About “pro multis”

Since another blog has decided (perhaps imprudently) to publish something on it, and since it is already commented on by participants in this blog (for good or ill), here goes.

Three different well-placed sources I trust in Congregations here in Rome confirmed for me that the Holy Father made the determination that the words pro multis in the consecration of the Precious Blood will be properly translated, "for many", in the upcoming English text now in preparation. I had reason to be optimistic about this quite some time ago, but these confirmations go far beyond previous news.

Ever since Pope Paul VI, the Pontiff reserves to himself the approval of all sacramental forms in vernacular versions. Only Pope Benedict can make this decision.

WDTPRS has been hammering this for years, working as a lobby precisely for this, which is the single most important translation issue that had to be resolved. The WDTPRS articles have been used by members of the Vox Clara Committee, bandied about in Congregations, and even read by the Holy Father before his election. In the articles I urged readers to write respectful and brief letters about this issue to members of the Committee and prefects of Congregations. They did and I saw copies of their letters and the nice responses they received in return. The articles kept supplying ammunition during the war over the translation.

I see this as a real benchmark. Pope Benedict acts decisively once he has thought something through. He is interested in a new kind of dialogue, even ecumenical dialogue, based on accurate and forthright expressions of what we believe as a Church. The choice to say "for many" rather than "for all" indicates a serious shift of approach on many levels. It seems to me that the days of overly careful political correctness are done, at least in some spheres of the Church’s activity.

There may be some who do not find this news to be that big a thing. They might suggest that it does nothing for traditionalists who don’t want Mass in the vernacular anyway. To them I would say, first, that what is good for the whole Church is good for them. Holy Church is not to be reduced to the traditionalist minority, as important as it is in some respects. Clearly the traditionalists are not in the majority in the Church today. Thus, vernacular translations impact them more than they might think. The English language clearly dominates the world today. Since liturgical translations in other languages are undergoing revisions, they will be required to follow suit. Also, it is a unmistakable sign both that His Holiness is picking up speed in his work and that he is not content to maintain the status quo. He is making decisions with confidence.

It is necessary to continue with prayers for the Holy Father and with raising thanks to God for this important move on his part. We all know that it ain’t over ’till it’s over. When I see some instrument of promulgation and the Holy Father’s signature, I will finally relax. Nevertheless I am very happy about this news.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mike says:

    Dear Father –

    The FJ Sheen of the blogosphere! I went to bed last night reading a very sticky tome on architectural urbanism (Rome is featured heavily) knowing this was one of the few resources where the truth was available. So hard to get thru. But now I awake to find your posts so illuninating and clear and readable- you’ve made my day. Bravo & “multi” thanks!


  2. Jeffrey Stuart says:

    Mr. Edwards nailed it! Have I mentioned how much I love Pope Benedict?

    Father I think your comments regarding the traditionalists (which if pressed I would categorize myself as one though I prefer to be called just Catholic) are very appropriate. I find many in the blogosphere impatient with the Pope’s apparent timeline for action. Given the the lifetime of the Church and the time it took to get us where we are today I think we all should realize that things will not change in a flash. I have faith that Papa’s actions are well thought out, will be executed in a deliberate manner and crafted with an eye on the long term vice the “overnight” changes that many seem to want. [Not to mention we Americans want everything instantly. :)]

    Thanks for the news Father. I will continue my prayers.

  3. Gregg says:

    Praise God!

    This alone, if it happens, will console so many traditionalists in the world who are uncertain of the validity of the New Mass. It’s an issue I struggled with for a long time myself, and though I eventually came to the conclusion that the New Mass must be valid, it will be very assuring to have the consecratory prayer translated correctly. Is re-adding “Mysterium Fidei” next? :)

  4. Jordan Potter says:

    Yes, this is great news. As an adult convert to the Faith, I have enjoyed the blessings of the Sacraments for more than six years, but I have always been bothered that “pro multis” was mistranslated. Yes, “for many” can effectively refer to “for all,” but the fact remains that Jesus said “for many” when He could easily have said “for all.” Evidently He meant “for many” or He wouldn’t have said so, at we really shouldn’t be saying in Mass that Jesus said things that He didn’t really say. In this part of the Mass, we acknowledge the truth that Jesus’ death will be efficacious “for many,” even though He died “for all.” God bless our Pope for insisting on integrity and accuracy in our liturgical translations!

