Skip to content

Stephen Colbert on the new liturgy

December 2, 2011

And now some histrionics on the new liturgy that are actually funny:

The Colbert Report

Enjoy a good laugh, everyone!

About these ads
26 Comments
  1. Ronald King permalink
    December 2, 2011 9:12 pm

    Thanks David. I missed him the other night. I loved it when he said something to the effect that “We’re trying to get into heaven..not pass the SAT’s.”

  2. Peter John permalink
    December 3, 2011 8:43 am

    This is Colbert, it is hardly just critique of the new translation. It could just easily seen as a critique of those who think Catholic liturgy must sink to the lowest common denominator, ie. a translation on a fifth grade reading level. Are the laity dumb or aren’t they? “Progressive” Catholics, can we handle a Mass a tenth grade reading level now, pretty please?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      December 3, 2011 1:01 pm

      It’s Colbert: it is supposed to be a joke.

      I am fine with a 10th grade reading level. I am not happy with slavish translations that distort the meaning by trying to force English to fit the syntactic structure of Latin. Can we we please have a translation that is faithful but respects the vernacular? Or does that smack too much of the “spirit of Vatican II”?

      • Thales permalink
        December 4, 2011 4:04 pm

        I am not happy with slavish translations that distort the meaning by trying to force English to fit the syntactic structure of Latin.

        Honest question: Besides the “pro multis” issue, which has been discussed thoroughly on that other post, and which has two sides of debate I find reasonable and understandable…… is the new translation guilty of this distortion? What are other portions which distort the meaning?

      • Kurt permalink
        December 5, 2011 9:53 am

        I think “chalice” for “cup.” The term chalice has come to refer to a sacred liturgical vessel. But do we think Jesus truly implied or stated such at the Last Supper?

      • Thales permalink
        December 5, 2011 11:16 am

        Kurt,
        The word in the Latin Mass prayer (and in the Latin Vulgate) is “calix, calicis.” “Chalice” doesn’t seem to me to be a distortion from “calix” — obviously, the very word “chalice” is a direct derivation from “calix” unlike the word “cup” which has an entirely different origin. So, to me, this seem like an instance of a better translation.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
          December 5, 2011 11:37 am

          And here we come to the nub of it: what constitutes a “better translation”? The Latin word “calix” means a cup, a goblet or a drinking vessel. So the translation as cup is a perfectly accurate translation. That cup has a different origin is immaterial: it still means the same thing. The word chalice passed into English directly from the Latin, but if the citations in the Oxford English Dictionary are any guide, by the 17th or 18th century it had passed from common usage to poetic or figurative language except when used specifically to refer to the sacred vessels used in church.

          Now you can insist that a “better” translation is one which uses the closest word with a Latin root to translate from Latin into English, but this is a rather mechanical principle which does not respect the way languages work. But I think that with this example Kurt is correct: the translation adds nothing (that I can see, please tell me if you think differently) and the use of an archaic word obscures the sense of the passage.

      • Thales permalink
        December 5, 2011 1:03 pm

        That cup has a different origin is immaterial: it still means the same thing.

        No. That’s a terrible rule for translating. Many times, there are two words that can mean the same thing, but one will have a certain connotation and the other will have a different connotation — and oftentimes that connotation comes from the word’s derivation. It’s a poor translator who thinks that synonymous words are interchangeable in all contexts.

        Now I see 2 possible words for “cup” in Latin: “cuppa” and “calix.” If there are 2 different words in Latin, then the careful translator should say to himself “since they are 2 different words, there are probably distinctions between calix and cuppa. What are those distinctions?” After noting that there might be distinctions between the words, the translator should then say, “in the text here “calix” was used, not “cuppa.” Maybe there is a reason for that?”

        by the 17th or 18th century it had passed from common usage to poetic or figurative language except when used specifically to refer to the sacred vessels used in church

        So? Just so that we’re all on the same page: we’re discussing a translation of Latin text written in 1970. In 1970, we had 2 Latin words for “cup”: “calix” and “cuppa.” The 1970 writers could have presumably used either the Latin word “cuppa” or the Latin word “calix.” They chose “calix.” I’m not sure about this, but doesn’t “calix” have a closer connection with sacredness than “cuppa,” the way that it does for English? If so, I suspect that one of the reasons they went with “calix” was because of the connotation of sacredness. I think it makes perfect sense for the Latin writers to want the word to be more closely connected to sacredness — because we’re talking about the holiest of occasions holding the holiest of objects, Christ’s blood.

