Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Q. I know that the new Mass is not yet printed in book form, but I am still curious about the effort, beginning a few years ago, to change the words of the consecration of the wine from "for all" to "for many." Don’t we still believe that Christ came to save all persons?

A. This is a question that continues to be asked about the new Mass, even though it has been answered many times over. But I’ll try again.

First, the issue here has two dimensions. One has to do with language and translation. The other pertains to doctrine.

Regarding the translation from the Latin to the English, there is no precedent for rendering the Latin "pro multis" with "for all," as the current Roman Missal in English reads concerning Christ’s shedding his Precious Blood. Pro multis is Latin for the phrase, "for the many" or "for the multitude." The Latin is a translation itself of the original Greek in the Gospels. Jesus, it is thought, said these words in Aramaic, a dialect of Hebrew. Here the Lord was referring to a text from the Second Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Hymn (cf. Isa 53:12).

In using the expression, "for many," in accordance with the Old Testament text from Isaiah, cited above, Christ would have meant "for those who want to be saved through him." Salvation, the Bible clearly stresses, requires personal response to grace. Grace is never compelled upon us; in a real sense, God cannot save us without our wanting to be saved. In theology we emphasize that God impels us, never compels us.

A key Biblical text here is Matthew 12:31-32, wherein we are reminded that salvation depends on our responding to God’s grace. (See also Mark 3:28-29 and Luke 12:10.) To reject salvation is what the Bible describes as a sin "against the Holy Spirit." Pope John Paul II discussed this subject deeply in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et Vivificantem (1986).

However, the universal salvific will of God is a dogma which the Church reads in the Bible. Catholics believe that Christ did die for all persons, without exception. This doctrine cannot ever change.

Again, though, what about those who reject God’s grace? Because of this issue of personal response, the Roman Rite has always said, in the Mass, pro multis ("for the many"), rather than pro omnibus ("for all"). Eastern-born Churches (e.g., Byzantine, Maronite, etc.) have done the same, always.