Take This Chalice—Please

Why 'Cup' Is the Right Word in the Mass

The results of a recent survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate indicate that more than half the priests in the United States dislike the new Missal translation. A very large majority finds parts of it “awkward and distracting.” Many believe it urgently needs revision. Fr. Tony Cutcher, president of the Federation of Priests’ Councils, says it’s time to move forward with “constructive criticism” and changes. Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory said much the same thing recently at a conference in Florida.

OK, I’m ready. Can we change “chalice” back to “cup” now?

The new translation retired the word “cup,” and replaced it with “chalice.” “Chalice” now occurs three times in the heart of the Mass, where Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper are described. In Eucharistic Prayer I, the Old Roman Canon, the current translation refers to the cup as “this precious chalice.”

When the word “chalice” first appeared, some people liked it. “Chalice” seemed special and more reverent to them than the simpler and more common word “cup.” Others disliked it because it brought to mind an ornate, bejeweled vessel, fine for princes but foreign to Jesus. What sort of drinking vessel would a Galilean rabbi use?

Supporters of “chalice” stood firm. They said the Latin calix simply means “chalice”—it’s a literal translation; get over it. Sadly, the notion of a “false friend,” an English word that sounds like the Latin word but isn’t quite the same, seems not to have occurred to them.

Is there anything more to be said? Well, yes.

There’s a liturgico-historical argument against “chalice,” and it’s a killer. It was produced in 2006 by an Australian scholar, Fr. Barry Craig. His research was presented at the Western Pacific Rim Patristic Society and published in Worship magazine in 2007: “Potency Not Preciousness: Cyprian’s Cup and a Modern Controversy.”

Craig focuses on Eucharistic Prayer I, and argues that “hunc praeclarum calicem” ought not to be translated “this precious chalice” because such a translation is directly opposed to what the fathers meant by the original Latin phrase. In translating liturgical texts, Latin poetry and patristic usage matter. The Vatican statement Liturgiam Authenticam directs that careful attention be paid to the history of interpretation of words and phrases, particularly those arising from the thought-world of the fathers that shaped our earliest liturgical history and practice.

Craig meticulously researched the historical background according to these principles. He found that the word praeclarus never means “precious.” Noble, outstanding, or potent, but not precious. His research devastatingly reveals that the sense of the English term “precious chalice” only appears a few times in the patristic literature. Whenever it does, it is used figuratively to describe the “precious chalice” of the heretics—i.e., the attractive cup from which false teaching is imbibed.

There’s more, too. According to Eucharistic Prayer I, Jesus took “this” cup in his hands. Why this cup? There was an early controversy concerning whether water might be used instead of wine in the Eucharist. The wine-water controversy provides the key to why the Roman canon says “this potent [i.e. alcoholic/spiritually inebriating] cup”—meaning wine. The vessel is plainly not the focus; its contents are. In English, the word “cup” can refer to both the vessel and what it contains. Not so “chalice.” You can drink from a chalice, but you cannot “drink a chalice.” If you are talking about the contents of the vessel, “cup” is the only word that works.

I think Craig nailed it. He’s certainly right about Eucharistic Prayer I. And once you’ve demolished “this precious chalice” it becomes harder—if not impossible—to justify translating calix as “chalice” in the other, modern Eucharistic prayers, no matter how well anyone likes it. Translators are rightly criticized when they import a faux-antique term into modern compositions.

If “chalice” is not required by the Latin language and it runs contrary to liturgical and patristic tradition, why are we saying it? The International Commission on English in the Liturgy does not account for its decisions, but a clue appeared in a footnote to the 2006 draft that was sent for review to the English-speaking bishops. This footnote explained that at certain points in the history of the English language Catholics favored “chalice” and Protestants favored “cup.” The inescapable inference is that the word “chalice” is preferred in order to perpetuate a dead distinction between Catholics and Protestants. But is this something we want to do today? Most Catholics would say no.

So here’s my constructive suggestion: Just say “cup.” It’s the right word.

About the Author

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press).

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Excellent demolition of one of the false "Monsignor knows better" locutions in the ghastly new translation (along with "even the angels", "acclaim" for "dicentes", "are" for "astantes", and the notorious "dewfall"). The poterion or calix is a drinking cup, nothing more, just like the lieti calici in banquet scenes in Verdi's Macbeth and La Traviata. The repeated "chalice" in the current translations distracts from our sharing in the blood of Christ to a fetishism of begemmed artifacts.

So - why not use BOTH? Use "cup" when placing it in context of the Last Supper: "When supper was ended, He took the cup...", and use "chalice" when referring to it elsewhere in the liturgy, which is not after all a recreation of the last Supper, but sacred DRAMA, RITUAL, filled with beauty and historical continuity. Good grief, Orthodox Christians have used bejewelled chalices for years, and they heap whatever splendor and beauty they can onto their liturgy and church interiors, to set them APART from the mundane world, to glorify God with the best they have, and to give worshippers symbolic glimpses of heaven. I have never met an Orthodox Christian who didn't get the "message" of the Eucharist because of this, nor did I know fellow Catholics decades ago who had a problem with "chalice", jewelled or not. You don't make the liturgy "meaningful" by simplifying it on the pretext that average catholics are too stupid to comprehend it orherwise. That's insulting.

