“For You and Who Else?”

Fr. Paul Philibert, OP, has a strong critique of the new missal translation in the current issue of America (subscription required), especially but not only the translation of pro multis as “for you and for many.” A few excerpts:

In talking about the new Missal, many U.S. bishops have expressed the opinion that a literally exact translation of the Latin text will restore the depth of meaning of the Mass texts. Really? In this case [of “for you and for many” – ed.], a slavishly literal translation of the Latin looks very much like the kind of mistake that a Latin teacher would correct in the work of a high school student learning the ancient language.

[T]he ecclesiological overtones of “for many” mirror a growing tendency among “restorationists” to reinvent the church as a faithful remnant of those untouched by the ravages of secularization and cultural change – those, in other words, who are perfectly comfortable in a pre-Vatican II world, preoccupied with its own sanctity and well-being. This runs counter, however, to the ecclesiology of the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” of Vatican II.

The Latin teacher mentioned above might well say to the translator, “Come on now, you can do better than that. Who talks like that?” Well, it appears we all will have to in a matter of months. Unless…


  1. We’ve heard this before, and as is typical, the fact that the liturgies of so many post V2 eastern Catholic Churches, (i. e., the Maronite) also use the term “for many” seems to have eluded the author or warrants no mention, despite the fact that they’ve been using “for many” since before the council and after it. Looking over his words, and knowing that the Dominicans are scholars who must be aware of the post V2 liturgies of the eastern rites, I wonder if Fr. Paul really believes that the Maronites imagine that they live in a “pre-V2 world, preoccupied with their own sanctity and well being” living in a manner contrary to the ecclesiology of Lumen gentium? If he does not believe this we have to wonder why he thinks the Latin Catholics would, has he sensed this tendency in his own community? Where does this come from?
    I also wonder if Fr. Paul has considered the ecumenical implications of his opinion, both inside the Church (eastern rites and our own Latin rite EF parishes, monasteries, religious orders) and with the Eastern Orthodox who also use “for many” and those Anglicans who are coming over to Rome.

  2. +JMJ+

    I find the “Latin teacher” argument the most unconvincing of all. Who is the hypothetical Latin teacher who teaches his (or her) students to translate “pro multis” as “for all”?

    Where is the support for “for many” in any English translation of the Bible? Not even in “The Inclusive Bible” (which uses the word “kindom” instead of “kingdom” or “reign”) is Jesus quoted as saying “for all”.

    The Tridentine Catechism explains what “pro multis” means and why it is used instead of “pro omnibus”, if anyone deigns to give it a voice in the matter. Or would that run counter to Lumen Gentium?

    I, for one, support the translation of “pro multis” as “for many” not because of some agenda “to reinvent the church as a faithful remnant of those untouched by the ravages of secularization and cultural change […] who are perfectly comfortable in a pre-Vatican II world, preoccupied with its own sanctity and well-being.”

  3. This argument is having the curious effect of restoring the pre-VII mindset that the words of institution and elevation are the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer.

    I’m sure everyone knows that this isn’t true – that there are examples of the universality of salvation in Christ throughout the EPs (including one of the memorial acclamations); and even scripture itself does not agree on for whom (if, indeed, for anybody) the Bread/Body and Cup/Blood are intended:

    Bread-no designation
    Cup-for many
    Bread-no designation
    Cup-for many
    1st Cup-divided among those present
    Bread-for you
    2nd Cup-for you
    I Cor.
    Bread-for you
    Cup-no designation

    On a retreat with Eugene Laverdiere in the mid-80s, one attendee who was troubled by “for all” (and thought “pro multis” should be “for many”) asked him about this matter. His response was that “for all” and “for many” would have really served the same purpose in the gospel pericopes – to remind those present that what was being done/given in that upper room was not only for those in attendance right then and there; in congruence with the rest of the gospel mission, it was intended to break the boundaries of place and time. It was not to set up an exclusive club, but to establish a [re]new[ed] covenant for eternity.

    Hmmmmmm … as I was typing this, an e-mail came in from the little UCC church down the block from my house saying that their food pantry is nearly empty … gotta love the way that Paraclete wings her way around!!

    1. +JMJ+

      This argument is having the curious effect of restoring the pre-VII mindset that the words of institution and elevation are the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer.

      In whom?

      And I do not see the translation of “pro multis” as “for many” as being denying the “universality of salvation in Christ” (cf. 1 John 2:2, among others). The words “for many” serve “to declare the fruit and advantage of His Passion. For if we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed His blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind have received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race.” (Catechism of Trent, Eucharist)

  4. More accurately, perhaps: “By focusing so intently on these two words from the institution narrative, we run the risk of restoring a pre-VII mindset that the words of institution (and elevation) are the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer.”

    I merely meant to state that this is a kind of proof-texting; and could get its practitioners into the same sort of trouble that a severely fundamentalist/literalist reading of the scripture does.

  5. Since Latin does not have “articles”, whether definite (“the”) or indefinite (“an”), the 7th- or 8th-grade translator was admonished to supply them when the history or context required. Such was the way I learned at the Boston Latin School more years ago than I care to remember.

    Further, if I recall correctly, pro multis is a translation from an original Greek figure of speech that really means “the multitudes,” “the many,” “more than anyone can count,” or, roughly, “all”: a Liturgiam Authenticam-style mistranslation.

