I am feeling a bit unsettled this afternoon. I was in the book center just in time for a kind of debate on the new missal. The gentleman (who has clearly been reading the wrong magazines!) expressed his dissatisfaction with the upcoming translation says he has heard only negative things from priests, some of whom have even said that they would not want to celebrate Mass in public once the new Missal is in use (a sad statement, to be sure)... Obviously, it's a matter of the circles one travels in; I have mostly come across priests who are glad that the richer texts are going to be implemented soon, even though it's going to be quite a challenge for the celebrant, since most of the changes affect them directly. Our visitor's main issue is with the way the new translation will affect the words of consecration.
It's true. The consecration itself has been retranslated. And not for the first time, given that we are talking about words that Jesus originally said in Aramaic, and that have come to us in two slightly different versions. Starting this Advent, we will hear that the "chalice" contains "the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins..."
What gives? Didn't Jesus die for everyone? Are we being exclusive here?
Actually, in my talks on the Mass, this is one of the crucial areas that I look at, and it is the poster child for Sister Anne's Liturgical Language Postulate: "When a word or phrase in the liturgy makes one look up and scratch one's head in puzzlement, one can take this as an indication of the biblical or otherwise ancient provenance of said word or phrase." In other words, unexpected phrases are probably from the Bible (or at least the Fathers of the Church). That we look up in puzzlement is a sign of how little we really know the Scriptures and how they guide the way we pray.
So, "the many."
We know Jesus died for everyone; that's a dogma of faith, so it's certainly not being challenged in any way. Where does this "many" come from?
Actually, Pope Benedict's new book looks at just this phrase. He notes that it comes to us most directly from the Gospel itself: Jesus, at the Last Supper, probably used the Aramaic term. But in doing so, Jesus was himself quoting the Bible! The famous Suffering Servant of Isaiah would "give his life as an offering for many and win pardon for their offenses." In the context, Pope Benedict tells us, that "many" most likely meant "all Israel," "the whole people Israel." Only as the Gospel began to be received by "all the nations" did the early Church recognize a fuller meaning to that "many."
But wait, there's more! Pope Benedict also refers in passing (but with a nod of approval) to a contemporary scholar's suggestion that there is a "sacramental" angle to the term; that the words in the consecration most directly refer to the blood of the Covenant, which will be "poured out" from the Chalice for the "many" who will drink from it in Holy Communion. Clearly, here we do have a restricted meaning: Christ died for all, but "all" do not receive him in Holy Communion, though "many" truly do.
And as we are sent out from that Holy Communion to share the Gospel with the world, it is for us to do our part that more and more of that "all" join the "many" at the altar. That's what evangelization is.