  5. Father Z – I remember you talking about “pro multis” way back when you were at our parish in Crystal. This is indeed significantly good news. I told the group of faithful religion teachers and others at the good Catholic high school where I teach about your teaser posts yesterday, and we all speculated on what it could be. “Pro Multis” was seen as one of the happiest bits of news it could be. They all attend “mainstream” (but conservative) parishes in the Twin Cities and are all itching for the new translations to come out soon.

    Jeffery Stuart, thanks for your call to patience with the timetable and your wise words about the wisdom of Benedict’s timing. Charity is indeed the guiding principle in all things. As the Blessed Apostle Paul says, we must be careful not to put stumbling blocks in the way of our brethren who don’t have the knowledge we have of history, language and good liturgy.

    “Scientia inflat, caritas vero aedificat.” (1Cor 8:1) God bless our Papa for building up Christ’s Holy Church.


  6. Diane says:

    I have to agree that it is great news.

    Many will not understand it, and the press (secular and what I call “mainstream Catholic” – so they think of themselves), will spin it as “yet, another concession to the SSPX”. I coul dnot disagree more. While fixing it may “give” schismatic Catholics something they want to have, it is something that is being given to all Catholics.

    In our secularized culture, too many believe that one good act will save them, regardless of how many bad acts they create, and are unrepentant for. “It’s ok to have regular pre-marital and extra-marital sex, provided all these other good things I do are visible to God”.


    Dummed-down, banal, and softened language has not helped.

  7. Diane says:

    Oh, and I meant to mention….

    I don’t think the blogging priest who mentioned what he heard in Rome was any more imprudent than those who initially leaked the information to others, ultimately leading to the “swirling rumors” this priest would eventually hear and blog about. That’s a whole lot of people that must have been talking, for a visiting priest from the UK to hear about it.

  8. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: Whether or not final congratulations may be a bit premature, they seem entirely appropriate for your happy birthday. For when you do see this over the Pope’s signature, you (and we) will know that your own persistent years of effort have borne fruit at the highest level on a matter of highest importance.

  9. pq says:

    How I love Benedict XVI. May he reign for a 100 years!

  10. Boko Fittleworth says:

    This is positively huge! The most important thing about this is what it tells us about the Holy Father with whom we’re blessed. Ad multos annos, and watch your back in Turkey!

  11. Father, is this the news you hinted at a few days ago? Or shall we look for another?

  12. So, I have a question? What would be a better translation of “pro multis”: “for many” or “for THE many”? I know it’s nit-picky, but since we are going for accuracy …

  13. Bryan says:

    A quick question. I am currently reading about the Council of Trent’s take on the Eucharistic sacrifice and
    found this quote: “If anyone says that the Mass is useful only to the person who receives communion, and
    is not to be offered for the living and the dead – for sins, faults, needs, for satisfaction, and for any
    other necessities – let him be anathema.”

    So, how many is the Mass said for? Who are “THE MANY?”

  14. Fr. Martin (“the Baptist”) Fox: ROFL! Good one. Tell your followers that the blind of the Congregations see and the lame of the Discasteries are walking to carry out Pope Benedict’s will. Yes, this is the news I was speaking about. As I mentioned, some won’t immediately see how important this is. It is, however.

  15. Bryan: That is not too nit-picky. It is a good question.  Holy Mass can be offered for the living and the dead.  That
    can include anyone who isn\’t in hell.  Only God know how to apply the fruit of Holy Masses celebrated.  In making our offering of Mass, ech in our own way, we can offer it for the whole world and all who lived, but only God knows how that works out.  All we know is that some have chosen to reject God\’s friendship.  So, many can benefit from Mass but not all.

    Frankly, I think \”for the many\” would be a bit more accurate. When I hear \”for the many\” it sounds more inclusive than \”for many\”. \”The many\” sounds to me as if it could include a number so vast that we can\’t fathom its extent.

  16. RBrown says:

    The Latin “pro multis” is a translation of the Greek “peri pollon” (cf. the phrase “hoi polloi”). To me the best translation is for “the multitude”. But “for all” is terrible for the following reasons.

    1. The phrase mirrors Mt 20:28, that the Son of Man “came . . . to give His life as a ransom (Latin: redemptio) for many”. It is not an indication of how many are saved.

    2. Christ died for all.

    3. But In various places in the NT there is indication that the number saved might actually be “a few” (Lk 13:23-24). St. Thomas is of the opinion that the number saved is rather few (pauciores sunt qui salvantur)–ST, I, 23, 7, ad 3.

