions were not a consideration. While it is still just speculation on my part, I feel text declamation was not a factor. I say this from the perspective of a pre-Vatican II church musician!"

On the contrary, I know for certain that music, at least as referred to the celebrant singing a text, was taken into consideration when revising the translation. Some bishops revising the text even had a go at singing them according to traditional melodies during their meetings. I think that most texts can be managed with a little practice. However, as our reader point out, there are surely going to be less felicitous results in some cases.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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