Rome Provides Guidance, For Many and for All

The decision of Pope Benedict XVI regarding the translation of pro multis in the consecration formula puzzled some observers. Was this just Roman meddling in liturgical minutiae? Or was it mere administrative housekeeping?

In fact, it was important in three respects: It constituted a gesture of good will to traditionalist Catholics; it advanced the Holy Father’s advocacy of the “reform of the reform;” and it demonstrated that the translation wars are over.

On Oct. 17, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, wrote to the presidents of the bishops’ conferences, instructing them that the words pro multis in the consecratory formula of the chalice should be translated as “for many” as opposed to “for all.”

In the original Latin the priest says: “Qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur.” In the current English translation, the priest says: “It will be shed for you and for all.” In other languages the equivalent of “for all” is also used: in Spanish, por todos los hombres, in Italian per tutti.

The instruction from Cardinal Arinze will mean the priest will say: “It will be shed for you and for many.”

The change will not take effect until the entire new translation of the Mass is ready in a few years.

While most Catholics will likely not notice much of a difference, the issue has been a central one in traditionalist circles, both those in union with Rome and those in schism. It has been contended that translating pro multis as “for all” veers into the heresy of universalism (where all are in fact saved), and may even invalidate the Mass.

“There is no doubt whatsoever regarding the validity of Masses celebrated with the use of a duly approved formula containing a formula equivalent to ‘for all,’ as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already declared,” writes Cardinal Arinze on just that point. “Indeed, the formula ‘for all’ would undoubtedly correspond to a correct interpretation of the Lord’s intention expressed in the text. It is a dogma of faith that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women.”

Nevertheless, the “for all” has long been a contentious issue for traditionalists. Benedict has put a priority on reconciling with schismatic traditionalists, and making those already in union feel more at home in the Church. This decision advances that cause, while distinguishing between translation and catechesis.

“‘For many’ is a faithful translation of pro multis, whereas ‘for all’ is rather an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis,” writes Cardinal Arinze. “The expression ‘for many,’ while remaining open to the inclusion of each human person, is reflective also of the fact that this salvation is not brought about in some mechanistic way, without one’s willing or participation; rather, the believer is invited to accept in faith the gift that is being offered … so as to be numbered among the ‘many’ to whom the text refers.”

This is also a small element of the “reform of the reform” — correcting the mistakes of the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy — about which Benedict has been speaking for more than 20 years. The Latin text of the Mass has never prayed pro omnibus (for all), but always pro multis (for many). The principle of the “reform of the reform” is to allow the full liturgical tradition to animate the current liturgy, correcting any novelties that are out of place; “for many” would fit into that category.

The decision is also an indication that the translation battles of the 1990s are now over. The “for many” decision flows from the new directives on translations, which demand a more faithful adherence to the Latin original. Moreover, the fact that this change — so long discussed — can be addressed now with little controversy is an indication that the temperature of translation controversies has been significantly lowered.

There was a time when such a change would have been delayed for fear of setting off a bruising battle. Those days are over — for all in the Church.

Father Raymond J. de Souza

served as the Register’s

Rome correspondent

 from 1999-2003.