If it has to be "cup" because Jesus used a cup, not a chalice, then hey, let's go back to humble clay or wooden cups, which He would have known, get rid of vestments (Jesus didn't wear them), pipe organs (jesus didn't know of them) altars, stained glass windows, and all the rest. Let's reduce the Mass to a touchy-feeley "here and now" experience again, sweep away centuries of inspiration found in sacred ritual, sell all religious art in the name of Christian "socialism", and  hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

Distracts from our sharing of the Blood of Christ, how? Because you assume that average Catholics (who have no problem wearing what gold and jewels they can afford to parties, weddings and the like, because those events are "special") 'relate" to what, paper cups better? Maybe we should refer to Christ the King as "Christ the President" too.

Pope Francis has reminded us that the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the presence of the Risen and Transfigured Jesus. That is why He is present whole and entire, body and blood, soul and divinity, in both the form of bread and the form of wine.

The cup or chalice does not contain just his blood. In fact, I find it rather difficult to imagine that the risen and transfigured Jesus can "bleed" -- in spite of those old stories and legends of "bleeding hosts".

I think a lot of popular imagination about the "real presence" thinks we are supposed to believe that the 'presence' is that of the historical Jesus as He was when He was on earth.

So it is refreshing and helpful to have Pope Francis remind us what the Church ought to believe -- that the "real" Real Presence is Jesus as He is now in heaven -- the "Lamb of God" who gave his life for us "Once and for all time" as the Epistle to the Hebrews says.

I much prefer that we can remind ourselves that our Liturgy has its roots in the Passover Supper. We re-enact what Jesus did "until He comes."

There's another reason why "cup" is the correct word. The Vatican seems to forget from time to time that the original language of the Church -- and of the Gospels -- was Greek, not Latin. What Jesus took up and shared with his friends was a plain old "potérion," an earthenware mug. (Cf. Mt 16:237, Mk 14:23, Lk 22:20 ) To my thinking that's definitive.

It seems your argument is based on "Most Catholics would say no.", as if Catholicism were a democracy. All you have to do is Google "chalice", or better "cup" and "chalice" on eBay and you will see the difference, that one has Mickey Mouse versions, the other elegant and precious artworks to hold the Saviour.
What a non-article this is whose only intent is to be divisive. The author should consider becoming an Episcopalian for whom almost anything goes as long as it is democratic.

Neat trick. Translate from ordinary Greek to super reverent Latin and so make everything more solemn and more mysterious. English is of course, 3 or more languages removed.

This article certainly helps to build up the case against the new so-called translation, a grossly political document designed to help roll back the real reforms of Vatican II.  

However, I continue to insist that the "translation" is not the only, or even the real, culprit.  That honor belongs to the "typical" text of the Third Roman Missal.  It's not just the translation; it's WHAT is being translated.  And that "what" has been deeply tampered with, on purpose and with malice aforethought.  The rejected ICEL translation is marginally better than what we have, but not much.  Why not?  Because it is still a translation of a faulty typical edition.  We need to scrap the "Third Roman Missal" along with Liturgiam Authenticam and all the rest that went with it. 

For more of this sad history, see Lost in translation: the bishops, the Vatican & the English Liturgy, in Commonweal, Dec 2, 2005 by John Wilkins

Isn't it absurd to have the institution narratives in Matthew, Mark and Luke in the USCCB's own New American Bible  speak of a "cup" while they insist on using the word "chalice" in the Liturgy?

I understand Mr. Thorssen's point, but it is important to stress the relationship between the perhaps elaborate vessel being used in the liturgy and the simple cup Jesus used.

 And those who stress the way the word cup is used to refer to its  contents also pick up on another important dimension of its meaning. Remember when Jesus asks James and John whether they can drink the cup that he will drink? He is not referring to an object, but an experience. "This cup" may be a simple phrase but it is rich in meaning.

The last time this tempest hit this teapot (kreter? amphora?) someone argued that "cup" was unsatisfactory because it was too suggestive of coffee, and "chalice" was therefore to be preferred.  I recall wondering whether this logic would be applied to Ps 23:5, but so far I've seen no overflowing chalices in English translations of that psalm.  The faithful keep praying and singing it, apparently untroubled by interfering visions of modern breakfast beverages.

