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Liturgy: Why 'For All' in the Words of Consecration?

9/8/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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And More on the Preparation of the Gifts

ROME, SEPT. 8, 2004 (Zenit) - 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down through the 'Roman Catechism ordered by Decree of the Council of Trent and edited by St. Pius V' is to be held outdated?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 ...

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