A wide tradition

John R. Donahue’s “Cup or Chalice?” (June 1) points out one of many places where the new translation follows the Latin, rather than the underlying Greek or Hebrew. Significant losses have resulted, but in this case there is an arguable gain, at least for Eucharistic Prayer I, which is based on the traditional Roman Canon. Instead of taking the kind of historical view that comes naturally to Bible scholars, the Roman Canon takes what might be called a “transhistorical” view, closely identifying the chalice of the Mass with Jesus’ original cup: “when supper was ended, he took this precious chalice.” Thus the liturgical tradition brings Jesus’ action across the centuries into the present, as powerful and efficacious now as it was then, having lost nothing with the passage of time. At a particularly solemn point in the liturgy—the sacramental words of consecration—a spiritual truth temporarily eclipses historical truth.

Of course, in the Catholic Church, we should not have to choose between the biblical tradition and the liturgical tradition: both are components of Tradition, and the ideal translation would give access to the treasures of both. One of many ways to do this might be to use the word “chalice” in Eucharistic Prayer I, respecting the theology specific to that text, but to use “cup” in Eucharistic Prayer IV, a modern composition informed by...

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