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For Many - For All: Elements for a Catechesis

The Spanish translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal includes among its main novelties a change in the Eucharistic liturgy. The expression "for all men" which appears in the consecration of the wine, will be replaced as of the first Sunday of Lent 2017 by the expression "by many".

Antonio Ducay-March 7, 2017-Reading time: 11 minutes

To understand this change it is useful to consider the recent history of the subject. Since ancient times, the Latin expression used in the Roman liturgy has been "pro multis"and so it continued to appear in the Missal promulgated by Paul VI after the reform of Vatican II. But in the translation of the Latin texts into the vernacular languages, the expression pro multis of the consecration was translated, in some cases, with a change of nuance: "for all men" (for all, per tutti, für alle...), with the desire to express the universal value of Christ's redemptive sacrifice. This translation is the one that has now been revised and changed.

More accurate translation

Over the years, it has become apparent that the option of translating "for all men" was not in keeping with the Holy See's desire to produce translations with greater literalness with respect to the original texts. For this reason, among others, the Congregation for Divine Worship consulted the presidents of the episcopal conferences in July 2005 regarding the translation of the "pro multis" in the formula of consecration of the Blood of Christ in the different languages. The fruit of this consultation was the circular letter of Cardinal Arinze, then Prefect of the said Congregation, which briefly and in an orderly fashion set out the "arguments in favor of a more accurate version of the traditional formula. pro multis" (October 17, 2006: n. 3). In it, particular emphasis was placed on the fact that the formula used in the institution's narration is "by many" and in which "the Roman rite, in Latin, has always said. pro multis". The Circular Letter urged the Bishops' Conferences of those countries where the formula "by all" was in use at that time to introduce a precise translation, in the vernacular, of the formula "pro multis". He also wanted the faithful to be prepared for this change with adequate catechesis.

In this context, in March 2012, the president of the German Bishops' Conference informed Benedict XVI that some sectors of the German linguistic sphere wished to maintain translation "by all"despite the agreement in the Bishops' Conference to translate "by many"as had been indicated by the Holy See. Faced with this situation, the Pope, in order to prevent a division in the local church, drafted a letter in which he explained why the new translation was desirable (Benedict XVI, Letter to the President of the German Bishops' Conference on the translation of "pro multis", 14-IV-2012, Liturgical pastoral. Documentation. Information 328-329, 2012, 81-86). He also urged the German bishops to definitively implement the indications of the Circular Letter of 2006.

Also in this context, and as a result of a long work of revision and updating, the Spanish Episcopal Conference has recently presented the new official Spanish edition of the Roman Missal. It is, therefore, the Spanish version of the editio typica tertia emendata from Missale Romanumpublished in 2008, in which the translation of the words of the consecration is modified: the expression "the words of the consecration" is replaced by "the words of the consecration". "for all men" which until now has been used, is replaced by the more literal translation of the Latin text "by many".

Last Supper

The Gospels have told us what Jesus did at the Last Supper, when "He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them. [to the disciples] Saying, "This is my body which is given for you.""and then, after dinner, with the chalice in his hands: "This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Lk 22:19,20). In recounting this scene, the Gospel accounts also allude to how to interpret it. Mentioning the "covenant in blood," Jesus evokes what, many centuries earlier, Moses had done to confirm the covenant with God. He had read the words of the Law to the people and sprinkled them with the blood of the bullocks offered in sacrifice, while saying: "This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you, according to all these words." (Ex 24:8). Thus Israel had become the chosen people, God's property among all the nations.

Over the years, however, Israel had not followed the law of God correctly and, in practice, with their deeds, they had denied the Covenant. Nevertheless, God, who is persevering in his love and in his choices, had not yielded to the disaffection of his own. He abandoned them into the hands of their enemies, who deported them and deprived them of their traditions, purified them with suffering, but did not reject them. Moreover, precisely in those difficult times for Israel, God instilled in some of his servants his desire to establish a new and definitive alliance. "Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "when I will make a covenant with the house of Israel (and with the house of Judah), a new covenant."Thus preached the prophet Jeremiah around 600 BC. Thus the idea was formed that this new and definitive alliance would take place, by God's will, when the time of the Messiah King would come.

Jesus' words in the Upper Room fit into this context. He has before him his disciples, whom he has chosen as the pillars of the new people of God, and he declares before them that the sacrifice of his life, which was to be fulfilled the next day in Jerusalem, was to be the foundation of that new and everlasting covenant. But, unlike the old, this new covenant was not intended for a particular race or nation, for it was to have a universal character. By giving his body to eat and his blood to drink, Jesus invited the disciples to enter into this definitive covenant, which was not limited to them alone, but extended in space and time until it intentionally embraced all humanity. This is what Jesus said when, after his resurrection, he said goodbye to his disciples with these words: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mt 28:19-20).

