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well ... not so fast

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 31, 2004

The NCR's Word from Rome includes a note on the forthcoming translation of the Roman Missal, focused on the controversy surrounding the words of consecration of the chalice: ought we translate "It will be shed for you and for all," or "for you and for many"?:

Rendering the Latin phrase pro multis as "for all" has long been Exhibit A in the traditionalist case against the English translation of the Mass following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Not only is it a loose translation, these critics insist, it flirts with heresy by suggesting that all human beings will be saved regardless of their moral choices or religious affiliation.

John Allen -- a generally balanced and trustworthy reporter -- goes on to make the following observation:

John Paul II has never declared himself explicitly on this issue, but one may glimpse his thinking in the recent encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. When the pope refers to the words of institution, he uses the phrase "for all" rather than "for many." Most notably, this phrase appears not merely in the modern languages, but even in the Latin version, where the text reads: hic calix novum aeternumque testamentum est in sanguine meo, qui pro vobis funditur et pro omnibus in remissionem peccatorum.

Hence we have a further instance where, despite media stereotypes of a "conservative pope," some staunch Catholic conservatives actually feel dismayed by John Paul's "liberal" instincts.

A fair point. The problem is, it's not true.

Allen correctly, and understandably, gives us the Latin text as posted on the Vatican website. But the authoritative text of any encyclical is the final and definitive text printed in the Holy See's official publication, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, and the pertinent passage (para. 2) of Ecclesia de Eucharistia quoted by Allen has been corrected in AAS to read pro multis instead of pro omnibus (AAS, v.95, 7 July 2003, p. 434). Somebody in the Holy See, clearly, has been paying attention -- and if the emendator was not the Pope himself, it was someone with whom he agreed, definitively. If we're going to use this encyclical as a window into the mind of John Paul II, the words to be reckoned with are unarguably pro multis.

A footnote: Allen is correct that most of the translations of Ecclesia de Eucharistia (based on their on-line versions) use the equivalent of "for all." One of the two modern language exceptions is the Polish translation, where we have za wielu, "for many." It proves nothing, but the fact that "for all" does not appear in the Pope's mother tongue is an oblique indication that there are limits to his liberal instincts.

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