Gunnar Thorssen:

1. I'm willing to be corrected, but I think liturgical references to the vessel in question pretty much all deal with the Last Supper and the origin of the eucharist (first offering the cup of salvation, then recalling the words and actions of Jesus).  I gather you're O.K. with using "cup" in that context.  "Chalice" is the natural term to use in instructions about or descriptions of the ritual, but that's not really the language of the liturgy.  I don't see why translating "calicem" and "calix" as "cup" need entail archaizing or super-ascetic shunning of jeweled chalices and temporal splendor. That Matthew has magi bringing gold and other royal gifts, or that we call Christ our KIng, in no way contradicts belief in the powerless infant described by Luke as lying in a manger.  And using expensive vessels need not make us forget how ordinary were the outward signs Jesus chose (though the risk of such forgetfulness is real).

2. Your reference to socialism, with the dismissive quotation marks, makes me wonder yet again at how modest Newman's claims were about the development of doctrine.  Though the New Testament is part of our rule of faith, we can comfortably regard Acts 4:32-5:11 not as normative for us but rather as the record of a failed experiment.  That the Spirit of the Lord apparently participated (5:9) may briefly puzzle us, but that can doubtless be explained away.  Otherwise we might have to think it possible we could be mistaken.

3. The scornful use of "Kumbaya," originally from a Christian hymn created by a marginalized people, seems likely to survive despite its now superannuated tiresomeness.  Here's a historical note of possible interest: http://peacecorpsonline.org/messages/messages/2629/2076559.html

Ted K:

Reducing Ferrone's closely reasoned and well-sourced argument to "Most Catholics would say no" is a heroic rhetorical stretch.  Rather than being central to her argument, that sentence has to do with something quite peripheral, in fact, a footnote, and with the question of whether stressing differences among Christians should guide liturgical language.  Given that context it is all the more remarkable that you accuse Ferrone of divisiveness and then cap that by inviting her to leave the Church.  As for the Church and democracy, that red herring has surely lost its fragrance by now.  I can only (a) comment that the sensus fidelium deserves more than lip service and (b) recommend John L. McKenzie's Authority in the Church.

 

I have a comment on “cup” versus “chalice”: in fact I actually made it in a letter to the print version of this magazine more than two years ago, in support of a article “Cup or Chalice?” in the June 1, 2012 number of the Commonweal, by Father John R. Donahue, S.J., of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore. Fr Donahue liked my comment, though the letter was unprinted of course: for as an art historian, and once editor-in-chief of an important magazine in my field, I have never seen either Commonweal or The Tablet (London) give a damn about an argument from art history (Anglo-Saxon attitudes?). Anyway, here it goes, slightly modified here as a blog.

                Stimulated by Rita Ferrone’s new article “Take This Chalice—Please: Why 'Cup' Is the Right Word in the Mass,” I would like to highlight two other factors that I suspect may also be important in Benedict’s stubborn attachment to “chalice.” One is that I suspect that there is a problem vis-à-vis the new German, even though that has seemed inaccessible on the Internet. For what we think of as a chalice in English is an essentially footed (and yes, often ornamental) Pokal, in Benedict’s German, which I would bet is not want he meant to imply. Confusingly, present day dictionaries give Trinkbecher as equivalent to “chalice”; so that even though nobody would want a nondescript Tasse (cup as in “cup of coffee”), there must be confusion insofar as Trinkbecher must suggest an nice neutral “beaker” to us – not at all a Pokal – even though a German/English dictionary translates it as “chalice”!

                My other idea was simpler: that the Authorized Version (“King James”) clearly and invariably gives “cup”; but the Douay-Rheims – notwithstanding all the AV owed to it – had “chalice,” meaning that some might think “cup” too Protestant, when there was a Catholic choice. Here however, Fr Donahue noted to me, “I think ‘chalice’ was used in the Douay-Rheims translation because it was based on the Vulgate (which uses calix) while the KJV was based on the original languages.” I do  think it’s amazing how many credible arguments from various points of view go to confirm that “chalice” is simply not the right word – in, of course, a rhetorically dreadful translation of the English Mass, something that positively shames the Church. Scholars in the twenty-second century may wonder why our Church was so sub-literate (despite the decent modernization of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in our day) as to force people to use much less than decent English for the Catholic Mass. Mere aestheticism? Hardly.I have a comment on “cup” versus “chalice”: in fact I actually made it in a letter to the print version of this magazine more than two years ago, in support of a article “Cup or Chalice?” in the June 1, 2012 number of the Commonweal, by Father John R. Donahue, S.J., of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore. Fr Donahue liked my comment, though the letter was unprinted of course: for as an art historian, and once editor-in-chief of an important magazine in my field, I have never seen either Commonweal or The Tablet (London) give a damn about an argument from art history (Anglo-Saxon attitudes?). Anyway, here it goes, slightly modified here as a blog.

                Stimulated by Rita Ferrone’s new article “Take This Chalice—Please: Why 'Cup' Is the Right Word in the Mass,” I would like to highlight two other factors that I suspect may also be important in Benedict’s stubborn attachment to “chalice.” One is that I suspect that there is a problem vis-à-vis the new German, even though that has seemed inaccessible on the Internet. For what we think of as a chalice in English is an essentially footed (and yes, often ornamental) Pokal, in Benedict’s German, which I would bet is not want he meant to imply. Confusingly, present day dictionaries give Trinkbecher as equivalent to “chalice”; so that even though nobody would want a nondescript Tasse (cup as in “cup of coffee”), there must be confusion insofar as Trinkbecher must suggest an nice neutral “beaker” to us – not at all a Pokal – even though a German/English dictionary translates it as “chalice”!

