Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Q. Do you know anything about a report that Pope Benedict XVI has sent some of his bishops an in-depth explanation as to why the words at Mass said by the priest over the chalice use the phrase "for many" instead of "for all"? The words, which the priest recites over the chalice, refer to Jesus’ Precious Blood, the "Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many…." I would like to see the Pope’s explanation; could you tell me the source?

A. For a profound, precise, and tightly argued explanation of the phrase "for many," at the center of the Eucharistic Prayer in the newly translated Sacramentary, I refer the questioner to Pope Benedict XVI’s second volume of Jesus of Nazareth. The section on this is a dramatic example of the Holy Father’s awesome theological expertise.

Moreover, Benedict did issue, in the form of a letter, a response to the German Bishops Conference. This letter, dated 14 April, and addressed to the current President of the Conference, the Archbishop of Freiburg, was published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, on 9 May, page 1 (English edition). The original, of course, was in German.

When the Roman Missal had to be rendered in German, the Pope explains, there was a consensus among Biblical scholars that "many" in Isaiah 53:11 sqq. (which Jesus had in mind at the first Mass) is a Hebrew mode of saying "all."

Hence, it was agreed that the updated Latin text of "for many" could be translated as "for all."

However, this scholarly analysis has – in the Pope’s own words – "collapsed … it no longer exists."

Thus, "for all" is now seen not as a translation, but rather an interpretation – a solid interpretation, granted; but an interpretation nonetheless.

The problem here can be seen in many Biblical texts, which often reflect linguistic and conceptual difficulties for moderns to discern immediately. Yet, as Benedict adds:

"… the same Sacred Text must appear as itself as far as possible, even if it seems alien and raises questions; on the other hand, the Church has the task of explaining it, so that within the limits of our understanding, the message that the Lord intends for us, actually reaches us." The Holy Father readily grants that even the most painstakingly precise effort to translate does not absolve the need for explanation (e.g., in a homily, or catechesis). Fidelity to the text goes hand-in-hand with striving to draw contemporary relevance from a text. Again, though, the original word has to be "presented as it is," regardless of how strange it may appear to us.

In the above context, Benedict notes, "The Holy See has decided that in the new translation … the [Latin] words pro multis should be translated as they stand."

Furthermore, the Pope is keenly aware of the questions that have already arisen about this; questions like, "Did Christ not die for all?" and "Has the Church changed its teaching?"

The reply given by Benedict is the need for adequate catechesis. Here the Holy Father proposes a catechetical plan of procedure.

The bottom line, of course, is that Christ did indeed die and rise for all, in principle. Benedict cites three Scriptural examples: Romans 8:32, Second Corinthians 5:14, and First Timothy 2:6.

Why, then, such emphasis on the Mass translation citing "many"? It is because, the Holy Father concludes, the Church is acting "in deference for Jesus’ own words, in order to remain literally faithful to him."

Why did Jesus say what he did? It was because the words Christ uttered were taken from Isaiah 53, words referring to the Suffering Servant of God, with whom Jesus identified.

There is much more to be said here; the subject is profound.