Vacuums, Gauntlets, and Salvation for All

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Catholic corollary: We’ve gone a few days without a red-faced, heretic-smackdown, liturgy discussion, so let’s get it down.

Rock reports today on Bishop Trautman’s Tablet thrown-down gauntlet on the English handling of “pro multis.”

For those not up on the discussion, Pope Benedict has weighed in that the new English translations of the Eucharistic Prayers will change this:

This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant; it will be shed for you and for all …

to this:

This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant; it will be shed for you and for many …

It boils down to a literal translation of Jesus’¬†third language, Latin, on the phrase “pro multis.” Trautman reports that the CDWDS covered this issue back in 1970 when a Scripture scholar was asked to weigh in with what we understand Jesus to have said in his own language, namely that God the Father, through the Son, offers salvation to everyone. Our experience with family members, friends, and perhaps even ourselves informs us that the “all” to whom grace is offered, turns up being the “many” who accept it. Which is a better fit in the liturgy?

Is the Last Supper narrative about Jesus’ sacrifice, primarily? Or is it a speech that requires a reminder of this equation:

All – Judases = Many

I think the fussing on literal translation is a generally bad thing for liturgy. We, meaning Roman Catholics worldwide, have more important liturgical issues to address. We need to get to them. Much as I respect Pope Benedict, I think his intervention on “pro multis” is misplaced.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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10 Responses to Vacuums, Gauntlets, and Salvation for All

  1. Liam says:

    And Bp. Trautman’s response is equivocal via elision of things he would prefer not to address. Even less edifying.

  2. Todd says:

    Perhaps. But one bishop, regardless of his position, lacks sufficient heft to sink or float any particular issue. Better for all of us would have been a wide enough consultation so every issue worth addressing was engaged. What we have now is another less than successful pendulum swing.

  3. Liam says:

    I am not sure how much more consultation needs to be done over an issue that has been thoroughly hashed out for 35 years. The issue, btw, extends beyond ICEL and has been addressed to all vernaculars. Bp Trautman’s equivocal posturing doesn’t do his “side” of this debate credit, and that bothers me quite a bit more than the Pope’s resolution of the dispute.

  4. Todd says:

    Are we talking of aspects of pro multis Trautman would prefer not to address? If so, I missed the point and thought you were speaking more broadly of liturgical issues.

    The official CDWDS position in 1970 might have been said to settle it, in that “for all” conveys the Hebrew term. It’s hard not to see this as a bit of political pandering to the literalists. I’d expect more acumen from a scholar of Benedict’s ability. As it turns out, we have a lot of fussing over a relatively minor point that one, has been pretty exhausted and settled theologically, and two, does not address the more pertinent liturgical challenges of the mainstream parish.

    And yes, maybe on my worst days I could do a better job than Trautman in this debate, but they haven’t called my number yet. They seem to self-select clergy and there’s no doubt we can do a whole lot better than that.

  5. Liam says:


    I was referring to the pro multis issue specifically. He is quite selective in covering the issue. It’s not an issue of mere pandering by B16. The resolution by the CDWDS in 1970 is not incapable of being reconsidered.

    AFter all, the 1970 translations were by their very nature preliminary, so this translation has always been up for grabs ever since.

    Understand that I am happy either way this goes. I can see reasonable positions on both sides. I can also see why each side might be more reasonable that the other.

    Given that, I’ve been content with the 1970 decision. And I am likewise content with the B16 reconsideration thereof.

    Personally, were I in charge, I would have gone for “the many”. But I am not and that’s out of my hands.

    What I am not happy with is Bp Trautman’s reducing this as a bone to pick with Rome’s handling of translation issues generally. This is a very special case of very long standing and anyone with eyes to see has been aware that it’s been mulled over for many years despite the 1970 blessing of the of preliminary translation issue. He’s not a helpful friend of Catholics progressives, much as he might prefer to think otherwise.

  6. Gavin says:

    It isn’t an issue of what Jesus said. It’s an issue of what the Mass says. I know that stinks of something out of a Jack Chick tract, but that is what’s important here. Every scripture translation I’ve read (and that’s a lot of them) renders that passage as “for many”. The Mass itself, drawing historically from the I Cor. text, says “pro multis”. Maybe “pro omnis” would be better, but that’s not my decision to make. Until the Church decides to change the Canon, we should translate that phrase to the closest English equivalent: “for many”. I’d say the same about the Credo. Maybe, given that reciting the text is no longer the part of the priest, the text should be changed to “Credum in unum deum…” or whatever “We believe” would be. However, until the Church does that (and I wouldn’t hold my breath), we should translate “credo” to the closest equivalent in our language: “I believe”.

