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for many or for all?

Jesus died for allThe English-language Roman Catholic Missal is not the only one being revised. The German revision has been getting some news.

In the Last Supper account in the Eucharistic Prayer the Latin has “qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum”. “Pro multis” literally means “for many” (or “for the many” – remember Latin does not have a definite article, so cannot make the distinction we can make in English). The Latin does not say “pro omnibus” or “pro universis” which, obviously, would mean “for all”.

The translation into English authorised by Pope Paul VI had “for all”. It validly consecrated in English-language Eucharists all around the globe for decades. It was argued that those who said it should be translated “for many” were schismatics falling into Calvinist heresy.

But times have changed. Now “for many” is in. “For all” is definitely out. The same goes for German. “Für viele” is soon to replace “für alle”. The Pope himself has made this crystal clear (translation here).

Just to be clear: when Jesus used Aramaic, he meant what we mean in English when we say “for all” and in German when we say “für alle”. Roman Catholic teaching, and I believe Christian teaching, is that Jesus lived, died, and rose for all. It is the Latin original that is incorrect.

The catechesis that the Pope requires is that people be taught that “for many”/“für viele” in the Eucharistic Prayer actually means “for all”/“für alle” – but we are not allowed to translate it to be what it actually means.

h/t Opinionated Catholic
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14 Responses to for many or for all?

  1. This is an observation somewhat incidental to the main point of your post! John Calvin is somewhat maligned around the Christian world. Whatever we make of his insights and his arguments, they do not go away, and reappear here, there and in the unexpected places of evolving (or returning) Christian thought. Just when we think we are free of his penetrative thought we find we are destined to rethink it and make the arguments and counter-arguments associated with the doctrines he espoused 🙂

    • Thanks, Peter. You’ll realise, of course, the connection with Calvin was not made by me, but by the linked source I was quoting. Easter Season blessings.

  2. Well, if Jesus died for many that was a bit picky of him, wasn’t it? And then we swing back into that awful state of who of us is included in the ‘many’ and who isn’t. Think I’ll stick with Jesus dying for all…which according to my understanding is what the Gospels and the Epistles say in more than one or two places…

    • Thanks, Mike. Eg 2 Cor 5:14-15

      14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
      15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

      Christ is risen.

  3. One of the things that helped me a lot was doing some relatively light forensic research into the textual/archeological origins of scripture. The main lesson one learns is that there simply cannot be any definitive “translation” because of the existence of so many differing historical versions.

    Far from ruining the purity of scripture, this tells us that words are the means to a spiritual end.

    Personally, I believe Jesus’ message of love and acceptance applies to all of humanity female and male alike, even zealots who mistakenly issue false guidance based on bias both unintentional and otherwise.

    • Thanks, Jonathan. I think, in the case of the scriptures, issues of translation are bigger than establishing a good basic text to translate from. Blessings.

  4. I’m not saying that ‘for all’ (as in the Scottish Episcopal Liturgy 1982) is theologically wrong, but it always feels uncomfortable for me simply because it is different from the BCP with which I grew up (am I an old fogey at 29?).

    Not being an Aramaic specialist, I guess I can’t argue that ‘for many’ = ‘for all’. Certainly in the Greek of the NT it’s ‘for many’, and thus the Latin liturgy has ‘for many.’ I think I’m a wee bit partial to ‘for many’ because it can mean ‘for all’ but ‘for all’ can never mean ‘for many.’ Thus, ‘for many’ leaves us with more options for interpretation, whereas ‘for all’ closes doors.

    Whatever we want to say about Calvin and the parsing of grace, it is true that if some people are damned (which I know is debatable), then although he died on behalf of all, Christ effectively only died for the many.

    • Thanks, Matthew (as an aside I hope people visit your wonderful site). I need to be convinced by you that the Greek πολλοί only means “many”. My understanding is that it can also mean “all”, and does so in some parts of the Septuagint (translating the Hebrew rabbim רַבִּ֔ים) and in, for example, Romans 5:19 and 1 Tim 2:5-6. Blessings.

  5. One thing that we Anglicans are likely to miss is that the Latin Canon of the Mass enjoys, at least within the Roman Communion, its own, autonomous authority as a source for theological reflection. It’s a voice contributing to the discussion about what the original Greek (or indeed a putative Aramaic) “actually means”, because how the Church has prayed those words (in this case for 1600+ years, never mind “decades”) is not lightly discarded.

    Since we Anglicans rejected the principle of “lex orandi, lex credendi” at the Reformation (let’s admit it, we reversed the terms: Lex credendi — quae apud Anglicanos semper mutabilis est secundum sententias doctorum scripturarum et decretos synodorum — ex eo tempore lex statuit orandi ;)), it’s understandable if we’re unsympathetic. We have Dr. Cranmer to thank for a liturgy that *says* what cutting-edge 16th-century scholarship had conclusively determined that Jesus *meant*.

    I, for one, am rather persuaded and edified by the pope’s arguments, which he has developed in several of his publications. And if in translating an ambiguous term I’m forced to choose between harmonizing and accentuating the tensions between, for example, Matt. 26:28 and 1 Tim. 2:6, then I’m for accentuating them. Lectio difficilior and all that.

    A minor quibble, Bosco: surely no one outside the lunatic sedevacantist fringe of the Catholic Church has argued that the “for many / for all” issue has anything to do with valid consecration? Addai and Mari gets along fine without any words of our Lord at all… I believe it was Dom Gregory Dix who said that all that was needed for a valid Eucharist was bread, wine, a priest (i.e. a real one), and a prayer expressing the intent to do what Christ commanded (most compendiously, but not exclusively, accomplished by quoting the Lord’s own words). Just because the 1970 ICEL translation was “valid” doesn’t mean it was good. And if a tree is known by its fruits…

    • Yes, to much of that, as usual, Jesse. And just to enlarge your point, the Vatican accepts Addai and Mari, without the Last Supper account, validly consecrates. Blessings.

  6. Ahem… “legem statuit orandi”. With Latin in such a state, no wonder the Church in Canada is in decline…

  7. I am most interested. Bosco, could you please pass on to me this text of the Aramaic original of Jesus words at the Last Supper that you have obviously acquired. I don’t have them and I’m surre they would be most helpful.

    More seriously, following on from Jesse’s excellent point, you are surely aware that the Catholic Mass is not a recreation of the Last Supper – that only happens (and to a limited extent) on Holy Thursday. The Mass is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary – each mass is every bit as much about Good Friday and Easter Sunday as it is Holy Thursday. Now that was one of the beliefs the Reformation specifically rejected but it is Catholic teaching. As an Anglican you are of course free to reject that but if so, as politely as possible, who is this we who aren’t allowed to translate things your way?

    • Thanks, Chris, for your visit and comment.

      It should be possible for you to acquire an Aramaic text. There are several editions available via Amazon or online. I presume you have already checked the liturgies of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Liturgy of St. James the Apostle? I’m afraid my own expertise doesn’t extend to fluency in Aramaic, and I cannot even replicate the script here to ask if you disagree with the scholarly analysis of the Aramaic. If you seek to pursue that further I suggest you contact Father Louis Arceneaux who can be reached at louiearceneaux39 AT yahoo DOT com and could point you to the appropriate scholarship.

      I’m not sure how your second paragraph builds on Jesse’s. The question of whether RCs see Mass as replicating the Last Supper is a very complex one and connects to the gestures of the priest, and the priest acting in persona Christi, etc. It really is a quite different thread. This thread is not about replicating the Last Supper, it is about the translation of the Last Supper story embedded in the Eucharistic Prayer.

      It is true that classic Anglican texts, following the inherited Western Latin, translated as “for many”. Contemporary revisions vary, some having “for all”, some “for you”, etc. It is an interesting thought to have the classic Anglican texts as being a model for the new Vatican translation.

      I can make little sense of your last sentence. The teaching that I am personally required to adhere to is that the Eucharist celebrates Good Friday and Easter Day. Again, I do not see how that point bears on this thread.

      Blessings.




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