Saturday, October 08, 2011

Poculum, Cup, Calix, Chalice

A friend of mine, a priest, very enthused by the new - more accurate - translationsof the Missal has a few reservation. One is the translation of "chalice" for "calix", his arguement is that the Greek word used in the New Testament is "poculum" it means "cup" pure and simple, there are no sacral connotions.

Joe Shaw answers this by reminding us that the the Roman Canon says "accipens et hunc praeclarum calicem in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas", therefore this simple cup is described as "praeclarum" "noble/excellent" and taken into holy and venerable hands. Joe's argument is that the Roman Church has very deliberately used "flowery language, and substituted a more prosaic word like 'poculum' ('cup') for 'calix'" since the the time of Pope St Gelasius I.

What Joe doesn't say but leaves us to understand is that in the other Eucharist Prayers where the old translations simply say "He took the cup" by using the word "chalice" in the new translations, the translaters have very deliberated introduced the, and something of the flavour of the sacral language of the ancient Roman Canon of the Latin Church into the vernacular translations of the other three (new) Eucharistic Prayers.

Of course in the Latin calix = cup, if we merely translate word for word but it seems we should construe that what is being said is that the Roman Canon is the measure against which we should view other Eucharistic Prayers.


Hircosus said...

Calix meus inebrians

Amfortas said...

The use of cup in 'English liturgy' has a long history going back to the Prayer Book. Used with reverence 'cup' is fine. I note that the second of the Mysterium Fidei acclamations uses 'cup' in the new translation. The current argument is as little silly as is Father Z's article in the week's Catholic Herald, rather like all the erroneous catechesis around the phrase 'And with your spirit'. However, the new translation uses chalice so chalice it is. Wouldn't it be simpler just to celebrate the liturgy in Latin (OF or EF)?

Ben Whitworth said...

Is it germane to point out the following (a) in Greek, 'poterion' (as used in the NT) can mean various kinds of vessel, but is the normal word for the Eucharistic cup; (b) in Latin, 'calix' can mean various kinds of vessel, but is the normal word for the Eucharistic cup; (c) in English, 'chalice' can mean various kinds of vessel, but is the normal word for the Eucharistic cup; (d) in English, 'cup' is the word used by Protestants to describe their vessel for the Lord's Supper?

Sussex Catholic said...

The answer to this (as Joe has alluded to) is that the Roman Canon constitutes an ancient source in its own right and not merely as a vehicle for what is said in Scripture. This argument (of the authenticity of the liturgy as a valid original source) is the same one deployed by HH Pope Benedict XVI to argue for "pro multis" to be translated as "for many" in the consecration formula. We are Catholics with an unbroken Apostolic tradition we are not liturgical archaeologists or the ecclesiastical equivalent of The Sealed Knot looking to recreate or re-enact long lost rituals or customs by reference to alternative sources.

MARYFA said...

For me, the word 'cup', in normal English usage, means a tea-cup. It
is not a word I would use to describe something I would drink wine from.
For Americans in particular, 'cup' has also a strong connection with cookery as American recipes mostly give quantities as 'cups'.

Amfortas said...

We can all do word associations. For some people 'chalice' suggests Indiana Jones. In the end it's not about personal preference. The translation uses chalice so chalice it is (except where it uses 'cup'!). I still say it would be simpler to use Latin but I know I'm on a hiding to nothing there.

Joseph Shaw said...

Thanks Fr. I meant that *if* the Roman Canon had wanted to avoid flowery language they *would* have used 'poculum' instead of 'calix'.

It is an interesting question whether 'poculum' would be a better translation of the Greek 'poterion', leaving aside the context. I've no idea since I'm not a classicist. As a matter of fact the ancient Latin New Testmanent translations have 'calix'. But as Sussex Catholic says this is beside the point: the English missal is a translation of the Latin missal, not of some mythical Greek, or Aramaic, original. Indeed, the Roman Canon does not appear to be a translation of anything: as far as one can tell it was composed from scratch.

George said...

Banshee said...

If you read down this page on Valencia's Holy Chalice, you'll see a nice picture of the agate poterion that's the actual relic involved here.

You can see why drinking vessels shaped like this were fairly early given a handle or base for liturgical use, both in Jewish Sabbath practices and for Catholic Masses. It's a fine shape for a single person at table, but a right pain to pass around, have visible from a distance, etc.

Patruus said...

I notice that in Sebastian Castellio's rendering of the Bible into classical Latin, he uses "poculum" where the Vulgate has "calix". Compare, for instance, his Matthew 26:27 (1) with the Vulgate's (2) -

(1) Deinde capto poculo, actisque laudibus, dedit eis, dicens: Bibite ex eo omnes.

(2) Et accipiens calicem, gratias egit : et dedit illis, dicens : Bibite ex hoc omnes.

pelerin said...

I agree with Maryfa. The word 'cup' has always jarred as to us English it denotes a tea-cup. Chalice is much more dignified and descriptive and even the great museums use the word 'chalice' when displaying them.

I was asked once whether I felt the same when hearing Mass in French as they use the word 'coupe' in their translation. I was able to say no not at all as 'coupe' is just another word for 'chalice' and at least they do not use the word 'tasse' which is a tea-cup.

