Skip to comments.Catholic Liturgy - More on "Pro Multis"
Posted on 09/22/2004 12:54:11 PM PDT by NYer
There was quite a reaction from several quarters regarding the Sept. 7 column on the question of translating the "pro multis" as "for all." Some readers even sent in tracts arguing that this change of translation made the consecration invalid.
In some cases it was clear that the readers had read the article with excessive haste and attributed to my pen what was in fact a translation from an official source of the Holy See. In one case it was an official response to a doubt and in the second an article by the theologian M. Zerwick which cannot be considered official as such but which received the approval of the Holy See and was published at its request.
I certainly do not possess the theological and exegetical capabilities shown by Zerwick in his brief but dense article.
A reader from England stated that the article basically accused 2,000 years of popes, saints and theologians of being wrong in their interpretation of the "pro multis."
Rereading the article I cannot see how this can be true. The article does not create an opposition between the past and the present; it accuses nobody of ever having being wrong.
The thrust of the article's argument was that the expression used by Jesus, which literally means "the many," did not exclude, and probably included, the connotation that he died for all.
The argument also recognizes, and indeed could not do otherwise, that "for all" is not a correct literal translation for "pro multis." It does sustain, however, that it is a correct translation from a theological standpoint and does not substantially change the meaning of the consecration.
The article also defends the position of all those, including some saints and popes, who distinguished between the Lord's sacrifice being sufficient for the salvation of all, while being efficacious only for many and especially those who cooperate with grace at Mass.
This is a valid and true distinction that is not challenged by the translation because it is true as such even though the doctrine can no longer call upon the text of the consecration in English, Spanish or Italian, as supporting evidence.
Indeed, this doctrine would still have been true even if, hypothetically, the Latin text had said "pro omnibus" instead of "pro multis." It does not stand or fall on this point.
Zerwick's article thus did no more than reaffirm and elaborate what the Holy See had explicitly and officially stated in its brief earlier reply.
Regarding the accusation that this change could render the consecration invalid, I cannot analyze here all of the arguments offered. But to say the least I remain unconvinced.
St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa (III pars q. 78 art. 3) teaches that the complete consecration formula, and not just "This is the cup of my blood," forms part of the substance of the sacramental form. This opinion is generally accepted in Church documents.
Therefore a change which would alter the essential meaning of the formula would render the consecration invalid.
This is where it appears to me that some of the objectors tend to beg the question, for they assume that the translating of "pro multis" as "for all" constitutes such an essential change. But this is exactly the point to prove.
If the expression "pro multis" were essential to the consecration, then this formula would necessarily be found universally in the consecration rites of all ancient Eucharistic Prayer texts. And indeed the vast majority of them do use "pro multis."
However, the oldest known Eucharistic Prayer of all, the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome (circa A.D. 225), uses the following formula: "This is my blood, which is shed for you. As often as you do this, do it in memory of me."
Since this formula has been used continually in some Eastern and African Churches for almost 1,800 years, it is difficult to sustain that "pro multis" is absolutely essential even though in some cases the "pro multis" has been added to this prayer at a later date along with other modifications.
Finally, since the Holy See has taken a clear and official position on the non-erroneous nature of this translation, the only logical conclusion -- unless we consider ourselves wiser than the Church -- is to accept that the change does not constitute a substantial or essential modification of the formula and that to effect such an adaptation falls within the Church's power over the sacraments.
Theological arguments aside, we can be sure that God would never allow the Church to err on a point so essential as the valid consecration of the Eucharist. From the moment that these translations have been approved by the Church, there can be no doubts whatsoever as to their validity.
One may discuss their opportunity, literary correctness, etc., but not their validity.
A follow up to the previous thread.
Bumpus Maximus on another great posting NYer! :-)
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