Cup or Chalice? The large implications of a small change

Six months after the imposition of the new English edition of the Roman Missal, the volume of dissatisfaction has moderated. People seem resigned to the wooden and literal translations (“people of good will,” “enter under my roof”), archaic vocabulary (“dewfall,” “consubstantial,” “oblation”), and inflated language of prayer (“holy and unblemished,” “graciously grant,” “paying their homage”).

Such language, so different from the plainspoken words of Jesus in prayer and parable, is in contrast to the directive of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II: “In this restoration [of the liturgy], both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.”

We have also become accustomed to hearing presiders stumble over the convoluted syntax of the prayers and watching them hurriedly turning pages as they wend their way through the labyrinthine new missals. Yet, there is one new expression that involves a significant translation error with serious implications for a proper understanding of the Last Supper as a Passover meal, along with implications for continued Jewish-Christian understanding. In the final analysis, it enshrines poor pastoral theology in the Sunday liturgy.

“Traduttore, Traditore”

All translators are familiar with the caution that translations often distort or even betray the nuances of the original language. This is dramatically true in the substitution of the term “chalice” for “cup” in the words of institution in the Eucharistic prayer from the 1970 missal approved by Pope Paul VI:

When supper was ended he took the cup [chalice].
Again he gave you thanks and praise,
Gave the cup
 [chalice] to his disciples, and said:

Take this, all of you and drink from it;
This is the cup [chalice] of my blood,
The blood of the new and everlasting covenant.
It will be shed for you and for all
So that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in memory of me. Continue reading



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