Pro multis

In the left-wing English The Tablet (June 24, 2006), there is an interesting bit about the “pro multis” issue. Emphasis mine:

“Turning down some proposals, the bishops noted the ‘expressed intention of the Holy See’ to decide in short order on the issue of ‘for many’ as opposed to ‘for all’ in the consecration. Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney and the chairman of Vox Clara – the Vatican body that oversees ICEL’s translations – welcomed the USCCB’s decision.” 

I consider the pro multis issue to be the single most important translation issue.

Back in 2004 when I wrote my weekly columns about the Eucharistic Prayers, I lingered over the consecration of the Precious Blood in four articles. In those articles I exposed the bad philological arguments used to justity the bad translation "for all". To my knowledge no one had ever looked at it from that angle before. My old boss and still great friend, His Eminence Augustine Card. Mayer, one of the holiness men on earth, gave my articles to his close friend and colleague Joseph Card. Ratzinger. Soon thereafter I had a note from his Eminence (now His Holiness) about those articles. Also, I was able to write something up for a certain Prefect of a certain Congregation on this point. I also know some members of the Vox Clara group have read this stuff.

I am told that there is a massive war going on over this issue. Do you remember the debacle in the late Pope’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia? That, however, was part of the cause of dismissal of some prelates when the new Pope came onto the scene. But enough said about that.

We have to consider the following.

First, writing as Joseph Ratzinger the Pope himself confronted the pro multis question in God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, The Heart of Life (Ignatius Press, 2003). He made three important points (pp. 37-8, n. 10): 1) Jesus died to save all and to deny that is not in any way a Christian attitude, 2) God lovingly leaves people free to reject salvation and some do, and 3):

“The fact that in Hebrew the expression ‘many’ would mean the same thing as ‘all’ is not relevant to the question under consideration inasmuch as it is a question of translating, not a Hebrew text here, but a Latin text (from the Roman Liturgy), which is directly related to a Greek text (the New Testament). The institution narratives in the New Testament are by no means simply a translation (still less, a mistaken translation) of Isaiah; rather, they constitute an independent source (emphasis added). 

What Card. Ratzinger did here is cut loose the raft of emotion and conjecture lashed to the pier built by Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias, upon which ICEL justified rendering “for many” as “for all”. Remember that Jeremias (in the ThWNT) and then Fr. Max Zerwick, SJ (in Notitiae in 1970) used Aramaic and Isaiah 53 arguments for their change to “for all.” Whether Jeremias was right or wrong (and I think his argument was at best tenuous) is entirely beside the point now. POINT: We are not Protestants who approach doctrine from a standpoint of sola Scriptura … Scripture alone. POINT: We are not historical-critics when we approach the consecration of the Mass, we are believing Catholics. POINT: The Missale Romanum and the Tradition and teachings of the Church have their own value, a value not to be abandoned in the face of conjecture and the vagaries of historical-critical Scripture scholarship or the concerns of non-Catholics. POINT: The Missale Romanum is in Latin. This is a key point which every reader of WDTPRS must understand.

Second: The Pope is the only one who approves the translations of sacramental forms. We find this in the Holy See’s official instrument of promulgation, Acta Apostolicae Sedis for 28 February 1974 (AAS 66 (1974) 98-99). Here we find a circular letter dated 25 October 1973 over the signature of then Secretary of State Jean Card. Villot, countersigned by Archbp. Annibale Bugnini (my translation from the Latin): “The Supreme Pontiff reserves to himself the power of approving directly all translations into vernacular languages of the formulas of sacraments.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. bearing says:

    Greetings from Minneapolis.

    What I don’t understand is how the 1970s translation got approved by the Vatican in the first place.

  2. Caro Padre,

    I was just holding forth on this very issue last night after the Schola’s rehearsal. The obvious problam is that, and this touches on the nature of the Novus Ordo, is that “for all” is right in one sense, but wrong in another; right in that Christ “would” have all men saved, but not clear that some will reject that salvation, and it is in here that subjectivism and Universal salvation creep in. We can’t know what the subjective opinion of the celebrant is, so we don’t know if he’s celebrating with a mistaken opinion on a false doctrine or not. This is unacceptable, and it is why when Chorus Breviarii San Diego celebrates the Novus Ordo in Latin, ad Orientem, and with Gregorian propers, we do so entirely in Latin. It’s the only safe option. For our model see the London Oratory, except that we take it even farther than they do, all the way in fact.

    Interestingly, we use the same New Rite Latin Missale the Pope uses on the altar at St. Peters, and we have all three volumes of the Latin Lectionarium, which we use for readings. These were actually procurred for us in Rome by an Auxilliary Bishop, so they obtain from a very legitimate source. In fact, the fact that the books are printed at all, presupposes their use. What is surprising is that it’s such a foreign concept that even some younger, conservative priests are disoriented by the resemblance to the “forbidden” Tridentine rite. Partly they’re just scared of Latin. But even though they don’t approve of the “personality cult” on which the presentational nature of the Novus Ordo relies, they innately sense the need to be seen, and they think that the mass has to be a personal instead of an objective experience. Their egos are addicted without they’re even knowing it, and they’re afraid to let go of it.

