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Why “For All” in the Words of Consecration?

And More on the Preparation of the Gifts
by Father Edward McNamara | Source:
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: A very conservative friend of mine says she cannot attend Mass in English because the translation of the consecration renders the words “pro multis” (for many) as “for all.” She says this is a heresy. Is she right? – J.S., Washington, D.C.

A: Here I will supply the answer which the Holy See gave to a similar question 34 years ago. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments first gave a brief official reply in January 1970 and later commissioned a brief but dense article on the subject by noted Jesuit scholar M. Zerwick, published in the May 1970 edition of Notitiae, the congregation’s official organ (pages 138-140).

The translations from the Latin and Italian were done for personal reasons by a priest friend of mine several years ago. They are an accurate translation but, as is obvious, cannot be considered official.

The official January reply (slightly adapted here) is typically brief and uses the usual form of a succinct query and reply.

The query states:

“In some vernacular versions the words of the formula for the consecration of the wine ‘pro multis’ are translated in the following way: in English ‘for all men’; in Spanish ‘por todos’ and in Italian ‘per tutti.’

“The following is asked:

“a) Is there a good reason, and if there is, what is it, for deciding on such a variation?

“b) Whether the doctrine regarding this matter handed down through the ‘Roman Catechism ordered by Decree of the Council of Trent and edited by St. Pius V’ is to be held outdated?

“c) Whether the versions of the above-mentioned biblical text are to be held less appropriate?

“d) Whether in the approval given to this vernacular variation in the liturgical text something less correct crept in, and which now requires correction or amending?

“Response: The above variation is fully justified:

“a) According to exegetes, the Aramaic word which in Latin is translated ‘pro multis,’ means ‘pro omnibus’: the multitude for whom Christ died is unbounded, which is the same as saying: Christ died for all. St. Augustine will help recall this: ‘You see what He hath given; find out then what He bought. The Blood of Christ was the price. What is equal to this? What, but the whole world? What, but all nations? They are very ungrateful for their price, or very proud, who say that the price is so small that it bought the Africans only; or that they are so great, as that it was given for them alone.’ (Enarr. In Ps. 95, n. 5)

“b) In no way is the doctrine of the ‘Roman Catechism’ to be held outdated: the distinction that the death of Christ was sufficient for all, efficacious only for many, still holds its value.

“c) In the approval given to this vernacular variation in the liturgical text, nothing less than correct has crept in, which would require correction or amendment.”

Since the debate continued unabated, the Vatican congregation weighed in with Father Zerwick’s May article entitled “Pro vobis et pro multis effundetur” which expounded the biblical justifications for the change from “many” to “all.” The following text, while sometimes a trifle technical, is sufficiently clear:

“A response was already given in Notitiae, n. 50 (January 1970), pp. 39-40, to the difficulty that in the vernacular interpretations of the words of the consecration of the wine ‘pro omnibus’ was used in place of ‘pro multis.’ Since, however, some uneasiness seems to persist, it seemed that the matter should be addressed again a little more extensively from an exegetical point of view.

“In that response, one reads: ‘According to exegetes the Aramaic word, which in Latin is translated “pro multis,” means “pro omnibus.”’ This assertion should be expressed a little more cautiously. To be exact: In the Hebrew (Aramaic) language there is one word for ‘omnes’ and another for ‘multi.’ The word ‘multi’ then, strictly speaking, does not mean ‘omnes.’

“But because the word ‘multi’ in different ways in our Western languages does not exclude the whole, it can and does in fact connote it, where the context or subject matter suggests or requires it. It is not easy to offer clear examples of this phenomenon. Here are some:

“In 3 Esdras [Ezra] 8:3 we read: ‘Many have been created, but only a few shall be saved.’ It is clear that all have been created. But here the interest is not in the whole, but in the opposite of ‘few.’ Hence, ‘many’ is used, when it truth it means ‘all.’

“In the Qumram text Hodayot IV, 28, 29, both words ‘many’ and ‘all’ are found in a synonymous parallel (two parallel verses in which the same thing is said twice): ‘You have worked wonders among the many on account of your glory that you might make known to all your great works.’

“Moreover, in Qumram ‘many’ (with or without the article) came to be a technical term (almost a name) for the community of all the full-fledged members, and thus just in the ‘rule’ of the sect it occurs in around 30 places.

“We come now to the texts of the New Testament with which we are particularly concerned: Romans 5:12,15. Here the comparative argumentation from the minor premise to the major is set up between the universality of Adam’s sin and the universality of Christ’s grace: ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned (after the insertion of verses 13 and 14, the comparison continues) ‘But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.’ Let us note: ‘all’ those of the first part become the ‘many’ (with an article) of the second part. Just as sin affects all, or rather much more, so also grace is destined for all.