                My other idea was simpler: that the Authorized Version (“King James”) clearly and invariably gives “cup”; but the Douay-Rheims – notwithstanding all the AV owed to it – had “chalice,” meaning that some might think “cup” too Protestant, when there was a Catholic choice. Here however, Fr Donahue noted to me, “I think ‘chalice’ was used in the Douay-Rheims translation because it was based on the Vulgate (which uses calix) while the KJV was based on the original languages.” I do  think it’s amazing how many credible arguments from various points of view go to confirm that “chalice” is simply not the right word – in, of course, a rhetorically dreadful translation of the English Mass, something that positively shames the Church. Scholars in the twenty-second century may wonder why our Church was so sub-literate (despite the decent modernization of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in our day) as to force people to use much less than decent English for the Catholic Mass. Mere aestheticism? Hardly. 

Sorry: I really don't know how blogs work, and now comment repeats itself almost twice over, and I can't do anything to erase part. 

J. Masheck 

Perhaps the Catholic Church translators should take a break and watch "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)" ,the search for the Holy Grail.

Indiana got it right, a simple cup.

I am happy to see that Joseph Masheck has referred to the excellent article by Fr. John R. Donahue, S.J. publishs bu Commonweal in 2012, "Cup or Chalice" http://bit.ly/VF64AB.  It is a good complement to Rita Ferrone's article that happen to support Susan Gannon's comment at July 1, 10:08 pm.

 

Rueful sympathies, Mr. Masheck, for your struggles with the edit-proof blog.  For my part, I erred in neglecting the Douay version of that psalm I mentioned (numbered there as 22, not 23).  Following the Vulgate "Dominus regit me," i.e., "The Lord ruleth me," it lacks the evocative direct mention of a shepherd, and that may be one reason why it is less well remembered than others, including the AV.  But verse 5 is certainly vivid enough, ending "...my chalice which inebriated me, how goodly is it!"  Clearly in this version it is not the vessel but the drinker who is overflowing.  And sure enough, the Vulgate has "et calix meus inebrians, quam praeclarus est!"

At this point, my Catholic bowdlerization-detector is on full alert.  When Huizinga, in Homo Ludens, quoted Prv 8: 30-31, about the role of Wisdom in the activity of the Creator, the English version had recourse to the Douay: "I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times: Playing in the world" ("ludens coram eo in omni tempore, ludens in orbe terrarum").  The AV did not serve, because it had nothing about playing, only rejoicing --an arguably less frivolous activity better befitting the divine dignity.

So is it the cup or the drinker who is topped up, or is the passage in Hebrew intractably ambiguous?  If some expert happens across these ramblings, maybe he or she can enlighten us.  

 

As I recall, the Greek is "poterion," which occurs in Matthre, Luke and I Corinthians, which is defined as a cup or drinking vessel.

We get so hung up on Latin.  The NT wasn't written in Latin and, if it were, wouldn't have been so sidely spread.

Yes, Mr. Keleher, and as Mr. Appling pointed out yesterday "poterion" also appears in Mark 14:23.  But the debate, and Ms Ferrone's article, has to do primarily with English, specifically English translations of the Roman liturgy, so Latin is relevant --as ought to be clear from many of the comments posted.  Similarly, though "consubstantialem" is just a Latin rendering of "homoousion," the recent arguments about English translations deal with whether "consubstantial with" is in any way preferable to "of one being with."

Right, no edit feature.  That's "one in being with," of course.

In English, the word “cup” can refer to both the vessel and what it contains. Not so “chalice.” You can drink from a chalice, but you cannot “drink a chalice.” If you are talking about the contents of the vessel, “cup” is the only word that works.

 

Meh. Honestly, "drink this cup" and other such usage is archaic anyways, if it was every contemporary outside of the context of the English-vernacular-semi-translation of the Novus Ordo. Why "drink this cup" is supposed to be meaningful English and "drink this chalice" is not, I cannot imagine. Also, for all their fondness for adding and subtracting whole phrases in the process of translation, why "drink from this chalice" should not be permitted, I cannot guess, again.

 

I find this article unsatisfying because it seems to joust past the point at every turn: The vessel is plainly not the focus; its contents are. This one wins the No Duh award for the evening. And why "chalice" should shift the focus and "cup" not, again, again, again, I cannot fathom. In fact, you can make an easy claim that the precious contents make the cup a precious chalice, in our minds today, and certainly did in the eyes of the Fathers. Christians of this same period wrote, of the Eucharist that they no doubt celebrated around common-ish enough tables: We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat (Heb 13:10)

 

Lastly, the assertion that Jesus must have had a simple cup has always annoyed me. It is possible, and to some extent likely, I suppose. But the gospels record that he was followed around by at least a few women of means, and it is also likely that such women would have supplied him for his celebration of the Passover, and provided him with their best. He might very well have had a snazzy cup for Passover, and there is nothing in the gospel to indicate that he would have refused anything that brought glory to his Father.