    What I find shocking in this discussion is the repercussions of this translation. We all know what “pro multis” means, but why is it only for many? Why not for all? I didn’t know this reason, and I’m guessing from your post that you don’t either. I’m guessing most Catholics don’t either. Well, I finally asked my boss and he explained that, while Christ’s blood is shed for all, in the SACRAMENT it is only given to “many” because, well, not every person on earth has taken the Sacrament. It’s shocking to me that otherwise committed Catholics wouldn’t be taught that to receive the benefits of the Sacrament, one must partake in it. Common sense, of course, but retaining “for many” reinforces that the power of Christ’s blood is being given in a special way to the communicant. “For all” tends to support the notion of memorialism, since the sacrament benefits “all”, not just those who receive it. I’m not blaming misconceptions on doctrine all at the foot of one word, but I am saying that when we don’t KNOW why the Latin says what it says, there’s a serious problem.

  7. Todd says:

    Gavin, I’m not entirely convinced your boss has a clear take on it either. Sacraments are not just for those bodily present and for those who receive. In a way, your boss’s position seems a bit dependent not only on a literalism, but on a materialistic approach to the sacraments.

    As Catholics, we believe (traditionally, at least) in a certain spiritual efficacy in our prayers, especially the Mass. We speak of Mass intentions (the official ones as well as the numerous “offerings” both spoken and unspoken) that call us to pray for “all” of the world. Like Liam, I don’t think the expression in the Eucharistic prayer will alter Catholic belief. I also don’t see it as an effective corrective in any solid way with the faithful. The danger in emphasizing “for many,” is to insert a certain parochialism into how we see the Mass.

    This is probably worth a more substantial post at a later time.

  8. Gavin says:

    That’s a good approach to it, and not one I disagree with. There’s a lot more to the “Jesus feeds us, then we feed Jesus” idea than a lot of pro-multis (pun intended) people would admit. However, I think there could be a debate over whether or not the benefits of the Sacrament DO apply to “all”. Certainly works of charity flowing from the graces of the Sacrament can reach all the world, but unlike the forgiveness of sins effected on the Cross, these benefits DO have a more “temporal” effect in that they begin starting with the reception of the Sacrament. Or, in more plain terms, Christ’s spilt blood on the Cross covers all from Adam to the last person born. The benefits of the Sacrament, while wide-reaching, are dependent on those taking it and their actions. Anyway, I think that’s more a debate for scholastics than for me. I’m not going to argue the point at length, that’d just be my response to it.

    Anyway, my main point still stands. If you don’t like “pro multis”, then have it changed to “pro omnis” or whatever it is. A translation is NOT the place to rewrite the Mass! If Trautmann (and others) is convinced that “for many” is incorrect, offensive, confusing, whatever, he should get to work lobbying to have it changed. Anyway, if he’s so right, why should the English-speaking congregations be the only ones doing it correctly? That’s what I see as so indefensible about “we believe”, “for all”, and such: we have plain English translations of these phrases and yet the translators didn’t use them, but ones that mean something else! Can you imagine St. Paul talking about being “many things to all people”? If you wrote a letter to someone in another country telling them your wife is pregnant, would you want them to translate it to imply that you also are pregnant? Little words like “all” and “we” do make a difference, maybe not to some huge theological error, but they do still matter. And really, I wouldn’t mind the Credo being changed to “Credum” or whatever. I’ve always thought “we believe” is more appropriate, but those decisions should be made regarding the original text, NOT the translation!

  9. Tony says:

    Liturgical heretic smackdown!!! Sign me up! Who’s my tag team partner?

    I think you might be disappointed with my take on this. Really, it’s 6 of one half dozen of the other for me. As long as people understand catechetically the theological meaning of the words.

    Jesus shed his blood for all. So that all might have a chance at eternal life. Had He not, salvation would not be had for anyone.

    If you want an accurate translation of the Latin, you need to go with “many” for pro multis. If you want to have an accurate translation of Jesus words, you need to go to the original Greek.

    Do we want an accurate English translation of an inaccurate Latin translation (I know, I’m going to be the victim if the heretic smackdown for impugning St. Jerome’s reputation).

    But more importantly, do the people understand what the words mean?

    As far as “we believe” I have to disagree. I think the Credo is a personal profession of faith. If I’m at Mass with you, how can I say that you believe what the creed contains?

  10. Liam says:


    BEcause the Fathers of the ecumenical councils themselves did so in writing down the Creed. Understand that the translation principles approved by Rome in 1969 approved the idea of going beyond the Latin text of the Missal/Lectionary when the underlying text was in a different language than Latin — in the case of the Creed, it was the Greek original. In the Greek original, the Creed begins with the first person plural. So the transation was quite correct in that regard under those translation principles.

    The principles have since changed. They give more valency to the Latin and to the adaptation of the Creed to the Roman practice (in the Apostle’s Creed) of linking the creed to the baptismal first person singular.

    Both ways are reasonable. One followed one approach approved by Rome. The other does too.

    Everyone should be happy and stop snarking over it.

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