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Language of the Mass Has Evolved
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

'Shed for All'? 'For Many'?
Catholic Church and the Quran
Why Are Some Mass Prayers Said Silently?
Images of God the Father and the Holy Spirit


Q: During the Consecration of the Mass, the priest speaks in Jesus' name and says: "Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven."

Someone told me that the recently approved translation of this prayer in the Roman Missal says, "It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven."

Is that true? Why the change? When will it become effective?

A: This Mass prayer is based on Mark 14:24 and Matthew 26:28, both of which use a Greek expression that means "for many." This Greek phrase does not appear in Luke's account of the Last Supper. Although the Gospel of John has a Last Supper account, it makes no explicit mention of the Eucharist because John places that teaching in Chapter Six of his Gospel.

Even though the expressions "for all" and "for many" are different, in effect they mean the same thing: for all people. To interpret the phrase "for many" in some other way would border on heresy because it would suggest that Jesus died for the salvation of some people but not for the salvation of others. He died for the salvation of each person. Whether all of them will accept that salvation is another matter. God's intention is clear. The expression "for all" never gave a guarantee of universal salvation.

Under "Resources" at www.usccb.org/romanmissal, you can find the Order of the Mass text approved by the U.S. bishops in 2006 and confirmed by the Holy See's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on June 23, 2008. This new text is to be used at Mass only after the Holy See confirms the Roman Missal's entire third edition, which had not happened as this column went to press (late January).

The final set of English translations for use in the United States was approved by the U.S. bishops last November. The U.S. bishops' Office for Divine Worship estimates that there will be a year between official confirmation and the date to begin using the third edition of the Roman Missal in the United States.

This interval will enable dioceses to organize and implement workshops to explain these changes. In some places, there were clergy workshops last fall and more have been scheduled this spring. All the eucharistic prayers approved for the United States remain approved—in new translations.

At the same link cited above, readers can access the October 17, 2006, letter of Cardinal Francis Arinze, then prefect of the congregation, on translating the expression pro multis ("for many" in Latin). The cardinal cites a 1974 declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that affirms the validity of Masses celebrated without using the expression "for many." Some people had denied that.

The cardinal goes on to note: "Indeed, the formula 'for all' would undoubtedly correspond to a correct interpretation of the Lord's intention expressed in the text. It is a dogma of faith that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women (cf. John 11:52; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2)."

The cardinal cites five biblical, liturgical and theological reasons to use "for many" and notes the congregation's instruction Liturgiam Authenticam (2001). It stressed the need for translations to reflect as closely as possible the Latin original.

Changes in the third edition of the Roman Missal will involve not only the eucharistic prayers but also, for example, responses by the people ("And with your spirit" instead of "And also with you") and other prayers, such as the Nicene Creed ("consubstantial with the Father" rather than "one in being with the Father").

This same link notes key events regarding Mass translations between Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963) and the present.

Mass prayers have changed over the centuries, but they have all celebrated the same paschal mystery of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection for the salvation of all people—past, present and future.

Q: Does the Catholic Church have a formal position on the Quran, Islam's holy book? If so, where can I find that statement?

A: I cannot find an official position on the Quran as such, but Vatican II's Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions states, "The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims" (#3) and goes on to explain that statement. Letters and speeches to Muslim leaders from Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II can be found at www.vatican.va.

Q: I have noticed that some priests pray aloud some Mass prayers that other priests pray silently. For example, I have heard some priests say aloud while pouring water into the chalice at the offertory, "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity." Why the difference in practice from priest to priest?

A: In most of the Mass prayers, the celebrant prays in the name of the entire assembly—for example, the opening prayer, the prayer over the gifts, the prayer after Communion, plus the preface and the eucharistic prayer.

The rubrics (directions for celebrating Mass) in the Sacramentary indicate five prayers that are to be prayed inaudibly. The first of them is the one that you cited. The second is prayed immediately after offering up the chalice: "Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts." The third one is prayed immediately before the priest washes his hands, "Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin."

After the Lamb of God, when the priest breaks off part of the host and drops it into the chalice, he says, "May this mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it."

For the fifth prayer, there are two options. The priest may say: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit your death brought life to the world. By your holy body and blood free me from all my sins, and from every evil. Keep me faithful to your teaching, and never let me be parted from you." Or he may say: "Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy, I eat your body and drink your blood. Let it not bring me condemnation, but health in mind and body."

This combination of prayers spoken audibly or inaudibly reminds the priest that, while he prays in the name of the entire assembly, he also needs to pray in his own name—that he not contradict by personal action what he is proclaiming in public prayer.

Q: When I pray to Jesus, the Blessed Mother and the saints, I have mental images of them in order to help me concentrate. That is easy enough because they have bodies. When I pray to God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, however, I have difficulty because they have no bodies.

A: Christian artists, including Michelangelo, have sometimes represented God the Father as an old man with a white beard. This might be based on the Ancient One in Daniel 7:9. As you note, God cannot have a body. In fact, God cannot have gender either because that would be a limitation on God. Even so, the Bible applies masculine imagery to God the Father.

The Gospel accounts of Jesus' baptism speak of a voice from heaven (God the Father—Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22) and a dove (God the Holy Spirit—Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22). John the Baptist speaks of a dove coming upon Jesus (John 1:32) and a voice telling him that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:33). Acts of the Apostles speaks of the Holy Spirit as coming to the apostles on Pentecost in tongues of fire that rested on each of them (2:3). The Holy Spirit can also be symbolized by wind or by water.

God understands how helpful mental images can be for our prayer. As long as these are rooted in the Bible and we recognize their limits, they are fine.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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