        Now, you might think that the Latin 1970 translation shouldn’t use the word “calix” anymore, but should have used the word “cuppa” because by the 17th century the language had changed, etc., and that the Latin “calix” now had a connotation that shouldn’t be there. But that’s a different debate. The issue here is how to translate 1970 Latin text. If the Latin writers wanted to imply a connotation of sacredness, it would be a poor translation to remove this connotation.

      • Kurt permalink
        December 5, 2011 1:17 pm

        If so, I suspect that one of the reasons they went with “calix” was because of the connotation of sacredness. I think it makes perfect sense for the Latin writers to want the word to be more closely connected to sacredness — because we’re talking about the holiest of occasions holding the holiest of objects, Christ’s blood.

        That is my point. The word calix/chalice used today suggests sacredness. Did Christ suggest that when He spoke at the Last Supper? Christ took what was ordinary (wine, bread, cup, table) and made them holy. We today should refer to the vessels we use to hold the Blood of Christ as a chalice. But putting that word in Christ’s mouth is inaccurate. It relfects what we have come to understand from Christ’s action. It would be like saying rather than at the Last Supper “Christ rose from the table…” to say “He rose from the altar…”

      • Thales permalink
        December 5, 2011 4:10 pm

        Kurt,

        Is your beef with the English translator of an already-existing Latin prayer that happens to have text with a connotation of sacredness? Or is your beef with the person who wrote the Latin prayer text in the first place, and who (you think) inaccurately put in a connotation that shouldn’t be there?

        Do you see the distinction I’m making?

      • Kurt permalink
        December 6, 2011 9:32 am

        The Latin uses the word “calix.” One does not know for a fact, but some suppose that was used to suggest sacredness, others dispute that. Given we know the word used but not the exact reason, we should use some pastoral and theological common sense in the translation. If we were to be absolutely rigid (and not theologically uncorrect), we could say “this banqueting cup.”

        It is falsely simplistic to insist that closely related Latin words perfectly translate into closely related English words (cup = cuppa; chalice = calix).

      • Thales permalink
        December 8, 2011 9:23 am

        It is falsely simplistic to insist that closely related Latin words perfectly translate into closely related English words

        Well, I wasn’t saying that. But it is an important and necessary tool for translations (and it is falsely simplistic to insist otherwise), and only an incompetent translator ignores the etymological origin of words.

        If we were to be absolutely rigid (and not theologically uncorrect), we could say “this banqueting cup.”

        Okay, but then this supports my argument, not yours. If we don’t want to use the long phrase “banqueting cup”, what one word better conveys the image that we are trying to invoke, “chalice” or “cup”? I think the obvious answer is “chalice.” A “chalice” is a banqueting cup; a “cup” is not necessarily a banqueting cup but could be made out of styrofoam.

        (Anyone here remember the chalice from The Court Jester?)

    • Kurt permalink
      December 5, 2011 9:55 am

      I dunno. What is the minimum reading level Christ came to save?

      • December 6, 2011 3:56 am

        calix just means goblet or drinking-cup — the Latin word has no connotations of sacredness — the NT Greek has poterion, drinking-cup — no sacred connotations — in MODERN English the word chalice always means a sacred vessel — so it is a mistranslation for calix

      • Thales permalink
        December 6, 2011 9:43 am

        Heh. If calix means goblet or drinking-cup, then maybe “cup” is a mistranslation also considering our modern world of Dixie cups. Maybe it should be “and he took the goblet…” :)

  3. December 4, 2011 10:14 am

    Very funny stuff.

  4. December 4, 2011 8:55 pm

    That was very funny. I think a more proper translation from Latin to the vernacular was in order. The latest translation corrects the improper translations which occurred right after Vatican II.

  5. December 5, 2011 1:52 pm

    Note that the disagreements between Cruz-Uribe and Thales about what counts as a “good” and/or “accurate” translation are themselves good reasons for celebrating the Mass in Latin. Assuming that these disagreements about translations are both interminable and static (as they seem to be), why not do away with the cause of their existence: the vernacular liturgy itself? (I am no liturgical purist, but these incessant disputes about the new translation and how it is either the best or worst thing to happen to us in quite some time is convincing me that perhaps I should be put, and take my sacraments, as one of my rad-trad friends says, “the old way.”)

