Gloria's Sin and Agnus Dei's Sins

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Gloria's Sin and Agnus Dei's Sins

ROME, 24 JULY 2007 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: A question has come up regarding the use of the word "sin" in the Gloria and "sins" in the Agnus Dei. Would you please explain the theological reason for this? — S.G., Colorado Springs, Colorado

A: I would be at a loss to explain the theological reason for this difference for the simple reason that I don't believe there is much difference.

The difference is in the translation, not in the original Latin. The Latin in all three cases (counting the "This is the Lamb of God" that is said by the celebrant) uses the same plural form "peccata mundi."

There is a discussion among the experts as to the best translation of this formula. Some sustain that it is best translated as a simple plural "sins." Others render it as an abstract singular "sin," meaning the totality of sin in the world.

This difference is seen in some other versions. The Italian missal translates the expressions each time as sins, "i peccati," whereas the Spanish conveys it as sin, "el pecado."

The first translation is perhaps closer to the literal sense and, being more concrete, it tends to includes not only the sins but in some way also refers to the sinners.

The second translation might lay greater stress on the universal and even cosmological effects of redemption, in the sense that Christ's death and resurrection has also restored a certain sense of order to creation itself. It could be said that all things are recapitulated in Christ, to use an expression of St. Paul (Ephesians 1:10) which was later theologically developed by St. Ireneus of Lyon.

Both translations, however, essentially express the same underlying reality. It may be that the English translators Solomonically divided their options. But it might also mean no more than that different people were responsible for different parts of the missal and never got together to iron out the creases.

The most important thing is that Christ, the Lamb of God who died and rose for us, is the source of all salvation and has the power to effectively take away our sins, and all sin from the world. This power is exercised above all through the sacraments, especially the re-enactment of his paschal sacrifice that is the holy Mass.

* * *

Follow-up: Gloria's "Sin" and Agnus Dei's "Sins" [8-28-2007]

Pursuant to our debate (July 24) on whether the Latin "peccata mundi" should be translated "sin" or "sins" of the world, an Indian priest from Mumbai sent in the following reflection (excerpted here) which I gladly share:

"There has always been confusion among quite a few on the singular and the plural aspect of sin. The English text of Scripture, which is faithful to the original, always uses the singular aspect of sin when it talks of the role of Agnus Dei (John 1:29,36).

"There is a sin which is referred to in the singular sense and there are sins which plurally mean the many areas of sins we as human beings commit. The singular normally refers to the original sin committed by our first parents and now through conception passed on to us.

"Christ Jesus came into the world to destroy this work of the devil (1 John 3:8), that is,

1) The darkness of evil that prevents us to have a right knowledge of God. Jesus repairs this flaw by revealing to us God as Abba Father and giving us his Spirit that bears witness with our spirit, even calling God Abba Father.

2) His shedding of blood and death is that ransom taking us out from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of his beloved. This for us is the beginning of a new life sealed with Christ's life in baptism that has to now struggle against the concupiscence of sin.

"The proclamation of the Gospel is an invitation to faith and reconciliation and is made complete through baptism. The sacraments, especially of reconciliation, are primarily our constant struggle against the concupiscence of sin. This is where the dividing line of sin and sins diminishes, where ultimately they are one reality."

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