Translating Pro Multis

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Translating Pro Multis

ROME, 24 MAY 2011 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Readers from several parts of the world have requested commentaries on the new English translation of the Roman Missal. While I have never been directly involved in the project and can boast no technical studies in the art of translation, I hope to offer occasional theological reflections on the new texts.

We have already broached the question of translation in several articles. On June 15, 2004, and then last Sept. 14 and Sept. 28, we dealt with the reasons to prefer translating "Et cum spiritu tuo" as "And with you spirit" rather than "And also with you."

On Sept. 7 and 21, 2004, we explained the reasonableness of translating the "pro multis" in the words of consecration as "for all" in spite of its literally meaning "for many." Although the reasons offered for this translation are valid, from the theological point of view it was still an inaccurate translation. Having consulted widely, Benedict XVI decided that henceforth all new versions of the missal must translate this text literally as "for many." The reasons behind this decision were laid out by the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in a letter to the presidents of all the national bishops' conferences on Oct. 17, 2006 (Prot. N. 467/05/L):

"In July 2005 this Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, by agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote to all Presidents of Conferences of Bishops to ask their considered opinion regarding the translation into the various vernaculars of the expression pro multis in the formula for the consecration of the Precious Blood during the celebration of Holy Mass (ref. Prot. N. 467/05/L of 9 July 2005).

"The replies received from the Bishops' Conferences were studied by the two Congregations and a report was made to the Holy Father. At his direction, this Congregation now writes to Your Eminence / Your Excellency in the following terms:

"1. A text corresponding to the words pro multis, handed down by the Church, constitutes the formula that has been in use in the Roman Rite in Latin from the earliest centuries. In the past 30 years or so, some approved vernacular texts have carried the interpretive translation 'for all,' 'per tutti,' or equivalents.

"2. There is no doubt whatsoever regarding the validity of Masses celebrated with the use of a duly approved formula containing a formula equivalent to 'for all,' as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already declared (cf. Sacra Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, Declaratio de sensu tribuendo adprobationi versionum formularum sacramentalium, 25 Ianuarii 1974, AAS 66 [1974], 661). Indeed, the formula 'for all' would undoubtedly correspond to a correct interpretation of the Lord's intention expressed in the text. It is a dogma of faith that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women (cf. John 11:52; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2).

"3. There are, however, many arguments in favor of a more precise rendering of the traditional formula pro multis:

"a. The Synoptic Gospels (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24) make specific reference to 'many' (πολλων = pollôn) for whom the Lord is offering the Sacrifice, and this wording has been emphasized by some biblical scholars in connection with the words of the prophet Isaiah (53:11-12). It would have been entirely possible in the Gospel texts to have said 'for all' (for example, cf. Luke 12:41); instead, the formula given in the institution narrative is 'for many,' and the words have been faithfully translated thus in most modern biblical versions.

"b. The Roman Rite in Latin has always said pro multis and never pro omnibus in the consecration of the chalice.

"c. The anaphoras of the various Oriental Rites, whether in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, the Slavic languages, etc., contain the verbal equivalent of the Latin pro multis in their respective languages.

"d. 'For many' is a faithful translation of pro multis, whereas 'for all' is rather an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis.

"e. The expression 'for many,' while remaining open to the inclusion of each human person, is reflective also of the fact that this salvation is not brought about in some mechanistic way, without one's willing or participation; rather, the believer is invited to accept in faith the gift that is being offered and to receive the supernatural life that is given to those who participate in this mystery, living it out in their lives as well so as to be numbered among the 'many' to whom the text refers.

"f. In line with the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, effort should be made to be more faithful to the Latin texts in the typical editions.

"The Bishops' Conferences of those countries where the formula 'for all' or its equivalent is currently in use are therefore requested to undertake the necessary catechesis for the faithful on this matter in the next one or two years to prepare them for the introduction of a precise vernacular translation of the formula pro multis (e.g, 'for many,' 'per molti,' etc.) in the next translation of the Roman Missal that the Bishops and the Holy See will approve for use in their country."

Some countries, such as France, have always translated this text literally (in this case as "for the multitude"). Some Spanish-speaking countries have already changed the words of consecration even though the full retranslation of the missal is not completed. Most English speakers will be hearing "for many" by the end of this year and eventually all countries will use this formula.

* * *

Follow-up: Translating "Pro Multis" [6-7-2011]

In the wake of our comments on the translation of "pro multis" (May 24), a reader commented: "Regarding your comment about 'the art of translation' and the upcoming changes to the missal, as a person who has been called upon to translate texts into and from English, Japanese, French and Spanish, I understand what a challenge it is. If I may be so bold, for 'pro multis' I might like to suggest 'for the many,' as it speaks more theologically to Jesus' message and experience, as well as the mission of the apostles, to offer the call of salvation beyond just the Jewish nation. Don't you agree?"

It is too late now to change the approved missal, but it is worth pointing out that "for the many" was one of the possibilities suggested by the Holy See as a legitimate translation of "pro multis." In the end the bishops' conferences opted for the simpler "for many," which is perhaps easier to understand and more familiar.

In explaining the new version a priest would still be able to expound the different legitimate translation possibilities and how each one adds a shade of meaning to the Eucharistic mystery.

Another reader wrote: "Permit me to reference to 'Jesus of Nazareth,' Volume 2, by His Holiness. He goes into quite some detail on this starting at Page 134."

I think this adds another good reason to read the Holy Father's latest book.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe
or email: with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field

Provided Courtesy of:
Eternal Word Television Network
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210


Terms of Use      Privacy Policy