    • Kurt permalink
      December 5, 2011 4:32 pm

      For that to work, we need to not just go back before 1965 with the Mass in Latin, but back to the 19th century, when Latin/Vernacular hand missals were prohibited. We need the lay faithful to understand that the Mass is a conversation between God and the celebrant and that evesdropping is a sin. They should have their nose in their books of private prayers while at Mass, paying no attention to the mumbling by the priest.

  6. December 5, 2011 1:53 pm

    should be *one*, not “put.” No doubt I should also be “put.”

  7. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    December 5, 2011 7:10 pm

    Thales,

    I am moving down here so we have a larger box to work with.

    “If there are 2 different words in Latin, then the careful translator should say to himself “since they are 2 different words, there are probably distinctions between calix and cuppa.”

    I am not a philologist, but as best I can tell, calix is the classical Latin word, and cuppa entered the language at a much later stage. I don’t have access to a good Latin dictionary, and the earliest reference I could find online was to the 7th century. Cuppa is the word that ended up as “copa” in spanish and similar words in other romance languages. So the text of the liturgy could use calix for the simple reason that the authors wanted to write in classical Latin.

    For what it is worth, based on the OED (again—I love its etymological information), calix has been translated as either cup or chalice for a very long time. The earliest I noticed was the Wycliffe translation of the New Testament, which had “when he took the cup”.

    Also, I think you misunderstood my point about passing from common usage: I was referring not to the Latin (which I realize was written in 1970, based on earlier texts) but to English, in which chalice has passed from common usage with narrow exceptions. And this is the point I was trying to make: it is not clear to me what advantage is gained by replacing the anglo-saxon “cup” with the Latinate “chalice” given that chalice is a more obscure word. That it has some sense of “holy” or “sacred” attached to it seems a weak reed; I much more strongly suspect that “formal equivalence” was applied as meaning that Latin root words are a priori better.

    • Thales permalink
      December 5, 2011 8:24 pm

      the earliest reference I could find online was to the 7th century

      Your mention of earliest reference to the 7th cent. — are you talking about “calix” or “cuppa”? Assuming you’re talking about “cuppa,” regardless, I don’t know why that or your Wycliffe reference makes any difference. Of course, “calix” can be translated “cup.” But so can “cuppa.” And these are two Latin words that have been used for quite some time, but for some reason, the authors used “calix” instead of “cuppa.” And though sometimes it’s correct to translate “calix” as “cup,” sometimes it’s wrong to have that translation if the notion of “chalice” is intended.

      And this is the point I was trying to make: it is not clear to me what advantage is gained by replacing the anglo-saxon “cup” with the Latinate “chalice” given that chalice is a more obscure word.

      Well, as I’ve said, there is this advantage: arguably, it’s a word that more closely describes what the Latin authors are saying and meaning, especially if they intended a “sacred” connotation, or even a connotation that conveys a sense of greater formality or wealth or “specialness.” “Calix” has such connotations, while “cuppa” does not; similarly, “chalice” has such connotations, while “cup” does not. I happen to think it’s reasonable to believe that the authors intended some connotation because they used “calix” instead of “cuppa”…. and therefore, a translator should then try not to lose such a connotation in the translation. Moreover, on top of that, you’ve got the fact of the calix-chalice and cuppa-cup etymological connections. No translation is perfect, of course, but it seems to me that since “chalice” is the word most closely related to “calix”, the onus is on you to argue that Latin authors in no way intended a connotation of sacredness/formality/wealth by using the word “calix” and therefore, it would be a mistake to translate it as “chalice.”

      Also, I don’t understand your objection that “chalice” is an obscure word.
      (1) It’s not obscure. For a Catholic, it’s not in any way obscure — it’s the basic word for the item that holds the precious Blood, just like “altar” is the basic word for the item at the front of the church, not “table.” If you don’t know that it’s called an altar or that’s it’s called a chalice, more learning about the faith is sorely needed.
      (2) Even if it was obscure, so what? Obscurity is not a flaw when you have the goal of conveying a specific and exact meaning in language. Undoubtedly, the Nicene Creed’s changes (“consubstantial” and “incarnate”) are obscure words, but I think they are improved translations because they more exactly convey the meaning of the Latin concepts being described. “Born of” doesn’t encompass the full meaning of what “being incarnate” entails, for example.

