Thursday, October 6, 2011

New Translation Thursday: For Many

Welcome to this installment of "New Translation Thursday."

I am back home here in Chicago after several days away. Feeling refreshed and invigorated.

As you know, I have spent many many months on the road talking with various groups of people about the implementation of the new translation. In a way, I feel that those presentations have led up to what is about to occur beginning tonight and over the next few days. Tonight I will be speaking with the members of my parish's choir about the new translation. And on Sunday, I will be speaking with my parish's liturgical ministers and the members of the Knights and Ladies of Saint Peter Claver.

You know, I really don't get too nervous about public speaking any more. But I am anxious about these two presentations because they are for an audience of people whom I deeply love. And, judging from comments I have received in the recent past, it looks like there are going to be lots and lots of questions about the new translation. Some of those questions I share as well. I do believe that I will be able to answer the "why a new translation" question. I do know, however, that for some people the answer is not satisfying in any way.

The pro multis question, I believe, is the most problematic of all issues in the new translation, and one about which I struggle mightily. When asked to talk about it, I simply refer people to this 2006 letter from Cardinal Arinze:

Letter from Cardinal Francis Arinze on the Translation of Pro Multis

Rome, 17 October 2006

Prot. no. 467/05/L

Your Eminence / Your Excellency,

In July 2005 this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, by agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote to all Presidents of Conferences of Bishops to ask their considered opinion regarding the translation into the various vernaculars of the expression pro multis in the formula for the consecration of the Precious Blood during the celebration of Holy Mass (ref. Prot. n. 467/05/L of 9 July 2005). The replies received from the Bishops’ Conferences were studied by the two Congregations and a report was made to the Holy Father. At his direction, this Congregation now writes to Your Eminence / Your Excellency in the following terms:

1. A text corresponding to the words pro multis, handed down by the Church, constitutes the formula that has been in use in the Roman Rite in Latin from the earliest centuries. In the past 30 years or so, some approved vernacular texts have carried the interpretative translation “for all,” “per tutti,” or equivalents.

2. There is no doubt whatsoever regarding the validity of Masses celebrated with the use of a duly approved formula containing a formula equivalent to “for all” as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already declared (cf. Sacra Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, Declaratio de sensu tribuendo adprobationi versionum formularum sacramentalium, 25 ianuarii 1974, AAS 66 [1974], 661). Indeed, the formula “for all” would undoubtedly correspond to a correct interpretation of the Lord’s intention expressed in the text. It is a dogma of faith that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women (cf. John 11:52; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2).

3. There are, however, many arguments in favor of a more precise rendering of the traditional formula pro multis:

a. The Synoptic Gospels (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24) make specific reference to “many” for whom the Lord is offering the Sacrifice, and this wording has been emphasized by some biblical scholars in connection with the words of the prophet Isaiah (53:11-12). It would have been entirely possible in the Gospel texts to have said “for all” (for example, cf. Luke 12:41); instead, the formula given in the institution narrative is “for many,” and the words have been faithfully translated thus in most modern biblical versions.

b. The Roman Rite in Latin has always said pro multis and never pro omnibus in the consecration of the chalice.

c. The anaphoras of the various Oriental Rites, whether in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, the Slavic languages, etc., contain the verbal equivalent of the Latin pro multis in their respective languages.

d. “For many” is a faithful translation of pro multis, whereas “for all” is rather an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis.

e. The expression “for many,” while remaining open to the inclusion of each human person, is reflective also of the fact that this salvation is not brought about in some mechanistic way, without one’s own willing or participation; rather, the believer is invited to accept in faith the gift that is being offered and to receive the supernatural life that is given to those who participate in this mystery, living it out in their lives as well so as to be numbered among the “many” to whom the text refers.

f. In line with the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, effort should be made to be more faithful to the Latin texts of the typical editions.

4. The Bishops’ Conferences of those countries where the formula “for all” or its equivalent is currently in use are therefore requested to undertake the necessary catechesis of the faithful on this matter in the next one or two years to prepare them for the introduction of a precise vernacular translation of the formula pro multis (e.g., “for many,” “per molti,” etc.) in the next translation of the Roman Missal that the Bishops and the Holy See will approve for use in their country.

With the expression of my high esteem and respect, I remain, Your Eminence /Your Excellency,

Devotedly Yours in Christ,

+ Francis Cardinal Arinze


While I understand the reasons that the Cardinal moves the reader through, I still cannot wrap my brain around it. While I realize that the acceptance of the Lord's sacrificial love is a free choice made by the individual (who is counted among the "many"), nevertheless, the Lord's blood was shed for all. Not all accept the gift, but it is shed for all.
This is one of those areas in the new translation that I find quite difficult, and I tell people so. And I can't imagine myself not cringing each and every time, for the rest of my life, that I hear these words:





How have you handled questions about this issue?
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

Jerry, one of the terrific things about the new corrected translation is that it better captures and reflects the scriptural basis of the prayers of the Mass. To look at this "pro multis" issue a few weeks ago, I went to the library and looked at one of those bibles that has eight different English translations. I figured there had to be some that said "for all" along with "for many."