“Mark 10:45 = Matthew 20:28 has Jesus’ words: ‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ That ‘for many’ ambiguous in itself, in fact is to be understood as ‘for all,’ proven by what we read in 1 Timothy 2:6: ‘Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.’

“But even if we didn’t have this authoritative interpretation, that ‘for many’ nonetheless should certainly be understood as ‘for all’ because the coming of Jesus (‘he came in order to give ...’) is explicitly carried out for the purpose which can abundantly be shown to have as its object the whole world, i.e. the human race as a whole.

“John 1:29: ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin (singular!) of the world!’

“John 3:16,17: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him ... may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’

“1 John 2:2: ‘he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.’

“1 John 4:14: ‘And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.’

“1 Timothy 4:10: ‘... we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.’“

“These texts, however, have the Eucharist itself in view:

“John 6:33: ‘For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’

“John 6:51: ‘the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

“Given all this, it can indeed rightly be asked, not so much what the words ‘pro multis’ in the consecration mean, but rather given all this evidence, why ‘pro omnibus’ is not explicitly said.

“In response, it seems that

“1) in the primitive Palestinian Church, considering both their soteriology and their Semitic mind-set, there was no misunderstanding that had to be avoided by employing the formula ‘pro omnibus.’ They could freely keep the traditional ‘pro multis’ because those Christians sensed and marveled at the beauty of that original formula ‘pro multis.’

“2) ‘pro multis’ seems to have been used by Jesus himself, because evoking the memory of Chapter 53 of Isaiah about the Servant of Yahweh who sacrifices himself, it is suggested that Jesus would fulfill what was predicted about the Servant of Yahweh. The main text is Isaiah 53:11b-12: ‘The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death ...; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’

“Therefore the formula ‘pro multis’ instead of ‘pro omnibus’ in our texts (Mark 10:45 = Matthew 20:28; Mark 14:24 = Matthew 26:28) seems to be due to the desired allusion to the Servant of Yahweh whose work Jesus carried out by his death.

“This brings us now to another question: Why therefore in our liturgical version this venerable original ‘pro multis’ should yield to the phrase ‘pro omnibus’? I respond: because of a certain accidental but true inconvenience: the phrase ‘for many’ — as it is said — in our minds (not forewarned) excludes that universality of the redemptive work which for the Semitic mind could be and certainly was connoted in that phrase because of the theological context. However, the allusion to the theology of the Servant of Yahweh, however eloquent for the ancients, among us is clear only to the experts.

“But if on the other hand it is said that the phrase ‘for all’ also has its own inconvenience, because for some it might suggest that all will actually be saved, the danger of such an erroneous understanding is estimated to hardly exist among Catholics.

“Besides, the change which the words of the consecration underwent was not unique nor the first. For the traditional Latin text already combines the Lucan text ‘pro vobis’ with the phrase of Mark and Matthew ‘pro multis.’ And that is not the first change. For already the liturgy of the early Church (Mark-Matthew) seems to have adjusted the saying over the chalice to the formula pronounced over the bread. For originally that formula of the chalice according to Paul (1 Corinthians 11:25) and Luke (22:20) was: ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ — a formula which was excellent perhaps in depth, but not really in clarity.

“It is clear how the Church of the Apostles was not interested in preserving the very voice of the Lord even in the words of the consecration, certainly cited for the first time as such by Jesus himself.”

Follow-up: Preparation of the Gifts

In our Aug. 24 column we replied to a question concerning the preparation of the chalice before Mass and the use of a single prayer of oblation.

A Dominican priest from Charlottesville, Virginia, has kindly pointed out that the celebrant who used the single prayer may have been a member of the Order of Preachers.

He writes: “In the Dominican Rite Low Mass the chalice was prepared before Mass and the oblation was made with a single prayer and single raising in both the Solemn and Low Masses. At Solemn High Mass the chalice was prepared during the Gradual.

“Both of these practices were also found in the liturgical family embracing the local uses of northern France and the Sarum Rite in England, from which family the Dominican Rite evolved.

“It is not uncommon for some Dominicans to use the old single oblation and to prepare the chalice ahead. The motive is nostalgia, not haste.”

The priest adds that, while he harbors much affection for the Dominican rite, he himself never follows this practice since it is contrary to the spirit and rubrics of the Roman rite.

I believe that his is a prudent decision when celebrating Mass for a congregation. Otherwise, the faithful may be confused by the difference in rites.

All this serves to show, however, that, even before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the Latin Church was not an absolute liturgical monolith. It allowed for several particular rites, either those pertaining to venerable religious orders or to certain regions or dioceses such as Milan in Italy, Lyon in France, Braga in Portugal, and in Croatia where for centuries the Roman rite has been celebrated in Croatian.

If you would like to read the previous commentaries, please click here.

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