 

The inescapable inference is that the word “chalice” is preferred in order to perpetuate a dead distinction between Catholics and Protestants. It says something about the author believes the distinction between Catholics and Protestants vis-a-vis the Eucharist is dead; and it's not a good thing that it says.

Thank you, David. The voice of sanity!

Here's a Google Ngram to support my view that "drink this cup" is perfectly archaic itself: http://bit.ly/1j0wmHy

While "drink this cup" has more currency than "drink this chalice" it is basically negligible, and has dropped off over the last century. Tomato, tomahto.

Terrific piece.  Rich insight and plain speaking. 

Mr. Haber:

1. It's no surprise that this quaint metonymy has declined drastically in what seems to be an unsorted corpus of English texts, regardless of whether the vessel is a cup or a chalice.  If the texts were classified, I suspect you'd find that many of those in the mid-nineteenth century were non-liturgical, whereas by the 1980s most or all of the texts would be liturgical or else texts referring to religion in one way or another.  (You'd likely find a similar pattern in comparing the use of "one another" and "each other."  Grammar handbooks traditionally prescribed the former when more than two parties were involved, but the latter is now overwhelmingly more frequent even in that situation, except in a religious or quasi-religious context  --"love one another...").  With the use of the metonym largely restricted to religious texts, it's misleading to call the frequency of "drink this cup" negligible: we don't have the right denominator available.  The linear scale on the ordinate indicates that by the year 2000 "drink this cup" occurred in 0.0000017% of  all texts, while "drink this chalice" was too infrequent to depict a value using this scale.  (Eyeballing it, "drink this cup" would seem to have been anywhere from 5 to 500 times more frequent!).

2. The article deals generally with the use of "cup" versus "chalice" in the liturgical prayers, not with the overt metonymy, which occurs only in one of the memorial acclamations.  Elsewhere we have had at various times "drink ye all of this," or "drink from it," and the same goes for the Latin (at worst one might claim some ambiguity as to the antecedent of the English pronoun).

If we think of the Last Supper as a Passover seder—and the synoptic gospels suggest we should—perhaps we should think about what kind of vessels are used at seders. The design of the cockery used in the Upper Room is lost to history, but if you shop for a "cup" for a seder today, you'll find yourself buying a chalice. Could it be that our Jewish friends have preserved a tradition we should be mindful of when discussing this translation?

I am so happy I read this article.  I thought I was the only lay Catholic who dislikes the use of the word "chalice" during the Eucharistic prayers. I purposely zone out during that part of the Mass just so that I won't have to hear the word "chalice."

Brian Abel Ragen, Good thought. But every Passover Seder I've ever read (and I've read a lot of them) refers to the "four cups," not the "four chalices." So that chalice you bought, if you bought it, really is a ceremonial cup.

In my comment on the graph cited by Mr. Haber, I should have written "of all trigrams," not "of all texts," but that doesn't change the conclusion.

Yes, but isn't the word for "ceremonial cup" in English "chalice"?

Well,  Mr. Ragen, Merriam-Webster defines "chalice" as "a special cup for holding wine; especially: the cup used in the Christian ceremony of Communion."  It's also "a drinking cup; GOBLET; especially: the eucharistic cup."  So the definitions have to do with both function and shape (see definitions of "goblet").  Nothing about a ceremonial cup, though, except for the "especially," which refers just to the eucharist.

There are plenty of other ceremonial cups, not necessarily set aside for wine, not precisely goblet-shaped or even real cups, and not called chalices.  Besides prizes like the Davis Cup and the various World Cups, there's the cup o' kindness for Hogmanay, where "cup" perhaps stands for "cupful," and the vessel may or may not contain wine (Burns, for one, left "wines and vines and drunken Bacchus" to other poets, singing the praises of Scottish barley and its fermentation and distillation products).

The Irish Bishops stonewall on the new translation saying they cannot do anything about it except in concert with the other Anglophone episcopal conferences -- but they COULD have blocked the new translation when asked their approval, but they showed cowardice.  http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2014/07/statement-from-the-as...

Why not translate "quaff this goblet"?

Yea, verily, yea, Mr. O Leary!

I'm Church of England, so probably should not comment, and I do not mean this in contempt, but I attended Mass for the first time in ages, it sounded sooooo pompous to me,and downright weird in places; no sacral or hieratic, as I was explained, just plain weird. I mean: 'Mat this water receive by the Holy Spirit the grace of your only begotten Son so that human nature, created in your image, and washed clean through the sacrament of baptism from all the squalor of the life of old, may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children through water ad the Holy Spirit." That on Easter Sunday of all days? babies washed cleaned of all life and not them rising but the human nature, washed clean in order to rise to the life of a newborn through water.... what does it even mean?