    4. To me “pro multis” includes both the principle that Christ died for all and the possibility that not all (or rather few) are saved.

    5. One of the Fathers says that the “pro multis” at the Last Supper indicates “pro multis gentibus” (for many nations or peoples), that Christ’s sacrifice is not just for those present, nor for only the Jews, but also for non Jews.

  17. RBrown: Excellent comments.

  18. Two questions Father:

    1. Did I understand you to hint at other good news coming, the details of which you have not divulged?

    2. Do you care to estimate a timetable for any of these things coming about?

  19. Diane says:

    Other good news on my list would be to hear that “consubstantial” has been added to the letter on “pro-multis”.

  20. Great News! However, I found thi note in “Notitiae” of 1970 arguing that
    the “variation” ‘for many’ is justified. See this page for more info:
    Didn’t cardinal Ratzinger himself defend the ‘for many’?

  21. Jörgen Vijgen: You might read what I posted and you will find I cited that Notitiae article already.

  22. Dear Father, I’m currently reading it! Thanks very much!

  23. Pingback: Vigilate et Orate :: Pro “pro multis” - ein Aufruf :: October :: 2006

  24. Pingback: Conversi Ad Dominum » Blog Archive » Pro Multis Translation Issue to be Fixed?

  25. Bruce Harbert says:

    All the English-speaking bishops have already approved ‘consubstantial’ in the draft translation of the Order of Mass.

    But then again, they also all approved ‘for all’!

  26. RBrown says:

    Great News! However, I found thi note in “Notitiae” of 1970 arguing that
    the “variation” ‘for many’ is justified. See this page for more info:
    Didn’t cardinal Ratzinger himself defend the ‘for many’?


    To me the objection by the trads that changing translation of “pro multis” to “for all” AND the response are neither very good.

    1. Obviously, the “pro multis/pro omnibus” does not affect the consecration simply because the Luke/Paul formula (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25) does not use either.

    2. Further, in the Roman Rite (1962 Missal) the first consecration is effected by the designation of the species “Hoc est enim corpus meum”. Thus, the same principle would apply to the second consecration, i.e., that it is also effected by the designation “Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei”.

    3. Having said that, the 1970 official response leaves a lot to be desired.

    * The NT that we have is in Greek not Aramaic. The Greek distinguishes between “for many” and “for all”–so does the Latin.

    * “Pro multis” is NOT ambiguous (equivocal)–it is analogical. Ambiguous terms signify two (or more) completely different things. Christ’s Death and how many are actually saved by it are not two different things.

    Analogical terms signify two different things that are alike in some sense. As I noted above, “pro multis” refers to two components of the same thing. It is, therefore, analogical.

    * There is no equivalence between “all” and “many”. When Esdras says “many are created”, it is true, as the response says, that many is contrasted with few. It is false, however, that “many” actually means “all”.

    * If “for many” can be misunderstood as excluding the universality of Christ’s redemptive work, then “for all” can equally be misunderstood as signifying that all are saved.

    * If translators were so worried about whether “for many” would be misunderstood so as to exclude the universality of Christ’s redemptive work, then they should have, as I noted above, used the phrase “for the multitude”.

    * It is sad, but not surprising, that the response makes no reference to any of the Fathers, especially St Remigius, whose explanation of “pro multis” I noted earlier.

  27. Bruce Harbert: Thanks for that good observation. After the pro multis question, which in my opinion is the most important single difficult issue in the mix, consubstantial would have to be the next.

  28. David J. White says:

    Don’t forget that Greek has a definite article and Latin does not. This makes
    a great deal of difference. If the Greek says “peri *twn* pollwn”, it will
    generally be rendered in Latin as “pro multis”, because there is no good way to
    translate the “the” into Latin. This is particularly true of liturgical and
    biblical Latin, where the translation principle was clearly to be as literal
    as possible, even if it ended up distorting the Latin idiom and being “bad”
    Latin from the viewpoint of classical Latin style.

    An example I noticed recently is where the Vulgate says “male habebat” with
    the obvious intention of saying that the person “was doing badly” or “was in
    bad shape”. (Sorry, I don’t have the passage in front of me.) This makes
    no sense in classical Latin, but is clearly a literal rendering of the Greek
    idiom “kakws exein”, to be doing badly (or, indeed, exw + any adverb with
    the meaning “to be doing ___ly” Exein in Greek means “to have”, so the
    translator just rendered the idiom literally, word for word, without regard
    for the fact that in Latin it really makes no sense. This wouldn’t be
    acceptable translation practice today, but examples of it abound in the Vulgate.