Transmission of Jesus' words

In transmitting the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, the evangelists take into account this entire interpretative horizon. Jesus addresses his disciples and gives his life for them, but also for the multitude, that is, for all those who are called to this new people of God, and who are, in short, all men. Christ, as St. John affirms, has given his body and his blood for "the life of the world" (Jn 6:51). In this sense, the recipients of Christ's sacrifice can be considered from different points of view; it is therefore natural that the accounts of the Last Supper and, in particular, the essential words of Jesus on that occasion, have been transmitted with minor differences that do not affect the main content. Specifically, Jesus speaks of "the Covenant in my blood" spilled by "you" in St. Luke's Gospel (St. Paul also refers to the body given up by "you"), while for the other two synoptic gospels, Jesus refers to the "blood of the Covenant" spilled by "many".

Specialists in the field of biblical exegesis note, in general, that such a "many", coming from Aramaic, it cannot have a partitive sense: it is not to be understood as opposed to "all" ("many" in the sense of "not all"), but rather as opposed to "one". In this sense it is an open and indeterminate term meaning "a great number", "the crowd", the "multitude"; and which, in itself, need not exclude anyone. In any case, understood in its context, the two forms of expression (by you / by many) are just and complementary, because the first considers those present, those who are at that moment with Jesus and who represent in germ the new People of God, and the second looks at all those who will benefit through the times from the sacrifice of Jesus, that new People in its universal development.

In the Eucharistic celebration

When the Roman rite of the Eucharistic celebration incorporates this fundamental moment of the life of the Son of God on earth - the gift of His Body and Blood - it is the gift of His Body and Blood.- does not wish to lose anything of what the Gospels convey. He considers that this is a unique and decisive event in the history of salvation. So, simply, instead of choosing between the two narrative traditions (Matthew/Mark and Luke/Paul), he keeps them both and brings them together to the extent that they can be integrated into a single formula. This is why the original Latin text, when consecrating the chalice, puts the words in the mouth of the celebrant: "hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem..."This formula of the Roman canon is also present, at the explicit wish of Paul VI, in all the new Eucharistic Prayers that came about as a result of the liturgical reform of Vatican II.

It is natural that the formulas for the consecration of the bread and wine should have been adapted to the Gospel accounts, precisely in those crucial moments in which the celebrant acts in persona Christi. For this reason it is understood that there is unity between the words of Jesus that are read in the stories and those that are pronounced in the celebration. Concretely the Roman canon, in force in the Urbe since ancient times, expresses the addressees of the blood shed by Jesus with the locution "pro vobis et pro multis".. And something similar can be said of the main Latin Bibles (the Vulgate of St. Jerome, the Sixtus-Clementine Vulgate propagated after the Council of Trent, the more recent Neovulgata), which have also always put the terms "Jesus" in the mouth of Jesus. "vobis" y "multis". It is therefore quite reasonable that this terminological agreement between the Eucharistic celebration and the biblical narrative should be maintained also when translating from Latin into modern languages, so that the words pronounced by the priest, when consecrating the chalice, correspond to what anyone can read in the best editions of the Bible, which translate almost univocally "vobis" with "you" y "multis" with "many".

Celebrating the Eucharist with the new formulation we read that the blood of the Covenant "it will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.". By bringing the biblical texts and the liturgical recitation back into synchrony, the formula is better adjusted to reality, because the Eucharistic celebration naturally refers back to the account of the gestures of Jesus in the Upper Room, and both actions, the historical and the celebratory, have the same content: the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Basically, the change of formulation testifies to the Church's veneration of the revealed Word and her faith that the Eucharistic celebration is the same as the celebration of the Eucharist. "memoria Christi"The sacramental presence of the paschal event narrated in the Gospels.

Context of the first translations

A few years after the Second Vatican Council, the new Missal was published. This was followed by translations of the Latin text into modern languages. The aim was to take into account the universal intention of Jesus in shedding his blood, and the open and indeterminate character of the expression "the blood of Jesus" was emphasized. "by many"which, as we have said, indicates the crowd.

