Your Moment in the Mass: For All or For Many?

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Editor’s Note: Today, we continue our six-part daily series on the upcoming changes to the Roman Missal, kindly shared with us by noted scholar and theologian Dr. Edward Sri, author of A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy. LMH

Of all the changes in the new Mass translation, two words which will be used by the priest at the consecration have evoked the most questions.  Those two words are “for many.”

Currently, the priest has been referring to Jesus’ blood having redemptive value “for all”:

“…this is the cup of my blood,

the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.

It will be shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins…”

But the new translation of the Mass being promulgated on November 27 replaces the words “for all” with “for many.”

Some have raised concerns that the words “for many” limit the universal scope of Jesus’ saving mission.  They hold that the new wording gives the impression that Jesus did not die on the cross for everyone—that he offered his blood on Calvary not “for all” but just for a select group of people, “for many.”  This is a misunderstanding of the text.

First, this new translation remains closer to Jesus’ actual words from the Last Supper accounts in the Gospels. Jesus said that his blood was shed “for many” (see Matthew 26:28). It is also more harmonious with the Latin text of the Mass and with wording that has been used in the liturgy for centuries.

Most of all, this new translation points to the reality that, although Jesus died for all, not everyone chooses to accept this gift. Each individual must choose to welcome the gift of salvation in Christ and live according to that grace, so that he or she may be among “the many” that are described in this text.

A number of Scripture scholars have observed that Jesus’ language at the Last Supper about his blood being poured out “for many” recalls “the many” that are three times mentioned in Isaiah 53:11-12. In this prophecy, Isaiah foretold that God one day would send his servant who would make himself “an offering for sin,” bearing the sin of “many” and making “many” righteous (Isaiah 53:10-12).  Jesus, by speaking at the Last Supper about his own blood being poured out “for many,” was associating himself with this “suffering servant” figure prophesied by Isaiah.  Jesus is the one who offers his life for the “many.”

This should not be understood in opposition to the fact that Jesus died “for all” (1 Timothy 2:6).  The other prophecies in Isaiah about the Servant of the Lord make clear that he has a universal mission, one that announces salvation to all humanity (see, for example, Isaiah 42:1-10, 49:6, 52:10).  In this context, the expression “the many” can be seen as contrasting the one person who dies—the Lord’s Servant (Jesus)—with the many who benefit from his atoning sacrifice.

Let us briefly consider one other change in the translation of the words of consecration: This is the cup of my Bloodwill become This is the chalice of my Blood.

While the previous translation of the Words of Institution referred to the “cup” of Christ’s blood, the new translation renders it “chalice.” This is a more accurate and more formal rendering of the Latin text of the Mass and one that underscores the liturgical nature of this vessel. This is no ordinary cup, but the Eucharistic cup (see Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25ff.) that the Lord consecrated at the Last Supper. This most sacred of vessels has traditionally been called a “chalice,” and this is the term used in the new translation.

Dr. Edward Sri is provost and professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver. This reflection is based on his new book, A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy (Ascension Press).

Copyright 2011 Dr. Edward Sri

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