Mr. Fernandez-Vicente:

Current translations are evidently not beyond criticism.  Ms Ferrone's article, the debate preceding it, and all the subequent comments should make that clear.  And that goes for the Easter liturgy too.  But I don't think the prayer to which you refer deserves to be dismissed out of hand as "weird."  At the same time, asking what something means is always fair (preferably without the "even" that suggests there can be no meaning).  

In this instance, it helps first to have listened to the immediately preceding prayers.  They recall episodes in salvation history going back to the creation, showing in various ways the intimate relationship between water and life (literally and symbolically).  Then comes the passage you cited.  It is meant to be spoken, and the written text should be set out in a way that guides the speaker:

May this water receive by the Holy Spirit
 

the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
 

so that human nature, created in your image
 

and washed clean through the Sacrament of Baptism from all the squalor of the life of old,

may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children through water and the Holy Spirit. 

Forgive me for seeing in your comments a somewhat confused processing of this prayer.  It does not refer to washing babies, let alone having them "cleaned of all life."  Instead, it is the innocence of newborn babes to which the water of baptism restores sinners.  

The "squalor of the life of old" is no more than the "old man" of Colossians 3:9-10, to be put off in favor of the "new man, renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (AV).  As an Anglican, you will be familiar with the baptismal rite in the Book of Common Prayer, which asks that "the old Adam in the Child may be so buried, that the new man be raised up in him."  

So yes, even infants are regarded as needing restoration to a primal innocence (or establishment in an intended one, depending on how original sin is understood).  But the "squalor" that is most obvious has to do with all too familiar actual sin, of which babies are innocent.  In 1 Peter 2: 1-3, we are urged to turn from evil and "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk" of God's word.  From that passage came the entrance prayer for the second Sunday of Easter, once called Quasimodo Sunday: Quasi modo geniti infantes... (As newborn babes...).

Langland, now eclipsed for most readers by Bunyan, understood the heavenly citizenship conferred by baptism, so different from the secular grades of citizenship in his day:

"From the ragged root by Christian charity springs the rose that is red and sweet;

For we are all Christ's creatures --and of his coffers rich.

And brethren as of one blood --as well beggars as earls,

For on Calvary of Christ's blood --Christendom gan spring,

And blood brethren we became there --of one body won,

As quasidmodo geniti --and gentlemen each one,

No beggar or serving boy among us --save sin made him so."

 

Mr Irias, I'm sorry if I cam across as all uncharitable. I was not denying that the prayer is orthodox. You made a good job at explaining its orthodoxy, but that is precisely my point: it is so convoluted that it requires a ridiculous amount of explaining and is ill-sounding in many places. Asking new-born babies to be washed from the squalor of some life of old is nothing short of comical. I am familiar with the BCP's prayer, that the new Adam may be so buried, that the new man be raised...' People are raised. But that 'human nature' be raised to the life  of a newborn that has just previously been declared in need to be cleansed is ill-sounding. I am also quite aware that the first letter of Peter asks us to aspire to become as newborn babes, but that is to say innocent, not as in need to be washed of any original sin of which he knew absolutely nothing and which is assumed bu the catholic liturgy. And my guess is that people will know the Hunchback of Notre Dame a lot better than the introit of the mass of that day. If parishioners are to be literate enough to know Bunyan to make any sense of missal prayers, you are, I'm afraid, in a pickle. 

Mr. Fernandez-Vicente:

Whether the prayer could be better phrased, and in which ways it could be improved, are questions on which worshippers may reasonably differ.  But, as the saying goes, you don't get to invent your own facts.  What concerned me about your comments was not any supposed lack of charity but rather a clear misrepresentation of what the prayer says.  Again, the business of having babies washed from squalor, whether comical or not, is not in the prayer: it is your own importation, hard to attribute to anything but an extreme muddle.  I referred to Scripture, the BCP, and Langland only in the hope that it might help you out of the muddle, not because parishioners need such references to make sense of the prayer.  As for my reference to 1 Peter, it could hardly have been more clear that the symbolism has to do with innocence: to turn from evil and be like newborn babes.  The same is true of the Easter prayer to which you objected: to be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children.  I mentioned original sin only as a side issue raised by the BCP language (it is a potential source of confusion in the liturgies of all Christian churches that practise infant baptism).  

Mr Fernandez-Vicente, as an Anglican your comments are very welcome here, since the perpetrators of the new translation have boasted that they are getting back to a graciously exalted language such as is found in Anglicanism -- some of them are ex-Anglicans who believe they have innate mastery of beautiful English. I thought at first that the prayer you cited must be a parody, but indeed you quote it accurately, and indeed it is a morally embarrassing piece.  The whole text is here: http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/Lent/blessin...