  8. R. Rockliff permalink
    December 6, 2011 3:20 pm

    One aspect of translation that does not seem to receive as much attention, but an aspect that I think is almost as important as “accuracy” or “fidelity to the original” is poetics. I think that most people know what a chalice is, and that chalices and cups are more or less the same sorts of things. So, semantically, the translators could use either word without doing any, or much, violence to the original. Yet, translating prose is not quite the same thing as translating poetry, and there may be poetic, or aesthetic, reasons for using “chalice” in place of “cup,” or even for using “cup” in place of “chalice,” as the case may be, depending on, for example, the metrical needs of the text. One could dispute whether or not the original is actually poetry, or whether the original author perceived it to be poetry, but I would be surprised if anyone would actually argue that the liturgy is not poetry. “Chalice” is, in general, a more poetic word than “cup,” but it is not always the right poetic choice, depending on circumstances of metrics, phonaesthetics, and even etymological association. Any argument that depends on ungenerous assumptions about the linguistic skill and artistic sensitivity of the masses is, in my opinion, condescending and elitist. I would like to believe that the masses are capable of appreciating poetry, and are even willing to expand their experience a little by learning a new word or two, if necessary.

    • December 7, 2011 12:09 pm

      I don’t think that chalice is, in general, a more poetic word than cup is. All good anglo-saxon-grounded English poets would use cup, recognizing the word ‘chalice’ is a later francophonic intrusion. If franco-latinate ornamentality equals ‘poetic,’ then you’re right. But it doesn’t, and your not. (I do see what you’re getting at, though. I have read many people claiming that ‘chalice’ is more poetic. It is not.)

      • Thales permalink
        December 8, 2011 9:15 am

        I think the idea that “chalice” is “more poetic” is based on the idea that “cup” is a colloquial word used every day for every common drinking tool, whereas “chalice” is a type of cup, a cup that is special in some way by being regal, or sacred, or ornate, etc. If you were writing poetically about a banquet with golden drinking vessels, you’d want to use the word “chalice”, not “cup”.

  9. R. Rockliff permalink
    December 13, 2011 1:06 pm

    MJ, I do not think you see what I am getting at, because I am getting at the subject of poetics, and I do not think you understand poetics, if I am allowed to judge your understanding of it from what you have written here. I clearly stated that the word “cup,” could, in certain circumstances, be a better poetic choice than “chalice.” I do not, however, believe that the ethnicity of the poet is one of those circumstances. I do not understand why you think a good Anglo-Saxon poet would prefer the word “cup” to the word “chalice.” Do you mean a modern Anglo-Saxon or an ancient Anglo-Saxon? Are you saying that “chalice” is latinate and “cup” is not? What do you mean by “latinate” then? The word “cup” is derived from the Latin “cuppa.” To avoid latinate vocabulary, a good Anglo-Saxon poet, ancient or modern, would have to use an archaic Germanic term for drinking vessel, and would therefore have to use the word “vat,” or something like that. I personally think most people would find that even more difficult than the word “chalice.” However, the point is that poetry is not “everyday language,” if it were, then the word “poetry” would be a word without any practical meaning. Anything and everything would count as poetry. I prefer to define the word in such a way that it continues to mean something, while understanding that there are those who define it differently. Nevertheless, it is certainly accurate to say that archaic and ornamental words have been perceived to be especially “poetic” by every human culture that ever produced poetry. The idea that everyday language is the only suitable medium for poetry is a recent one, and suggests that humankind did not produce any real poetry until the last century or so. I understand that there are people who feel this way. I understand that, in the last century or so, advertising has come to fill the place that had always been filled by art and poetry, and that the principles that make effective advertising have been accepted in place of the principles that had always been accepted as the principles of poetry. Poets, historically, had chosen subjects like love and heroism and natural beauty to write about. Such “high” ideas suggested “high” language. Today, of course, the culture produces far more advertising jingles than it does poetry. One does not need to invoke high language to extol the virtues of soap or toothpaste. The point of view that your comment represents is that poetry ought to conform to the principles of modern advertising. That is certainly a point of view, and I know that you are not alone in it. If my not buying into it makes me wrong, then I am obstinately unrepentant in my error.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 860 other followers

%d bloggers like this: