|ROME, 7 SEPT. 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?
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St. Pius V' is to be held outdated?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
"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
"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
"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'
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.'
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
* * *
Follow-up: Why "For
All" at Consecration? [from 09-21-2004]
There was quite a reaction from several quarters regarding the Sept. 7
column on the question of translating the "pro multis" as "for all." Some
readers even sent in tracts arguing that this change of translation made
the consecration invalid.
In some cases it was clear that the readers had read the article with
excessive haste and attributed to my pen what was in fact a translation
from an official source of the Holy See. In one case it was an official
response to a doubt and in the second an article by the theologian M.
Zerwick which cannot be considered official as such but which received the
approval of the Holy See and was published at its request.
I certainly do not possess the theological and exegetical capabilities
shown by Zerwick in his brief but dense article.
A reader from England stated that the article basically accused 2,000
years of popes, saints and theologians of being wrong in their
interpretation of the "pro multis."
Rereading the article I cannot see how this can be true. The article does
not create an opposition between the past and the present; it accuses
nobody of ever having being wrong.
The thrust of the article's argument was that the expression used by
Jesus, which literally means "the many," did not exclude, and probably
included, the connotation that he died for all.
The argument also recognizes, and indeed could not do otherwise, that "for
all" is not a correct literal translation for "pro multis." It does
sustain, however, that it is a correct translation from a theological
standpoint and does not substantially change the meaning of the
The article also defends the position of all those, including some saints
and popes, who distinguished between the Lord's sacrifice being sufficient
for the salvation of all, while being efficacious only for many and
especially those who cooperate with grace at Mass.
This is a valid and true distinction that is not challenged by the
translation because it is true as such even though the doctrine can no
longer call upon the text of the consecration in English, Spanish or
Italian, as supporting evidence.
Indeed, this doctrine would still have been true even if, hypothetically,
the Latin text had said "pro omnibus" instead of "pro multis." It does not
stand or fall on this point.
Zerwick's article thus did no more than reaffirm and elaborate what the
Holy See had explicitly and officially stated in its brief earlier reply.
Regarding the accusation that this change could render the consecration
invalid, I cannot analyze here all of the arguments offered. But to say
the least I remain unconvinced.
St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa (III pars q. 78 art. 3) teaches that the
complete consecration formula, and not just "This is the cup of my blood,"
forms part of the substance of the sacramental form. This opinion is
generally accepted in Church documents.
Therefore a change which would alter the essential meaning of the formula
would render the consecration invalid.
This is where it appears to me that some of the objectors tend to beg the
question, for they assume that the translating of "pro multis" as "for
all" constitutes such an essential change. But this is exactly the point
If the expression "pro multis" were essential to the consecration, then
this formula would necessarily be found universally in the consecration
rites of all ancient Eucharistic Prayer texts. And indeed the vast
majority of them do use "pro multis."
However, the oldest known Eucharistic Prayer of all, the Apostolic
Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome (circa A.D. 225), uses the following
formula: "This is my blood, which is shed for you. As often as you do
this, do it in memory of me."
Since this formula has been used continually in some Eastern and African
Churches for almost 1,800 years, it is difficult to sustain that "pro
multis" is absolutely essential even though in some cases the "pro multis"
has been added to this prayer at a later date along with other
Finally, since the Holy See has taken a clear and official position on the
non-erroneous nature of this translation, the only logical conclusion
unless we consider ourselves wiser than the Church
to accept that the change does not constitute a substantial or essential
modification of the formula and that to effect such an adaptation falls
within the Church's power over the sacraments.
Theological arguments aside, we can be sure that God would never allow the
Church to err on a point so essential as the valid consecration of the
Eucharist. From the moment that these translations have been approved by
the Church, there can be no doubts whatsoever as to their validity.
One may discuss their opportunity, literary correctness, etc., but not
their validity. ZE04092122