In its renewed faithfulness to the Latin Vulgate, the new third edition of the Roman Missal has changed the wording in the mass around the beneficiaries of Christ’s death. Recalling Christ’s words as he took the cup of wine at the Last Supper, the revised version speaks of Christ’s blood being “poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (“For many” appears in the Anglican eucharistic liturgy as well.)
This version, which was implemented around the world on Nov. 27, is true to the original Latin wording of “pro multis”-not “pro omnibus,” as it was translated in the two older post-Vatican II missals.
For some, the altered wording, approved by Pope Benedict in 2006, appears to exclude some people from salvation and therefore defies core Christian doctrine that Jesus died for the redemption of all sinners.
But perhaps their concern is misplaced. In Latin, a lean and economical language whose force and nuances must be unpacked from simple words, “pro multis” can also mean “for the many, for the multitude, for the plurality” — basically for everyone –not merely the limiting “for many.” So at the time the Latin text was written, “many” would likely have had broader implications.
Anticipating the uncertainty, however, the Catholic church has offered parish workshops to clarify this and other changes in wording. Gregory Beath, an educator in adult faith formation for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, ran several of these. “It’s very clear that the church has not changed its doctrine. That Jesus died for the salvation of all is still very much part of Christian teaching,” says Beath, adding that Paul states this in Second Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 14 to 15.
Beath explains that the new missal is a more authentic “retrieval of Scripture” and as such is true to the words of Christ in the gospels of Matthew (26:28) and Mark (14:24), with their echoes of the messianic suffering-servant passage in Isaiah 53. “Also, when you say ‘for many,’ there may also be that sense of the freedom of the individual to respond to God’s grace, which is profoundly Christian” he says.