Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Roman Missal: More about the Many

About two weeks ago, I posted a bit about the new translation of the words of consecration. After attending another all-day seminar and continuing to reflect on what I heard then, and what I have been reading in the Pope's latest book (along with his Apostolic Exhortation "Sacrament of Charity," which in many ways reads like a first draft of some of the passages in Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 2), I have more insights on the much-criticized use of the word "many" in "for you and for many." It is critical that we have some kind of appreciation for what is hidden in this phrase, because it is so ripe for misinterpretation, and can be a source of scandal for the unprepared.
Context, of course, is everything, so here are the words over the chalice in full:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the Chalice of my Blood,
the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant,
which will be poured out for you
and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of Me.
The words are addressed to "all of you." But that's not in the Latin. The Latin verb is addressed in the second person plural, but the word "you" is not there. I think that is already significant. Because the word that is there in the Latin is "all." The "you" addressed is an "all": omnes.

The next subject is the Chalice with the "Blood of the new and eternal Covenant, which will be poured out." (Currently, we hear that this blood will be "shed.") It makes a difference which expression is used! That blood being "shed" refers to death; but covenant-blood being "poured out" from the Chalice takes us to the scenes in the Bible when the blood of a sacrificed animal (collected into a vessel) was poured out around the altar (God's stand-in) and sprinkled over the people, who in this very graphic way actually entered into the covenant. I think this covenant language does not receive enough attention when the whole "all/many" issue is engaged in the context of liturgy. "Christ died for all" (2 Cor 5), though clearly not everyone enters into the covenant by being "baptized into his death" (Rom. 6)--and the invitation still stands open to "all those still far off whom the Lord our God calls" (Acts. 2).

Then there's the famous "many." Many means many. It is the opposite of "few." It is not a restrictive term, though it sounds that way to us now, because we are so used to hearing "all."

Most discussions about this term (including my earlier post) note that at the Last Supper, Jesus himself most likely actually used the word "many," and did so knowing he was fulfilling the prophecy of the Servant of the Lord who would give his life as an offering "for many and win pardon for their offenses." But these are not the only places in the Gospel (or the New Testament) where that "many" shows up. When James and John wanted the best seats in the kingdom, Jesus told them that they would be following the Son of Man who "came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many."

And then there's Paul. Paul refers to Jesus and the "many," too: for Paul, Jesus is the new Adam who undoes what the first Adam did. In the Letter to the Romans, Paul practically plays a game with the words "one" and "many":
  • Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin...
  • But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
  • For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
There's a clear sense of the disproportion between the action of "the one" and the effect for "the many" (kind of like Neil Armstrong's words as he touched his foot to the surface of the moon!).

Do you think that these reflections can help those who may be upset by the new translation? What other insights have you come across?


Anonymous said...

Sr. Anne, these reflections are very helpful. Here are some additional thoughts by the Holy Father (then Cardinal Ratzinger) on the topic of pro multis:

Keep up the good work!


The Catholic Foodie said...

Sr. Anne, I talked about po-boys and penance on the last Catholic Foodie episode. Of course I had to do a bit of "research" to get ready for the show!

Just want to let you know that Fr. Jay Finelli tagged me in a Lenten meme, and now I'm tagging you!

Kristen said...

Thanks for this overview.

Other (non-Catholic) churches often use "for you and for many" and when I hear that I always wince. To hear that in a Catholic church as well will feel to me like a punch in the gut.

It still seems to me that "many" is inherently Jansenist -- or perhaps more accurately it can (and I am quite sure will) so very very easily be heard in a Jansenist way that it runs a very very serious risk of grave confusion or even scandal.

If you ask me. Which the Vatican did not.

But of course there are all those Biblical references to "many" that you cite. I wonder (and this is speculation on my part -- I don't know the languages in question) if maybe we're missing an idiom here. If "for many" in the original languages idiomatically means "for all" then maybe a strictly literal translation is not the most appropriate one. Because in English, "many" does not mean "few" but it also does not mean "all." It is a subset of all. Potentially a big subset, but still a subset.

(The stricter of my Presbyterian friends would say that all those references to "many" you have cited precisely mean "many" and not "all" but I don't want to go there and I don't think you, or the ICEL, or the Pope do either!)

Thanks for all you're providing on the background here ...

Sr Anne said...

I was just thinking, since when does "many" mean "not all"? It just means "many"!
But we will have to do a lot of communicating with people who will have a visceral reaction to the word, thinking it is limiting, when it is really attempting to carry the weight of all those Scriptures--plus one more (very relevant) passage I just thought of.... Remember when the disciples asked Jesus, "Are they many who will be saved?" And Jesus answered slyly, "Try to enter through the narrow gate."
In John's Gospel, Jesus says that he is the gate, and that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. How can we put all of that into the word "many"?

Anonymous said...


There is a Latin word for "all" -- omnia. In the official Latin text, the word that is prayed over the chalice, the word that has come down to us from time immemorial, is multis, not omnia. "For all" is an illegitimate translation that is finally being corrected.


Anonymous said...

As faithful Catholics, shouldn't we welcome a translation that sticks to what Jesus said, rather than what we, with our modern ideas of "inclusion" and universal salvation, might wish that He had said?


Sr Anne said...

The "take and drink" is addressed to "omnes" ("all"), but we add the words "of you" in English because we don't have a verb form of direct address. So there is an "all" that qualifies the "many," you could say.

"Omnes" was one of our Founder's favorite words, owing especially to a profound insight he had into the words of Jesus in Matthew 10: "Come to me, all of you" ("omnes"--no "you" in the Latin here either).
I think we do need to keep all these passages together, and realize that they all come to bear upon the words over the Chalice.

Sr Anne said...

Just a reminder: it is a dogma of faith (and explicit in Scripture) that Christ died for all. That is why I think it is more helpful to note the difference in what will be said over the chalice: it will not refer (as now) to blood being "shed"--but we all seem to be carrying that word and its meaning over as we hear the "many."
To put it differently:
currently: blood-->shed-->for all
coming: Chalice (or blood--it's not clear)-->poured out-->for many
The "pouring out" (not the killing) is what seals a covenant. At least, that is what I have read.

Anonymous said...

Sr. Anne, excellent point about the distinction between "shed" and "poured out". Indeed, Our Lord shed His Blood for all, yet His Blood is poured out ("sprinkled") upon the many who are gathered around the altar of His sacrifice.

Sr Anne said...

The bishop of Paterson just wrote about this subject, too: