Not For All, Just For Us

From a Catholic News Agency story:
Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Vatican’s Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, reportedly sent a letter to Church prelates worldwide, instructing them to adjust the translation of a phrase in the middle of the Catholic Mass’s words of consecration. The translation of the expression “pro multis” is to be changed to read “for many” rather than “for all,” as it currently appears.
Personally, I think this is a fine idea--I hate the so-called "dynamic" translations of the ICEL, though I hasten to add that dynamic translation is not, in principle, itself a bad thing. It is, in fact, necessary to some degree in every translation, since it is not possible to translate from one language to another--let alone from one time and culture to another--without engaging in a rather significant act of interpretation right from the start. But there is dynamism and then there is dynamism, and the ICEL clearly gets carried away from time to time.

The argument, for folks who have only been going to Mass for 35 years, has to do with the question of whether heretical views might be derived from the overly dynamic translation of the phrase into vernacular languages. If you say that Our Lord poured out his blood "for all", according to some, that suggests a kind of universalism that the Church clearly finds rather suspicious (though it is not condemned). The expression "for many" gives you that nice hedge just in case some folks don't make it. Of course, there is almost always a possibility for heresy when it comes to unpacking conversational implicatures: the expression "for many" could be understood as meaning that Christ's sacrifice was not sufficient to save everyone, which is even more heretical than the suggestion of universalism. However, the expression "for many" is, at least, a more literal translation of what is in the normative Latin text of the Mass, so some suggest it is prudent to err on the side of safety by being literal whenever possible.

Be that as it may, the debate is only relevant to Masses not said in Latin, since the normative Latin text of the Mass retains the traditional expression "pro multis", "for many", itself a kind of dynamic translation, since the Greek original, peri pollôn, is found only in Matthew and Mark. According to Luke Our Lord said that his blood was poured out only huper humôn, "for you"--presumably a reference to the disciples, who were the only ones in the room with him. I wonder why the wackos don't want to the text to read that way, since it's obviously even more restrictive than "for many". Maybe they don't like it because it appears to refer to a group that was exclusively Jewish.

Of course, what could be said here is that "for you" is at least a literal translation of the Greek text, and yet we can still interpret it as meaning not "for you, that is, just those of you who are here listening to me now," but rather an apostrophe along the lines of "for you men and women of all nations" or something like that--that is, the equivalent of "for all". Or we could say that what "for you" means is "for you men and women of all times and places who accept me as Lord and persevere in your faith until the day that I come again in glory to take with me those whom my Father foreknew and chose from before time to abide with him in glory." You decide which is the more dynamic translation here, and get back to me.

Or we could just become Johannines, and leave out the institution narrative altogether. That would be consistent with one Gospel text, though not with the other three, nor with St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, which, by the way, contains neither "pro multis" nor "pro vobis". I guess St. Paul was one of those ICEL heretics who decided that it was OK for him to tamper with the words of Our Lord. How did he manage to become such a softee 1900 years before Vatican II? Man, the deleterious results of that Council are everywhere! The best solution, obviously, is to return to a Latin Mass where the priest recites the entire Canon silently to himself. No danger of heresy there!

If there are so many variant texts here, and if the meanings of the various expressions are so close, what is all the fuss about anyway? Apparently not much:
Cardinal Arinze’s letter says that, as supported by previous declarations from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “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.’”

“Indeed,” the cardinal continued, “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).”
The problem is only that the expression "for all" is not so much a translation but rather "an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis". You wouldn't want explanatory materials in the text of your prayers, after all--that might lead to greater understanding or something. Better to leave it mysterious.

From a conservative and aesthetic point of view, however, there is no doubt that the Cardinal is right:
Arinze gave as reasons for change the Gospels’ specific reference to “many” rather than “all,” the consistent Latin use of the phrase “pro multis” and never “pro omnibus,” the consistent use of translations equivalent to “pro multis” in the various Oriental Rites, and the document “Liturgiam authenticam’s” insistence that “efforts should be made to be more faithful to the Latin texts in the typical editions.”

The Vatican’s Sacraments chief also noted that, “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.”
With that I think we can all agree, and I look forward to the speedy implementation of the change.


Strider said…
Scott, I have to admit that it's hard for me to understand all the energies that is being invested in all of this. I agree with you that the English translation should strive to be accurate and thus I support the return to "many." But once this is accomplished, will anything else change? Will Catholic preachers suddenly start preaching differnetly? Should they start preaching differently?

It might be noted that the Anglican rite has always said:

"Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins" (traditional).

"This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins" (contemporary).

As far as I can tell, Catholics and Anglicans do not preach the universality of salvation differently. If anything, Anglicans tend toward universalism in greater numbers than do Catholics.

Tempest in a teapot!