    1. +JMJ+

      If the Greek figure of speech means “the many” or even “all”, where is the outcry over the mistranslations in virtually every English translation of the Bible? (I have yet to find one that has “for all” or even “for the many” in Matthew 26:28.)

  6. Have posted this a number of times. You might want to read it:

    From Rev. Zerwick, SJ, as posted in Notitiae of the Congregation for Worship, 1970.


    Yes, Arinze commissioned a revision in 2000 based upon LA, etc. It does get to the heart of how to translate – literally or following the best of your translation skills. Arinze and others wanted a “pure” translation or may be one that repeats from a gospel and then explained that the meaning of this phrase had to be explained via catechesis. Not sure that is a good understanding of liturgy either – we usually pray what we believe without going through catechetical steps. It also changes significantly what the 1975 ICET agreed upon; and it ignores to a degree the fact that liturgy takes place within a given culture, society, etc.

    1. +JMJ+

      Bill, I disagree with you about the relationship between the liturgy and catechesis. There’s another tension in SC for you: we all (laity, religious, and clergy) need liturgical instruction if FCAP is to be realized… and yet the rites “normally should not require much explanation”.

  7. Jeffrey – do not disagree with you at all. My comment may not have been clear….totally agree that we as the people of God need clear liturgical catechesis but the rites are not the place for this to happen – thus, agree with SC and “normally should not require much explanation.” All too often, some state that LA, etc. (its formal translation concept) and any fall out in terms of confusion over terms, words, etc. can be explained. Will we stop and explain every time we come to those words, places, phrases or do we catechize one time; two times…what about those who infrequently come to church; etc., etc. It just does not work for me.

    1. +JMJ+

      The are many places to catechize — the bulletin, the homily, comments at the end of Mass, handouts, extra-liturgical sessions, etc. My former parish is doing a whole community catechesis event on the liturgy next month, I think.

      Will we stop and explain every time we come to those words, places, phrases or do we catechize one time; two times…

      I don’t think it’s worthwhile to try to make the approach to and conditions and terms of this catechesis uniform and universal. Parishes and dioceses will do what works best for them. If that means inviting parishioners to “teaching Masses”, or making use of the “commentator” role in the liturgy (which I am NOT in favor of), or having presentations, so be it.

      How did the catechesis take place during the transition from 1962 to 1969 (and beyond)? I can’t say — I wasn’t alive.

      And what about those who infrequently come to church as it is? Sure they could follow along in a missal if they don’t remember the words, but do they know what they’re praying?

      It sounds to me like your conditions preclude most reforms, because of the amount of catechesis they would require. Certainly there would never be a reform on the scale of Vatican II’s liturgical reform (whenever that might be). But how much reform could take place and still “work for you”? The congregation’s prayers should never change?

      And against this backdrop, I can’t see why people are calling for a new translation of the Our Father (in the United States, at least). Of all the lengthy prayers in the Order of Mass prayed by the congregation (Confiteor, Gloria, Creed, Our Father — any others?) I’d have to say the Our Father is the one best known. If you want to alienate the infrequent Mass-goers, change the Our Father.

  8. I agree with Jeffrey’s comments.

    As they suggest, VII places catechesis at the very center of liturgical reform, starting with the clergy. It cannot be precluded from reform, in fact, it is a requirement.

    While SC does seem to provide a degree of tension between the instruction it demands and rites that should normally not require much explanation, I think the order in which SC addresses these two concepts is noteworthy.

    The Council Fathers offer their strongly worded exhortation about the necessity of instruction beginning in article 14. Their desire for rites that normally do not require much explanation is expressed in article 34 at which point catechesis is already presumed. It is the “necessary” prerequisite to the reformed rite of which they speak, in other words. This means that the rite itself should not be such that it obscures the understanding that the faithful brought with them; rather, the sacred signs should necessarily serve to enhance and deepen that understanding, normally without need of additional explanation.

    The Council does address the possibility of a limited amount of instruction taking place within the rite itself (SC 35), but again, this statement already presumes that the instruction demanded in SC 14 going forward has been provided.

    1. +JMJ+

      Louie, it sounds like we’re on the same page here. The way I see it, SC 14-19 (about liturgical instruction and catechesis) is about helping all of God’s people to understand the “language” of the liturgy (sights, smells, sounds, silence, signs, symbols, etc.). Once they are familiar with the language, with the building blocks of the liturgy, things will begin to make sense and fall into place. There will always be a sense of divine mystery in the rites, no matter how familiar they become to us, and how familiar we are with them, but hopefully we will not feel “out of the loop.”

      There will always be a place for mystagogical catechesis in the life of every Christian, and both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have called for renewal of that method of faith formation.

      As for SC 35, I see this being carried out by things like the introduction to the Penitential Rite and the Our Father (the latter of which already existed). Those, I think, are done quite well.

  9. Let’s be clear: the liturgy can indeed catechize through one’s experience of it, which gives rise to mystagogical catechesis as Jeffrey says. But the liturgy is very definitely not a catechetical tool. Using the various monitions and introductions for this purpose is a perversion of the purpose of the rite, in my opinion. And homilies are principally about exegesis, rather than catechesis.

    Liturgy is about celebrating. Formal liturgical catechesis can take place before and after, but not during.

    I share Bill’s position on this, and I also support Jeffrey’s dislike of the role of the commentator as usually practised.

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