Going to my 1963 Missal I was reminded that there in the English translation by Mgr Knox he used the word 'chalice.' I could never understand why his English translation was not used when the Novus Ordo came into being. The language is dignified yet easily understandable without being the language 'of the market place.'

Michael1 said...

I still find the word 'chalice' at that point in the Eucharistic prayer a worry. I have no difficulty at all when the prayer refers to the chalice on the altar, because in English, it is indeed a sacred and special vessel.

But a crucial feature of the words describing of institution is that they are a description of Jesus' actions at the Last Supper. I doubt very much that he took into his hands a golden or bejewelled masterpiece of sacred art: it is central to the very mystery of the Eucharist that the ordinary elements of daily life were so utterly divinised. (That's about as close as I can get to describing this central mystery of faith). The new translation misses that central truth.

A good translation is not identical with a word-for-word rendition. It reaches behind the words to the truth that needs a correspondence in our own language. To do that, it must speak to the imagination, the way we picture things. And the picture conjured up in our minds is not the same as to an author in Latin in centuries past. To our usage, a 'chalice' is always a sacred and special vessel: 'calix' to its authors creates an image broader than our narrow usage. The task for the translator is to capture something of that. Literalness can obscure truths.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Michael 1,

Is that what we are really doing at Mass?

Aren't we celebrating Heavenly Liturgy, the Eternal Offering of the Son to the Father made visible in the Paschal Mystery?

Isn't the re-enactment of the Last Supper, the very thing that all the ancient Christian Liturgies have deliberately tried not to do?

Victor said...

Michael1: When you invite your family for Christmas dinner, you don't use your everyday plates and eat in the kitchen, but you use the good china and eat in the good room. Similarly we can assume that, since Jesus and his disciples went to a special room (the "upper room"), they might have used special dishes and - why not? - a special, silvery or golden cup. I am not too well versed in Jewish religious rites, but I know for certain that nowadays, for the shabbat meal special cups (or chalices) are used.

Michael1 said...

Four points.

1. I hope I was not read as saying that the Mass is simply a re-enactment of the Last Supper: my comments that when the term 'chalice' is used in the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer there is no problem as it refers to the sacred vessel on the altar should rule out such an interpretation of my original comments. Nevertheless, the words of the Eucharistic Prayer at this point are directly descriptive of the Last Supper: 'When Supper was ended he took the .......', and that is where my problem lies. What is the correct English word which accurately renders that which Christ did at the Last Supper?
2. To Victor I would say that the Gospels do not give much narrative detail, but we may assume from what we know of Jewish life in the first century that in most household there would not have been many vessels: each, even the meanest, had to be hand-made, individually - poorer people would have had the bare necessities. Analogies from our use of the best china really cannot be read backwards for 2000 years, and even when royalty visits, I doubt we offer them a chalice of tea - that just isn't the way we use words in English, which is the difficulty here.
3. It is worth remembering that the new translation was not easily agreed: it would be interesting to compare the texts sent to Rome with the very Latinate ones that have emerged at the end of the process. Translation is never easy, for when a word is taken from one language and culture to another it is difficult to take with it the intellectual and overtones and connotations of the original. I don't want to start another argument, but there is an interesting instance of what I mean in the new Eucharistic prayer. It speaks of taking the chalice (sic.) into his 'venerable hands'. Now, in Latin, the word is 'venerabiles', which, strictly construed means that those hands are to be venerated, for they are the hands of the Lord. But in English, 'venerable' has come to have other shades of meaning: to describe something as venerable carries the assumption that it is fairly ancient: it is sometimes used euphemistically, sometimes just as a synonym for 'ancient'. That is not what is meant here, but it is the subjective meaning that may be taken. At least by tradition Jesus was in modern terms (not so much in ancient life expectancy) a relatively young man at the time of his Passion.
4. To Amfortas, I would refer you to the Holy Father's comments (in his letter to the Bishops which acconpanied the Motu proprio) on the various forms of the Mass, EF and OF, vernacular as well as Latin as 'mutually enriching'. The 'mutually' is important: one enriches the other, which suggests that we learn from the vernacular in our understanding of the Latin as well as the other way round. Good translation pays as much attention to the vernacular as the other way round. (There is a very funny account in the Preface of Adrian Fortescue's Ceremonies of the Roman Rite on the disastrous effect of a translation which is too literal). It is not a one way street.

The Saint Bede Studio said...

I think it would be a good idea to reinforce what has already been stated in comments. The formula for Consecration is NOT solely based on the scriptures. Scholars suggest that it may well be an OLDER formula which was purely liturgical and, as a consequence, was incorporated into the Roman Canon when it was written.

It is, therefore, its own continuous Tradition.

That the word calix instead of pocculum was chosen for this formula, or was adopted at a very early stage is the relevant point here, not that the word "calix" or its Greek equivalent is not found in the New Testament accounts.

John Nolan said...

German has Kelch (chalice), not Tasse (cup).

Chris said...

a crucial feature of the words describing of institution is that they are a description of Jesus' actions at the Last Supper. I doubt very much that he took into his hands a golden or bejewelled masterpiece of sacred art

Nevertheless the Canon states that he took hunc præclarum calicem.

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