    I fully expect Rome to impose “pro multis” “for many”, and I think that in thirty years our model will be much closer to what parishes get. The bums will still be on the pews, and the closer the liturgy gets to the classical model, there’ll be an increasing number of priestly bums (no metaphorical association intended I assure you, dear Padre!!) on the sanctuary as well. “Irascimini et nolite peccare!!” “Be angry and sin not.” You see, it IS possible in a Holy Cause, so keep the pressure on.

    John Polhamus
    Dir., Chorus Breviarii San Diego
    Gregorian Chant Schola and
    Liturgical Prayer Group

  3. Is it providential that the project of promulgating a faithful English translation was delayed until BXVI’s reign? Was JPII weak on “pro multis”? (I recall that JPII changed “pro multis” to “pro omnia” in one of his writings. And this in the official Latin text, although I think it was fixed in the AAS.) Just from my Catholic website perusal this morning, I am becoming more and more convinced that JPII was a caretaker pope, and that we are living in the age of Ratzinger. Benedictus Magnus!

  4. AM says:

    Fr. John, I read your four 2004 essays on pro multis; thanks for them. I’ve never really read about it before, although of course one hears about the controversy from time to time.

    I wondered (since Latin has no definite article) whether multis stood for ton pollon, “the many” – and I found out from your essays that no, the Greek liturgies follow the Scripture, and have no “the”.

    Now as you said, Christ’s sacrifice is for all; but multitudes will be saved, not all. So I also always wondered: when the priest says pro multis how do we know that he’s talking about salvation and not sacrifice? The words do, after all, refer to the shedding of Christ’s blood, isn’t that sacrifice?

    Is it best to say that Christ’s sacrifice is for one thing (atonement with the Father) and the shedding of His Blood is for another thing (remission of the sins of the faithful) that follows?

  5. Brian Mershon says:

    Father, and of course your explanation is exactly the same as that the Roman Catechism, which explains explicitly why the term “for all” is not used in the consecration. The graces are available for all, but the fruits are received by many, not all. The Roman Catechism lays this out precisely.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Do not forget the words in the Consecration of the wine on Holy Thursday in both the Missa Normativa nd the 1962 Rite: Qui pridie quam pro NOSTRA OMNIUMQUE SALUTE pateretur…. Ho w do the two differ-the “pro multis” and the”pro..omniumque salute”?

  7. Father Klingele says:

    Fr. Z,

    I was wondering how long it would take before you resumed your promotion/teaching of the correct translation of “pro multis”. As important as “dew” is (and it is), the question of the translation of the “pro multis” is probably the most the most central. “Et cum spiritu tuo” would be right up there as well.

    Was is not perhaps the greatest (and also saddest) irony that as the bishops were promoting the “for all” translation, priests and the Christian faithful were meditating on the NO Gospel of Corpus Christi, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” (Mk. 14)? Priests who were chanting/reading this venerable gospel and were aware of this debate on the English translation of the Ordo of the Missale Romanum must have smiled interiorly as I did. The True Spirit of Vatican II was speaking through the texts of the reformed lectionary.

  8. CaesarMagnus says:

    Of course one simple argument is to remember what Fr. Z. said above: “The Missale Romanum is in Latin.” As that goes, the word is “multis” not “omnibus.” If you want a literal translation, you have to use “many” not “all.” The age of “dynamic equivalence” is hopefully going to be over soon.

  9. Andrew says:

    Interestingly, or I should say, sadly, this is an issue that transcends our borders. The Spanish vernacular has a blatant: “por vosotros y por todos los hombres”.

    Italian: Per voi e per tutti.

    The French is better with its “pour vous et pour la multitude”

    but the German has: Fur euch und fur alle.

    Portugues has: Por vos e por todos.

    Even Slovak has now “za vsetkych ” instead of “za mnohych”

    while the Hungarians retain the “pro multis” with their “sokakert”.

    It could be a wonderful thing for English to get rectified, since we tend to exert a great deal of influence worldwide.

  10. Jeff says:

    Good God, Andrew!

    What is it in Icelandic, Maltese, Bengali, and Quechua?

    Do you think you can fob that paltry selection off on us?

  11. Jeff says:


    I think you miss the point.

    It doesn’t matter what it says on Holy Thursday. We wouldn’t translate THAT passage as “for many”, would we? Coz it says, “for all”.

    Mutatis mutandis, we shouldn’t translate “pro multis” as “for all” coz it doesn’t say that.

    No one is proposing that the words ‘for all’ in the present vernacular translations are a heresy, though the motivation might possibly be a tendency toward a kind of universalism. The point it: Let’s just say in English what it says in Latin.

  12. Walt says:

    Father Z :
    Where can I find the four articles from 2004 that you mentioned above?

  13. I took a message off with a link to the OLD COL Forum. I would rather people use a different link, which I will supply soon.

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