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Catholic World News News Feature

Pro multis means "for many," Vatican rules November 18, 2006

The Vatican has ruled that the phrase pro multis should be rendered as "for many" in all new translations of the Eucharistic Prayer, CWN has learned.

Although "for many" is the literal translation of the Latin phrase, the translations currently in use render the phrase as "for all." Equivalent translations (für alle; por todos; per tutti) are in use in several other languages.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has written to the heads of world's episcopal conferences, informing them of the Vatican decision. For the countries where a change in translation will be required, the cardinal's letter directs the bishops to prepare for the introduction of a new translation of the phrase in approved liturgical texts "in the next one or two years."

The translation of pro multis has been the subject of considerable debate because of the serious theological issues involved. The phrase occurs when the priest consecrates the wine, saying (in the current translation):

...It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.

The Latin version of the Missal, which sets the norm for the Roman liturgy, says:

...qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.

Critics of the current translation have argued, since it first appeared, that rendering pro multis as "for all" not only distorts the meaning of the Latin original, but also conveys the impression that all men are saved, regardless of their relationship with Christ and his Church. The more natural translation, "for many," more accurately suggests that while Christ's redemptive suffering makes salvation available to all, it does not follow that all men are saved.

Cardinal Arinze, in his letter to the presidents of episcopal conferences, explains the reasons for the Vatican's decision to require

  • The Synoptic Gospels (Mt 26,28; Mk 14,24) make specific reference to “many” for whom the Lord is offering the Sacrifice, and this wording has been emphasized by some biblical scholars in connection with the words of the prophet Isaiah (53, 11-12). It would have been entirely possible in the Gospel texts to have said “for all” (for example, cf. Luke 12,41); instead, the formula given in the institution narrative is “for many”, and the words have been faithfully translated thus in most modern biblical versions.
  • The Roman Rite in Latin has always said pro multis and never pro omnibus in the consecration of the chalice.
  • The anaphoras of the various Oriental Rites, whether in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, the Slavic languages, etc., contain the verbal equivalent of the Latin pro multis in their respective languages.
  • “For many” is a faithful translation of pro multis, whereas “for all” is rather an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis.
  • 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 and to receive the supernatural life that is given to those who participate in this mystery, living it out in their lives as well so as to be numbered among the “many” to whom the text refers.
  • In line with the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, effort should be made to be more faithful to the Latin texts in the typical editions.

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