Cups and Chalices (On Growing Up)

Mike Laskey

If you drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge from Camden to Philadelphia these days, and look up to the left as you arrive in Pennsylvania, you’ll see a billboard for the beer Stella Artois.

Stella has been famous for snobbish advertising since it introduced the slogan “Reassuringly Expensive” in 1982, and this new billboard continues the tradition. Next to a picture of a poured Stella is the caption, “It’s a chalice, not a glass.”

Every time I see it, I think of the new English Mass translation, which has substituted the word “chalice” for “cup” during the part of the Eucharistic Prayer called the Institution Narrative: “In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples…”

I’ll admit that this part of the new translation particularly bothered me, not unlike the way the self-important Stella billboard makes me roll my eyes. Who uses the word “chalice” in everyday conversation? Wasn’t that the point of translating the Mass into the vernacular in the first place?

Newcastle Brown Ale seems to agree:

In November, just before the new translation took effect, I put together an evening for the high school ministry I direct to introduce them (and me) to the changes. This included the cup-to-chalice switch, and so I looked up what the U.S. bishops had to say about it:

 “[C]halice” implies a special kind of cup – one that is precious and set aside for a noble purpose (in this case, for the “new and eternal covenant”).  This is part of the dignified language brought out by the new translation: just as we do not refer to the altar of sacrifice as merely a “table,” so saying “chalice” at this moment emphasizes that the Blood of Christ is no ordinary drink.  Such language can help foster greater reverence at the Holy Mass.

Not a bad argument. I translated this into high school English and presented it with enthusiasm. Fake enthusiasm, that is. Despite the bishops’ reasoning, the whole change didn’t sit well. I love the liturgy and I love language, and the adjustments seemed to be taking some of the poetry out of the English Mass, replacing it with archaic words and stilted syntax.

On the First Sunday of Advent, the new missal’s introduction, I went to Mass with my fiancée, and headed quickly to the car afterward. “Give me five minutes to vent, and then I’ll never say anything about it again,” I told her. I broke that promise a handful of times in the following weeks, but during the Easter Triduum last month I realized that I barely even noticed the differences anymore. Sure, I still have to read off the card in the pew for the Creed, but otherwise, everything is good. The frustration in December has evaporated by May. I’m still not crazy about the changes, but they don’t boil my blood anymore either. I can even appreciate certain phrases I missed during my quiet, self-righteous scoffing a few months ago: It is right and just. From the rising of the sun to its setting. Like the dewfall.

My noticing that I was no longer noticing coincided with a similar realization about parishes. My childhood church is wonderful, and it was extremely important to me. I thought I’d never be happy anywhere else, and I acted like it during college, saying over and over again that my hometown parish was so much better than what we had at school. Better preaching, better music, better building, better understanding of the connection between faith and justice. I was bitter at most Masses I attended throughout college, missing home and missing the point.

This problem continued to dog me after school, especially during the Triduum, which was always a liturgical tour de force at my hometown parish. The way you miss your family when you’re away for a holiday or birthday was how I would feel about my parish on those holiest days of the year.

But the parish where I work and worship now, St. Ann’s in Lawrenceville, has become a new home for me since moving here two years ago. I was a lector and Confirmation sponsor at this year’s Easter Vigil. I visited with friends and high school students after Mass and then broke the Lenten fast at Houlihan’s with some of my favorite people. Sure, St. Ann’s doesn’t use the music I loved as a kid, but there are other things that are so good. This was the first Triduum away from home that I didn’t compare to what I came from. No, I actually sort of prayed and paid attention.

These two connected experiences have been powerful lessons about growing up. As a child, the ways my family, my religion, and my parish did things were the only ways to do them. Opening myself to new possibilities is hard, but I am learning. With my fiancée, I have discovered that while my father’s way of cooking rice is a good way, there are other ways. With the Mass changes, I have remembered that the Eucharist is more powerful than the limitations of human language, and that any prayers we come up with to address God will always be imperfect and grasping. With my new parish, I have learned that journeying with the people in a faith community matters a lot more than the version of the Gloria you sing.

Each of these cases is a matter of moving from “me” to “we.” This is surprising, because I was pretty sure as a kid that getting older would mean becoming more independent, with no bedtime and ice cream for breakfast and going to church only when I really felt like it. But more and more, I’m realizing that puffed-up claims of independence come nowhere close to matching the joys and blessings of community. Even when that means drinking out of a chalice instead of a cup.

Mike is a program coordinator at CFJ and the youth minister at the Church of Saint Ann in Lawrenceville, NJ.

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5 Responses to Cups and Chalices (On Growing Up)

  1. rockybalsamo says:

    I know, you know, I loved this!!!! Well done Mike.

  2. Camille Introcaso says:

    Thanks for articulating these thoughts, Mike. Since our move to Atlanta a year ago, John and I have attended Mass at a church that’s new to us, The Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We have experienced some of the same growing pains you described, and these have been compounded by a culture change from the Northeast to the South, as well (“Mass is regularly ninety minutes down here, really?”) But we’ve also discovered things at The Shrine that are so good, and your post will help us find more.

  3. laura heil says:

    Mike- Again, such a great piece! Thanks!
    laura

  4. Martha says:

    I am still struggling with ways the latest translation has injured my prayer, and I appreciate your prompt to consider a kinder, gentler view (particularly as it’s a done deal). Something tells me an energetic conversation could continue for us, perhaps over a Newcastle.

  5. Tom Bartolomei says:

    Lovely reflection Mike! Thanks as always!

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