Many of us warned loudly for years that this new translation would be a pastoral disaster, but our craven bishops would not listen, and now cannot afford to listen without terrible loss of face. The new translation is a scandal second only to that of child abuse.

Well we can still enjoy picking over the bones of the rancid product: 

"O God, who by invisible power
accomplish a wondrous effect
through sacramental signs
and who in many ways have prepared water"

The Latin diction comes across as flat, bathetic here. 

"O God, who by the outpouring of the flood

foreshadowed regeneration,
so that from the mystery of one and the same element of water
would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue;"

From a mystery comes an end and a beginning -- pure gobbledygook.

"and, as he hung upon the Cross,

gave forth water from his side along with blood"

gave forth?

"look now, we pray, upon the face of your Church"

unfortunate echo of "look not on our sins but on the faith of the Church" making one even suspect a typo

"May this water receive by the Holy Spirit

the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
so that human nature, created in your image,
and washed clean through the Sacrament of Baptism
from all the squalor of the life of old, 
may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children
through water and the Holy Spirit."

nature found worthy to rise to a life of newborn children?

"May the power of the Holy Spirit,

O Lord, we pray
come down through your Son
into the fullness of this font,"

the fullness? brimming with water?

I tried to google the Latin text of this prayer but could not find it. The internet is rife with older liturgical texts which drown out any presence of the current Roman Missal. Rather disturbing.

I know de gustibus and all that... non disputandum, but I'm glad someone agrees. I cannot get over the contradiction which declares in the same prayer the life of newborn children as something to be cleansed and yet something one must rise to. It is either poetic license or bad theology. If I may be cheeky for a moment though: it has led so many Anglican parishes here who would once only have used the Roman Missal as a matter of course to revert to Common Worship, which is a blessing of sorts, I guess, for us.

And wjat is the grace of God's Only-begotten Son if not his Holy Spirit?

Mr. O Leary and Mr. Fernandez-Vicente:

There's undoubtedly plenty of awkwardness in the current translation.  It was all too evidently put together (as some have claimed the camel was) by a committee not fully in harmony.  But that's no reason to blame the text of a prayer for phrases it does not contain (about "babies washed cleaned [sic] of all life" or "babies...washed from the squalor...").

And remember, Mr. O Leary, the flagon with the dragon has the brew that is true, so quaff that goblet!

Mr. O Leary and Mr. Fernandez-Vicente:

I can't be sure that this is the current Latin version, rather than an older one, but the text is recognizable as a possible source for the current English translation:

http://inchoro.net/gregorian/benedictio-aque-paschalis.html

A few features may be worth noting:

1. The "face of your Church" is present in the Latin, and it does not seem all that jarring in context.  The prayer recalls Jesus, who "in cruce pendens...aquam de latere suo produxit, ac, post resurrectionem suam, discipulis iussit...docete...baptizantes" so that "respice in faciem Ecclesiae tuae, eique dignare fontem baptismatis aperire" follows fairly naturally.

2. Here too the grace of God's only-begotten Son is associated with the Holy Spirit with no apparent concern about redundancy.  Trinitarian language can only be analogical, pace Mr. F-V: "Sumat haec acqua Unigeniti tui gratiam de Spiritu Sancto.."

3. In the Latin, too, it is humanity that is cleansed, not babies as such: "ut homo, ad imaginem tuam conditus, sacramento baptismatis a cunctis squaloribus vetustatis ablutus..."

4. Crucially, in the Latin, the baptized rise again into a new infancy: "...in novam infantiam ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto resurgere mereatur."   The worst sticking-point for Mr. F-V has been "newborn children as something to be cleansed and yet something one must rise to."  At the risk of exasperating perseveration, I again observe that this paradox is not intrinsic to the English text.  Yet there is a genuine potential confusion in any metaphorical language about baptism, rebirth, and newborns.  The innocence of a newborn is a powerful symbol.  But being a newborn in the ordinary sense is not the same as being reborn (I think Nicodemus understood that despite his feigned obtuseness). But this kind of language would probably not have presented a problem in the ealiest days of Christianity, before infant baptism became common.  In fact, I have to wonder if there were babies baptized at that Mass Mr. F-V attended... 

 

I simply do not use the word 'chalice' in the Eucharistic Prayers, but do refer to the empty vessel as a chalice.

Please let us use our common sense!

This is a storm in a (tea) cup.

"In the Latin, too, it is humanity that is cleansed, not babies as such"... you say, but you simply cannot separate the two

Mr Purcell, with much love and respect, it's not a storm in a teacup. It could be a mere storm for us proddies, but if you have to modify the liturgy of your church, aka Tradition , which allegedly holds as heavy weigth as Scripture, in order to pray publicly, well...

The Latin prayer reads very well, and shows up all the more clearly the hopeless tawdriness of the English. Why did the world's bishops not say, "For God's sake hire a good translator with a sense of the English language and do not impose this committee sawdust on the people of God!" Why did the US bishops scoff at the prophetic voice of Bp Trautman? They have created a terrible scandal, and should read Matthew 18 for some stern words from the Lord.

 

Interesting that "face of the Church" is "facies ecclesiae" in this prayer but "vultus ecclesiae" in other texts, including ones by JP2. In one of the new Eucharistic prayers there is a lumpish reference to God's "face" where the world "countenance" would be better: "welcome them into the light of your face".

"ut unius eiusdemque elementi mysterio et finis esset vitiis et origo virtutum" sounds fine

 

 

"so that from the mystery of one and the same element of water

would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue" 

 

sounds awful -- the inversion in the placement of "would come" is too stilted

 

I would translate: "so that the power of one and the same element spells the end of vices and the origin of virtues" 

the 1998 translation is presumably better, if anyone cares to root it up. But why have we become so imprisoned in this dismal routine of translation? Is it because we no longer have any idea of what the Mass means and so do not trust ourselves to compose new prayers?

One, I think outstanding, case of "false friend" translation comes soon after the Consecration: the celebrant prays that the Church should be growing in charity.  What is meant is love.   How to translate "caritas" in this country is an old question but I believe the slow semantic shift to what Americans call "charity" today has made it impossible, e.g., to cite the first encyclical of Benedict XVI as "God is charity".

 

Just wait until the readings for July 25 come around...if you're Catholic, simply change the words in the Bible to match the word Chalice and pretty soon you realize that Chalice is really what Jesus meant to say because now he tells the mother of James and John that they will have to accept the chalice not the cup as the Bible says. We simply change the readings so they match the words we use at Mass. 

The official liturgical readings use the word chalice while the Bible uses the word cup...

Now stupid can we are?

Here's your USCCB official liturgical reading for July 25...what's the big deal...Jesus said the word  chalice.

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072514.cfm 

Oh and by the way he also says the Our Father the way we say it in Mass too. For those keeping ecclesiastical score at home.

I agree with Rita...cup is the right word.

And if we are talking about words.... let's go to the Our Father. The ICEL translation spoke of forgive us our "sins", not trespasses. Original Latin: debita - debt, what is owed.

https://www.facebook.com/notes/mary-sweeney/heaven-is-not-a-stand-your-g...

 

"Let holy charity mine outward vesture be..."

 

The beautiful sense of charity can be recovered only by encasing it in equally archaic diction as in that hymn. Calling love charity in modern context just sounds horribly stilted. There is the same nakedness and oddness in the efforts to rehabilitate words like "oblation" in the eucharistic prayers, evidently composed by people with no ear for language or style.

We Episcopalians are more democratic but at least we have our scriptural translations correct.  As to other "democratic" issues, one of the most important is  the laity and clergy have a vote electing our bishop.

Very interesting article. My essay, “A Visitor’s Impressions of the Liturgy,” puts this matter in a larger framework.

 During a visit last year in the U.S., I celebrated Mass at a number of parishes – first having familiarized myself with the new translations. After returning to Nicaragua, where I have been working with Christian Base Communities since 1986, I reflected on my experience in my native country and tried to sort out some impressions….

http://mulliganarticles.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-visitors-impressions-ofthe-liturgy-by.html

 

Sincerely,

Joe Mulligan, SJ

Nicaragua

It seems that Commonweal has a rather unhealthy fixation on the word Chalice.  How many times have they tried to discredit the translation now?

This whole article is really done in bad faith.  According to the article:

"There’s a liturgico-historical argument against “chalice,” and it’s a killer. "

But the the argument that is then presented has nothing to do with chalice, but everything to do with "precious."  It's a bait and switch that is embarrassingly intellectually dishonest for a publication that claims to be serious.  Perhaps precious is not the best translation, but the article does absolutely nothing to "kill" the argument for the use of chalice.

The reality is that Greek has pretty much only one word for drinking vessel.  The fact that the New Testament uses "cup" is not a statement about the appearance of the vessel used at the Last Supper.  If Jesus had used a Scandanavian drinking horn, a martini glass or one of those ridiculous 3' novelty drink glasses from Vegas, the Greek would have still said "cup."  But context reveals a lot.  Jesus celebrated the Passover in an upper room that had been prepared for the Passover.  An upper room in that time and place speaks wealth.  And history shows us the kinds of cups Jews have used for Passover.  Historically, the Jews have pretty much always celebrated with noble, special vessels, the best their means could provide.  And the wealthy had means to provide quite well.  The vessels used in Passover meals, especially by the wealthy like those whose space Jesus used, look much more like what we call a chalice than the simple earthen cups so popular in certain circles.

Which is why our liturgy says "chalice" in the Latin.  It says chalice because the scriptural context reveals just what kind of "cup" Jesus was using.  And our translation is a translation of the Latin Missal, not the Greek scripture.

This article is crafted backward, Commonweal has taken the conclusion it wants and then casted about for arguments that "support" it.  That is polemics, and very disappointing.  

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