The desire was to follow in the footsteps of the Council, which had strongly upheld the doctrine of the universal call to holiness. The Council's texts had emphasized God's closeness to mankind. His grace reaches everyone, because all were created to live in communion with him and Jesus gave his life for all. The criticisms that the enlightened and anti-clerical currents addressed to the Christian religion were also kept in mind, accusing it of being based on a particular event of the past, the story of Jesus, and as such, not fully attainable by many. From this it was concluded that salvation could not come from religion, unless it was admitted that God was a partial being who gave the means of salvation to some men and not to others. The aim was to give prominence to reason and to shake off the moral tutelage imposed by religious creeds.

The Council kept these objections in mind and, in a certain sense, tried to respond to them when it presented Jesus as the summit of human reality and affirmed the universal character of his redemption, which is offered to all. God works in people in an invisible way, the Council affirms, and his voice resounds in the most intimate part of the human conscience; for this reason there is no one who is alien to Christ. The redemptive sacrifice, which is the source of salvation for the baptized, does not limit its effects only to the body of the Church, to its members, but involves all men and women. "the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility that, in the form of God alone known, they may be associated with this paschal mystery." (Gaudium et Spes 22).

Moreover, and always within the modern period, the Church had had to fight against the rigorist tendencies, which had become strong with Jansenius and had left traces in the popular mentality, so that it was not infrequent to find conceptions of God in which the severity of the eternal Judge largely prevailed over the mercy of the caring and loving Father. In this context it was natural that the translation of the "pro multis" had a universalist slant: the blood of Jesus was shed for all men. To translate, following the Council, meant then to underline the universal scope of the call and action of God in Jesus Christ, a God who leaves no one abandoned.

Current context

It must be recognized, however, that the present context is, in some respects, profoundly different from that of Vatican II. After several decades of stressing the universality of the Christian message from Christocentric perspectives, and insisting on dialogue and on the Church's openness to the entire panorama of human realities, Christians do not doubt that God is a loving Father who leaves no one without abundant opportunities to receive his grace. The problem today is rather the opposite: that salvation is understood in many environments as something necessary, because God is so good and so Father that he cannot leave anyone without eternal happiness.

If we pay attention to the writings of the most prestigious theologians of the twentieth century, we will find a clear indication in this sense. They have often held positions which, even if they did not always affirm the thesis of universal human salvation, were quite close to it. The Orthodox philosophers and theologians Nikolaj Berdjaev and Sergej Bulgakov, the Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Calvinist Karl Barth, the Catholic Hans Urs von Balthasar..., all of them, to varying degrees, have shared the hope of an ultimate and definitive salvation for all men.

A few words of the well-known Calvinist theologian that I have just mentioned can serve as an example of what I have said. Barth writes in his Theological Essays: "The truth is that there is no theological right by which we can put any limit to the philanthropy of God that appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it always greater than we have done so far.". These are just words, but they also run the risk of placing such a burden on the mercy of God, on his philanthropy, that the struggles and battles of men for or against the divine will become insignificant. Do we not have the impression today that man is such a relative and small being that no one can care about his miseries? And, therefore, does it not seem that the obligation of a good God cannot be other than to take pity on all, closing one or both eyes to what was the life of each one? But then, where is the tradition of the disciples of Christ, of the martyrs and saints who gave their lives for Jesus and illuminated their times by firmly incarnating the Gospel?

Perhaps today it will again be necessary to explain that God, certainly, addresses and seeks everyone, but also desires, as in times past, the intrepid and even heroic correspondence of men; that, in short, the old scholastic axiom is right when it affirms: "facienti quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam".He who, with the help of grace, freely disposes himself to receive God's will, will obtain from Him light and strength to carry it out. Ultimately, God's mercy, which surrounds man, also involves him and commits him to it. And this is what is also present in the change of the formula of consecration, that God takes man seriously and expects from each one correspondence to his infinite mercy.

In this sense, the passage of the "for all men" a "by many" contains a salutary admonition, and I believe it will be perceived as such, because there is no doubt that the new language is formally more restrictive than the preceding one.

What will have to be explained to the faithful people are two things: first, that this restriction is not due to any doctrinal change - because there was no doubt that Jesus died for all men, nor is there any doubt that He died for all men.-and second, that "the many", "the multitude", "the multitude" for whom Jesus gives himself, as distinguished from "all men," discreetly allude to the possibility that the blood offered may be rejected and may not exercise its full saving power on some. Keeping a certain distance from the two expressions, "for all men" and "for many men," the new translation "by many" The new translation, in its apparent indeterminacy, gathers together the two aspects of Christ's saving work: the objective and the subjective, the Lord's universal intention to establish a new covenant with all humanity, and the need for man to contribute, through his love and struggle, to the realization of God's plan in the world. In this way, the new translation is also a word that orients the Church today in her historical journey.

The authorAntonio Ducay

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