Nope! All eight said "for many".

So, fret not. If we had been hearing the Mass in Latin all these years, or if we had been given an accurate translation 40 years ago, it would not be an issue.

Anonymous said...

I cry every time I think about it and wonder if I can continue in a church that doesn't believe Christ came for everyone.

I wish our bishops had the courage of the Italian and German bishops. See this article on PrayTell.

Adam Wood said...

>>>I cry every time I think about it and wonder if I can continue in a church that doesn't believe Christ came for everyone.

I'm sorry for your discomfort. Lord knows there is much in the Roman Catholic Church to be uncomfortable about.

But what you just said is simply untrue. Re-read Cardinal Arinze's letter. The Church has ALWAYS and CONTINUES TO teach that Christ came for everyone.

The question here in relationship to these particular words isn't "What does the Church teach?" but rather, "What did Christ ACTUALLY SAY?" That section is a direct quote. Seems best to quote what he said, not what we're all pretty sure he meant.

Save your tears, anonymous. They would be used more relevantly on "chalice" or "us men." Not to mention all the non-translation-related failures of the Church.

Anonymous said...

Translation must also take reception into account, the nuances and undertones of a particular word or phrase, how it is HEARD by living, breathing human beings in a real cultural and linguistic setting.

While pro multis may technically be "for many" - the "many" there in the original (biblical) setting would be HEARD as inclusive, expansive. Perhaps that nuance would be better captured by the English "for the many" or - better - "for the multitude".

The truth is, "many" in English is HEARD as exclusive... "many but not all." We have an inclusive word in English: all. Note the comment from "anonymous" at 2:23 today.

So we are left with a conundrum: do we translate pro multis to get the literal transaltion of the words "right" or do we translate it to get the meaning (and the Church's theology) "right"?

Our current translation works. Perhaps "for the multitude" would reflect both the teaching and the words well. But "many" by itself falls short, and is open to misunderstanding and misapproptiation - unnecessarily so. This is a good example where we lost rather than gained with the new translation.

And don't bother arguing that "catechesis" is going to fix it... some may hear or read our "corrections" and "explanations" - but most will not... they will simply be formed by the words they are hearing, or, rather, de-formed....

Anonymous said...


Given that each of the three Synoptic Gospels has a different institution account, we don't have access to the words that Jesus actually spoke at the last supper.

And since we don't know - it IS the meaning that is paramount, not the exact words.

Anonymous said...

Adam Wood said:

But what you just said is simply untrue. Re-read Cardinal Arinze's letter. The Church has ALWAYS and CONTINUES TO teach that Christ came for everyone.

The Church says he came for everyone. But at every single Mass in English we are going to contradict that. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

Rismi said...

When I hear "for you and for many", I don't think of it not being "for all"... I think that it is not only for me or for few! ;-) "For many", as said by the Lord in the Gospel itself, meant for lots of people, for all. So, in my humble opinion, saying "for many" is just saying the same as "for all".

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

1. It is frustrating to hear people say that to say "for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins" in the consecration of the wine is somehow a contradiction of the dogma that Jesus came and died for everyone. This is simply untrue. I think the key is realizing that we are saying more than "which will be poured out for you and for many." The sentence doesn't end there, it goes on: "for the forgiveness of sins." As the Roman Catechism makes clear, this is speaking of the FRUITS of the sacrifice, the actual forgiveness of sins (which is for many), not the potential forgiveness of sins (which is for all).

2. As others have pointed out, the words "for many" appear in EVERY major English translation of the Bible at Matthew 26 and Mark 14. The words "for many" also appear in the English translation of every Eucharistic Prayer in Jasper & Cuming's "Prayers of the Eucharist" (at least, every prayer that has "for you and for ___"). Even the non-Catholic Eucharistic Prayers!

3. The comparison of "all" to "many" is, I think, the wrong comparison to make. However you translate "pro multis", the real comparison you should be making is between it and "pro vobis" (for you). Jesus didn't just pour out his blood "for you" (his disciples), he poured it out for other people too (for many, for the many, for others, for all, etc.). So "pro multis" clearly means "for more than just you; not only for you". That's the message, that shedding of Christ's blood has a far-reaching effect.

David said...

In giving a presentation to my parish, I briefly addressed "pro multis." The first and last thing I stated, clearly and forcefully, is that the Church's teaching on salvation offered to all is not changing. Even after that and explaining why we have "for many" in the new translation, people still seemed uncomfortable about it.

Jerry, I thank you for your honesty about your expected ongoing discomfort every time you hear "for many." That may be my reaction too.

Jeffrey, I do like your third point about "for you" and "for many."

For the record, the Jewish Publication Society translation of the Tanakh has "the many" and "the multitude" in Isaiah 53:11b-12.