On the other hand, if one tends toward a hard Augustinianism, then I can understand why this is an important matter.
Vitae Scrutator said…
I agree that this particular issue seems like a tempest in a teapot. When it comes to matter such as this, I divide the objectors into two groups. One group, the aestheticians, perhaps, has an equivalent in the Episcopal Church: the 1928 Prayerbookers and, nowadays, the 1940 Hymnalers. These are folks who just think that the old way was better--it sounded better, it worked better, it seemed more reverent, etc., and I suppose it was largely due to them that the present BCP has the two rites for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Eucharist. There are plenty of these kinds of folks in the Catholic Church--folks for whom Latin somehow "sounds more reverent" than English, or for whom it is more spiritual (here=emotionally stirring) to see the priest facing east or wearing certain kinds of vestments, etc.

But there is another group altogether--and it probably has its analogues in the Episcopal Church these days--that is concerned about a certain perceived propensity on the part of ICEL, USCCB, and who knows how many others, to play fast and loose with theological distinctions that are important enough to be left alone. It's true that some of these folks can be ignorant or just downright strange: I was once taken to task over the omission of the phrase "mysterium fidei" from just before the phrase under discussion here, and that phrase isn't in any of the Scriptural texts, it's just a traditional part of the Canon of the Mass. But in spite of my obvious levity in this post, I have a certain profound respect for the concerns of the more rational elements of this latter group, and that is why I am in agreement with the last bit quoted from the CNS story, and characterized it as having not merely aesthetic value, but conservative value as well, even if it doesn't result in any difference in preaching in the long run. I predict it will cause a little confusion in the pews, however. It's nearly impossible to get folks in the pews to pay any attention to liturgical niceties these days. But some do pay attention, of course, and for them these issues can be very important. "for many" may not seem like a big deal, but the very idea that we need to stop fiddling around with the form of the Mass, that we need to adhere more closely to the reforms demanded by the Council without throwing out the elements that the Council decreed should remain in place (who now remembers that the Council specified that Latin remain in use even in liturgies that are principally in the vernacular?). I came into the church in 1983, during a period of intense and rather bizarre experimentation--a time of liturgical dance and "clown Masses", a time when, during services on Ash Wednesday, it was not uncommon to find folk groups playing John Denver songs at Mass while slides of Halmark Card-like nature scenes were projected onto the wall above the altar. One hopes that those days are long gone, but perhaps one way to insure that they stay gone is to make a public showing of our desire to keep things in line with the tradition.

Sometimes a tempest in a teapot is a storm front on the leading edge of some very serious weather.

(Man, that was pretty bad.)tpuxcmhg
Strider said…
Count me in as one of those who is rejoicing in the move back to a more classical-traditional form of the liturgy and a more faithful, and hopefully aesthetically pleasing, translation of the Mass.

What is tragic is the fact the bishops did not insist upon a faithful English translation of the Mass to begin with back in the late 60s. Now they have to undo the blunders that were made, with all the attendant confusion this will generate in the pews.

But I seriously doubt there will be much confusion generated by the return to "and for many"---unless, of course, this was accompanied by a resurgence of Jansenism and the preaching of limited atonement. Then we would see some problems! :-)
Anonymous said…
I really don't think it's a tempest in a teapot, but I'm not sure that many will get the point of the change.

The passages that deal with this matter in scripture make it clear that Christ offered his life for anyone who would choose to avail himself of it, but one must make the choice to do that and follow up. Now this is the problem: how does one sum that up in one word (all or many)?

Perhaps the Vatican knows that the real temptation to peoples' faith and practice these days is slothfulness based on the mistaken belief that God is "a nice guy" and won't actually notice if one sins mortally. This would be in line with the social mores of this time in history. Social mores is all many Catholics have to go on because they don't read scripture, by and large.

IF, and I say if, we get a hubbub about this change, it will only be a good thing, because maybe it will make a few complacent folks sit up and think this little matter through for the first time in their lives. Or consult the New Testament!

However, my prediction is that no one will ever quite know what difference it makes, and hardliners who make a lot of noise may not think any more deeply about it than the oblivious ones (of which there are many, unfortunately). Thank our lousy catechesis in the last 40 years for that one.
Anonymous said…

That the bishops did not insist on better translations in the 60s is no mystery.

One must remember the zeitgeist of Catholics in the 60s. Do you remember how thrilled Catholics were to have JFK as president? "WE HAVE FINALLY GONE MAINSTREAM" they said, with pride. To belong and yet not embarrass themselves was their fondest wish, while being quite ambivalent about things "churchy."

The bishops dropped the cassocks and birettas with nary and whimper to become huggy, acceptable guys, which some still strive to be, the work of teaching the Gospels falling by the wayside in many cases. (Doubt it? Think gay rights and the Church.)

There are, believe it or not, legions of people in Catholic pews who believe that the essence of being Catholic is to "be nice," and THAT'S IT. Where do they get that? Three guesses.

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