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Pro Multis: Christ's blood poured out for all or for many?

On October 17, 2006, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments sent a letter concerning the words of consecration used at the present time in the liturgy.  Specifically, he said two things.  First, the words of institution spoken over the chalice at the time of consecration were to be changed.  Second, there was to be a catechesis to help everyone understand the change.  To this purpose, as we prepare for the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, I would like to examine with you this change and its meaning.

At the consecration of the wine at Liturgy, the priest now says, “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.”  Starting the First Sunday of Advent in November, the priest will say, “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.”

There are five differences that can be noted.  First, the new translation is two sentences and not three.  Second, the new translation, adhering closer to the words of Scripture, uses the prepositional phrase for the forgiveness of sins, unlike the present translation that expands this phrase into a clause.  The remaining three changes involve single words.

First, the Latin calix will no longer be translated as ‘cup,’ but as ‘chalice.’  Second, the Latin aeternus will not be translated as ‘everlasting,” but as ‘eternal.’  In both cases, the meaning is exactly the same.  Only the word choice is different.  Either translation is theologically correct.  Arguably, the new translation of these two words is closer to the Latin and may even add to the sacredness of the language used at this point in the Liturgy.

But it is a different matter when we come to the third change.  In the new text, the priest will say “the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  In the present text, the priest speaks of the blood of Jesus being poured out “for all.”  Instead, in the new translation, he will say “for many.”

This one change has generated the most reaction from laity, religious, priests and bishops.  We need to look very carefully at the reasons for the change.  Why is the Pope himself insisting on the change?  What does the change mean?  Does it in any way limit the purpose of Jesus’ pouring out his blood?  Or does it, in fact, open us to a meaning within the words of consecration that we may be missing by simply saying “for all”?

Let us begin with a very clear statement and put to rest some of the uneasiness with the new translation.  The change is in no way a limiting of the effect of the suffering and death of Jesus to only some people.  During the Jansenist controversy from the 16th to 18th century, some were maintaining that Christ only died for the elect.  They limited God’s salvific will to the predestined.  The Church strongly condemned this view (Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum 1096).

It is a dogma of faith that Christ died on the Cross for all.  “There is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6; cf. also 1 Tim 4:10; John 11:52; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 2:2).  Most recently, Dominus Jesus, a document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and subtitled “On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Churcht must …be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith that the universal salvific will of the One and Triune God is offered and accomplished once for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God” (Dominus Jesus, 14, August 6, 2000).,” states emphatically that “it must …be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith that the universal salvific will of the One and Triune God is offered and accomplished once for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God” (Dominus Jesus, 14, Aug. 6, 2000).

If the Church teaches that Jesus died for all, then why change the present words of consecration that speak of his blood poured out “for all” and instead say that his blood is poured out “for many”?

Printed with permission from the Beacon, newspaper for the Diocese of Paterson, N.J.

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