    As another posted noted, we have borrowed the Greek expression “hoi polloi”,
    which literally means “the many”, but which is used — as we use it — in the
    sense of “the multitude”. I think it very plausible that “pro multis” should
    be understood as “for THE many”, i.e., “for the multitude” — which *could* be
    understood to mean “for everyone/all” — because, when translating into Latin,
    there would be no literal way to render the Greek definite article.

    I prefer the traditional Mass to the new one, and try to attend it when I can.
    But I have always thought that critics of the ICEL translation make a bit too
    much of the “pro multis”/”for all” business. Still, “pro multis”, as a
    rendering of “peri twn pollwn”, and rendered as “for the multitude”, has a bit
    of ambiguity to it; and perhaps it would be better to retain the ambiguity,
    rather than attempt to clear it up in one particular direction, as “for all”

  29. Joe says:

    The commission designated to produce an English
    translation of the liturgy has opted for a
    rigorist-literalist interpretation of a Latin phrase
    derived secondarily from the Greek to the detriment of
    the understanding of the sentence and to the action of
    Jesus Christ. Many cheered the translation precision
    of “for many” for the phrase “pro multis” which in
    turn is a translation from the Greek for “the
    multitude,” which, without any stretch of the
    imagination means, “all.”

    What is even more odd is that this translation is
    applauded without reference to its following
    restrictive clause–“that sins may be forgiven.” This
    phrase restricts the meaning of the “for you and for
    all,” it gives the purpose of this sacrifice–“That
    sins may be forgiven.” When we reinterpret to
    “restore” the faulty translation, we get a strange
    confluence of influences. “for many that sins may be
    forgiven.” This implies a number of erroneous
    conclusions. (1) Evidently there may be some other way
    in which sins are forgiven if this sacrifice is not
    for all of humanity, which God promised to save, but
    rather only for the few. (2) Perhaps the perfect
    sacrifice of God is too weak in the eyes of these
    translators to effect the forgiveness of sins for all,
    and hence it must be limited and spread out to only a
    few. (3)God’s grace evidently must not be sufficient
    because His sacrifice can only save the many, not
    all–something must be added to it to effect
    forgiveness of sins.

    The translation is poor–those agitating for precision
    agitate on an unsure footing and an unclear
    foundation. Their rigorist approach to translation
    suppresses the original meaning and substitutes for it
    something that allows the field of salvation to be
    narrowed. Now, perhaps if Jesus has said, “so that
    all might be saved,” we’d have a good argument. But
    what He said is “so that all might be forgiven.” The
    might be is not contingent upon the efficacy of the
    sacrifice but upon the resistance of the individual
    person. So in this inclusive prayer, we look to the
    promise of God who will raise up all who call on
    Jesus’s name. With the suggested revision we are
    forced to think at the moment of Eucharistic triumph
    of all those who are not redeemed because they have
    not chosen the way. We have turned the Church
    triumphant into the Church uncertain.

    Jesus came that all sins may be forgiven and that
    many, if not all, would be saved through the
    forgiveness of sin. The central Eucharistic prayer is
    neither the time nor the place to put a cap on the
    power of Jesus to forgive. It is not the appropriate
    place for a reminder that some will not accept grace.
    It is the place to extol the triumph of the risen Lord
    and to recall what that triumph means for all of

  30. Mike says:

    I’d like to see the Pope should that the translation should be changed to “for many” with immediate effect – and that this decree is given “pro multis”.

    Then see who thinks it applies to themselves!

  31. Mike says:

    Pardon my incomplete corrections . . .

    I’d like to see the Pope decree that the translation be changed to “for many” with immediate effect – and say that this decree is given “pro multis”.

    Then see which priests think it applies to themselves!

  32. Michael says:

    ‘If the Greek says “peri twn pollwn”, it will generally be rendered in Latin as “pro multis”, because there is no good way to translate the “the” into Latin.’

    But the Greek does not say that. If you go to http://www.studylight.org/isb/ or http://www.unboundbible.org/ and look up Matthew 26:28 in various editions of the New Testament, you will consistently see our Lord recorded as having said He would shed His blood περι πολλων not περι των πολλων. The “the” is not there in the Greek.

  33. David J. White says:

    Sorry, I didn’t have a text in front of me to check. I was picking up on the
    text that another blogger gave. Thanks for double-checking!

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