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Revised Roman Missal: Understanding the reasons for the changes - Part 3

How and why the Church is improving the English translation of The Roman Missal

Pro multis

by Emily Stimpson

This article is reprinted from OSV Newsweekly, a publication of Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, with the kind permission of the editor, John Norton, and author / contributing editor, Emily Stimpson.

Many of those words were first used in the Mass by apostles, saints and Church Fathers. They were drawn from the scrolls of Hebrew Scripture and the written and oral tradition of the Church. Some are the words of Christ. Others are the words of those who followed him. Through the centuries, the faithful have given their lives to say those words. They've also given their lives to ensure that the right words were said.

So, what are some of the changes Catholics will encounter starting on November 27, the first Sunday of Advent, that seem small but are actually quite significant?

Pro multis

Now the priest says, "This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven."

Beginning November 27, he will say, "For this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."

Here's why:

Pro multis In the Sacred Liturgy, there is no moment more important or more filled with grace than when the priest repeats Christ's words, first spoken at the Last Supper, and bread and wine become Body and Blood.

For the past 40 years, English-speaking Catholics have heard those words of consecration, when spoken over the cup, translated as: "Take this, all of you, and drink from it: This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me."

As of November 27, however, Catholics will instead hear: "Take this, all of you, and drink from it: For this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me."

Most of those changes won't raise any eyebrows. Chalice, rather than cup. Poured, rather than shed. Eternal, rather than everlasting. Each has its significance, and together they give a more poetic and reverent tone to the prayer, but none are controversial or puzzling. The same can't be said, however, of the phrase, "for you and for many."

At first hearing, it sounds as if the Church is saying that Christ didn't die for everyone, that there's some special subclass of human persons who aren't of salvation-grade quality. But that can't be what the Church actually means. Or is it?

The answer is no ... and yes. Christ did die for everyone. He offers salvation to all. But not everyone accepts what he offers. That's what the phrase "for you and for many" reminds us. And that's what the original Latin says.

In Latin, the phrase used is qui pro vobis et pro multis, which literally means "for you and for many," or "for you and the many." "The many" can mean the same thing as "all," but traditionally that's not how the phrase has been interpreted, not by Catholics and not by Protestants who continue to use the words "for many" in their own communion services.

In part, explained Father Hilgartner, director of the USCCB Secretariat for Divine Worship, "for many" has been used rather than "the many" because the passage is a translation of the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, words which allude to a passage from Isaiah 53 about the suffering servant who would make many righteous.

It's also been translated as "many" rather than "the many" or "all," added Father Stravinskas, author and liturgist, because of Jesus' own words about heaven and hell in Matthew 7:14: "How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few."

"On a spring day outside Jerusalem the Second Person of the Trinity saved every member of the human race, potentially," said Father Stravinskas. "It's 'potentially' because not everyone will be saved. The Lord says that in the Gospel."

Again, however, that's not to say that Jesus doesn't want to save everyone. He does.

But, explained Joe Paprocki, from Loyola Press: "In order to receive salvation, something on our part needs to happen. We don't earn our salvation, but we need to embrace it and live it."

"Our decisions have consequences," added Father Roy, who teaches at Notre Dame University. "We're not Jansenists, whose crucifixes were long and narrow, signifying that only a few would be saved. Our crucifixes have Christ's arms spread wide to show that salvation is for the many. But if we eliminate human choice, then morality has no meaning or content. One can do whatever one pleases and just presume God will forgive all offenses without repentance. But that's not how it works, and presumption is a sin against the Holy Spirit."

By returning to the traditional "for you and for many," the Church asks us to remember that.

The words remind us, as Father Stravinskas said, "that there is no such thing as automatic salvation. Just because someone poured water on your head 50 years ago doesn't mean you're saved."

They also force us to confront our own sins.

"They're meant to be a call to an examination of conscience," said Father Hilgartner. "At every given celebration of the Mass, they're an invitation to ask, 'Where do I stand? I recognize Christ has died, so what have I done to accept it?'"

Copyright © 2011 by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.
Reprinted by permission of the copyright owner and the author.

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