For All or For Many

There has been much discussion in Catholic circles about the new English-language translation of the Mass texts, not to mention the process that led to the recent approval by the Vatican of the final version. The changes are to be implemented during Advent 2011.

Reaction among Catholics has been mixed. Some are in favor of what they view to be a more faithful word-for-word translation of the Latin text. Some were happy with what was in place and see no reason for a change. Others cringe at particular changes. Still others focus on the process by which the changes were adopted, with many priests as well as lay people arguing that the changes should have been delayed.

As I look at the changes I have several reactions. Some strike me as overly formalistic, such as changing “and also with you” to “and with your spirit” or changing “one in being with the Father” to “consubstantial with the Father.” Some seem to me designed to separate the priest from the people, such as changing “our sacrifice” to “my sacrifice and yours.” Some do little more than change word order, such as changing “Lord, you are holy indeed” to “You are indeed, holy, O Lord.” Unlike some people, it doesn’t seem to me that these changes will make the Mass more beautiful or more sacred or in any other way enhance my worship. But equally, most of the changes don’t effect any change in meaning that disturbs me.

There is one change, however, that I do find striking, and that is the change in the Eucharistic prayer of “for all” to “for many.” In the current formulation, Christ tells his disciples that his blood will be shed “for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven. In the changed version, the priest will say that Christ’s blood was shed “for you and for many…”

Catholic doctrine is that Christ died for all of us (indeed, for each of us), not just for some of us. The change in the language of the Mass does not intend to effect any change in that doctrine; Cardinal Arinze in a 2006 letter to the President of the Conference of Bishops wrote that the expression “for many” remains open remains open to the inclusion of every human person and merely reflects that individuals must willingly participate in their redemption.

My concern is with how people will hear “for many” rather than “for all.” There is, among far too many people, a tendency toward exclusivity and toward making judgments about who is in and who is out. Absent proper catechesis – and adult catechesis has not been something the Church does very well in my view – there is risk of this changed language feeding into those kinds of tendencies. One can only pray and hope that the Church does something to counter any possible misinterpretation of the changed language.

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