Monday, January 16, 2012

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: "The Chalice of Benediction"

This from a Facebook page linked to mine, a page belonging to a young home-schooling mother who is Catholic.  And Catholic again.  Catholic added to Catholic.

Catholic of a certain sort, though, you understand.  Catholic of the JPII generation.  She shares a recording of "Panis Angelicus," and prefaces it with the following quotation, which surprises me so much (and not in a heartwarming way) that I never get to the recording itself: "The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).

And when I read the scripture passage, I ask myself--because the language is so entirely unfamiliar--if it's lifted from the "new" liturgy.  So I do some googling and find a site that gives parallel translations of the verse from all the major English translations for many years now, and find that one single, solitary translation uses the phrase "the chalice of benediction which we bless" to render this passage from 1 Corinthians.

And that translation is the Douay-Rheims translation, which dates from 1582.  Which, as this Wikipedia entry notes, is so "densely latinate" that it is "in places unreadable."  And so there were revisions of the translation almost immediately and over the years, and eventually English-speaking Catholics began to use (with good reason: so that they could understand the bible) the Jerusalem bible, the New American bible, the RSV and NRSV.  So that they could understand the bible, it bears repeating.

What's to be gained, I wonder, in calling a cup a chalice, when every other standard English translation that has long since been in use by English-speaking Christians rightly renders this verse, "the cup of blessing which we bless"?  And do younger Catholics who want to hurl us back to 1582 really and truly not understand that the Greek word being rendered as calix in Latin means "cup"?

And that calling a plain, ordinary cup a chalice simply because the latter word has a Latin root places us in no universe more sacrosanct or real than using the word "cup" places us in?  Perhaps to the contrary: since the goal of reading the bible is to understand the bible. 

And how the bible relates to the plain, ordinary world in which we live and move and have our being.  Daily.

Which is full of cups.  But not of chalices.

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