May 3, 2012 — “Pro Multis”

“Qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur.” —The words of the consecration of the wine in the Mass, meaning literally “(my blood) which is poured out for you and for many”

“But when He added pro multis He wanted that there be understood the rest of those chosen (electos) from the Jews or from the Gentiles. Rightly therefore did it happen that for all (pro universis) were not said, since at this point the discourse was only about the fruits of the Passion which bears the fruit of salvation only for the elect.” —Roman Catechism (the Catechism produced after the Council of Trent), 1566

“That consensus is shattered.” —Pope Benedict XVI, letter to German bishops. April 14, 2012, referring to the consensus after the Second Vatican Council that the words “pro multis” could be better translated as “for all” instead of “for many”

A Decisive Letter

By now many of you will have heard that, just after Easter, Pope Benedict, though resting at Castel Gandolfo, picked up his pen to write a decisive letter to the German bishops’ conference.

In his letter, dated April 14 (copy below both in German and in English translation), Benedict insisted that the German-speaking bishops translate the Latin words “pro multis” (literally: “for many”) used at the moment of the consecration of the wine during Mass (in both the old and new liturgy) literally as “for many” (“für viele”) and not “for all” (“für alle”), as they had been doing.

This action — both the way the Pope acted and the argumentation he used — has theological, philosophical, liturgical, ecclesial and moral implications; one could write a dissertation about it, and I am sure some will, someday.

But, essentially, for our purposes here and now, it means three things:

(1) that Pope Benedict, though now 85, and obviously more tired than he was a few years ago, is still able to take decisive action, and this suggests we may expect more decisive actions from him in future, despite his age;

(2) that Benedict continues to employ dialogue, reason, and persuasion as his preferred tools in contested matters; rather than simply saying “translate it this way, and that’s final,” he spends considerable time and effort to engage his interlocutors (the German bishops) and explain to them why the words should be translated in the way he wishes; and

(3) that Benedict continues, through a process of slow steps — too slow for many traditionalists, too fast for most progressives — to restore traditional Catholic teaching, in keeping with his prime task as Pope of defending the depositum fidei (“deposit of the faith”) against temptations to innovate — powerful temptations, which have in the post-conciliar period swayed many to give up what was handed down in order to keep in step with a presumed “spirit of the times” which has often turned out to be a spirit of confusion and of rejection of key Catholic doctrines, despite protestations to the contrary.

In short, Benedict is still decisive, he still has a powerful, reasoning mind, and seems today, in fact, more intent than ever to defend the deposit of the faith.

But I would stress one point in this regard: those who fear “the conservative Pope,” fearing that burdens too heavy to bear will once again be placed upon the shoulders of the faithful, should know that Benedict, pyschologically and pastorally, has never been, and is not now, a cruel person, a rigorist who would demand that people obey his commands, or even Church rules, without understanding them, their goal and value, and therefore without assenting to them in conscience; rather, as a professor and as a pastor, he values reason, and the assent of reason, as a complement to willing assent to Church teaching. This is the essence of his pastoral method.

He privileges the person, and that aspect of the person which is most precious, the conscience, and continues to attempt to form that conscience, even in our age of considerable confusion, and ignorance.

And the goal of this effort is not to make people submit to a distant, incomprehensible “diktat,” but to defend and restore a form of Christian worship, and of Christian life, which brings to men and women the graces of clarity, truth, reason, and, ultimately, blessedness, which is the true name of happiness.

So when Benedict acts to restore an element of Catholic tradition, he is not acting to curtail human joy, but to protect true human joy, though not many seem to understand this, and so criticize him sharply.

That said, the main point has been made.

It remains to be said that Benedict was so anxious to persuade the German bishops of the rightness of this translation, that he took the time to explain the whole post-conciliar period, in miniature, rather than simply quoting the Roman Catechism, which dealt with this matter in a quite clear way 450 years ago.

This is what the Roman Catechism, promulgated after the Council of Trent says about the words “pro multis“:

“But the words which are added for you and for many (pro vobis et pro multis), were taken some of them from Matthew (26: 28) and some from Luke (22: 20) which however Holy Church, instructed by the Spirit of God, joined together. They serve to make clear the fruit and the benefit of the Passion. For if we examine its value (virtutem), it will have to be admitted that Blood was poured out by the Savior for the salvation of all (pro omnium salute sanguinem a Salvatore effusum esse); but if we ponder the fruit which men (homines) will obtain from it, we easily understand that its benefit comes not to all, but only to many (non ad omnes, sed ad multos tantum eam utilitatem pervenisse). Therefore when He said pro vobis, He meant either those who were present, or those chosen (delectos) from the people of the Jews such as the disciples were, Judas excepted, with whom He was then speaking. But when He added pro multis He wanted that there be understood the rest of those chosen (electos) from the Jews or from the gentiles. Rightly therefore did it happen that for all (pro universis) were not said, since at this point the discourse was only about the fruits of the Passion which bears the fruit of salvation only for the elect (delectis). And this is what the words of the Apostle aim at: Christ was offered up once in order to remove the sins of many (ad multorum exhaurienda peccata Heb 9:28); and what according to John the Lord says: I pray for them; I do not pray for the world, but for those whom you gave to Me, for they are Yours (John 17:9). Many other mysteries (plurima mysteria) lie hidden in the words of this consecration, which pastors, God helping, will easily come to comprehend for themselves by constant meditation upon divine things and by diligent study. (translated from the Roman Catechism, Part II, ch. 4 (264.7-265.14), taken from the original Latin in Catechismus Romanus seu Catechsimus ex decreto Concilii Tridentini ad parochos …. Editio critica. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1989, p. 250. Cf. The Catechism of the Council of Trent. Trans. John A. McHugh & Charles J. Callan. Joseph F. Wagner, Inc.: New York, 1934, pp. 227-28.)

Here is some background to this story:

On October 17, 2006 — so, more than 5 years ago — the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments sent a circular (No. 467/05/L) to Presidents of Episcopal Conferences on the question of the translation of “pro multis.” It noted that a 1974 declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had pointed out that “for all” is not a literal translation of “pro multis”, nor of the words “περὶ πολλῶν” in Matthew 26:28 or “ὑπὲρ πολλῶν” in Mark 14:24. “For all,” it said, is not so much a translation as “an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis.” It then directed the Episcopal Conferences to make an effort, in line with the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, to translate the words pro multis “more faithfully.”

So the Pope was dealing with an issue that the Vatican had asked the German bishops to address more than five years ago.

In English-speaking countries, the revised translation was ordered to be used from 2011 on, and this has taken place.

Some German-speaking episcopal conferences have been more reluctant to make the change. Now, in his April 14, 2012, personal letter to the German bishops, Pope Benedict XVI stresses the importance of using the literal translation.


Here is a useful summary published today by Sandro Magister, though he does not name the author of the piece. His remarks about John Paul II’s attitude to this particular issue are very interesting, and especially important is the story he tells of the protest of Cardinal Ratzinger a few days before John Paul’s death in 2005 against a wording used in a text John Paul did sign, but perhaps (this article suggests) while not in full possession of his faculties. I send the piece in its entirety, with those two sections bold-faced:

Vatican Diary

“For many” or “for all”? The right answer is the first

Benedict XVI writes as much to the German bishops. And he wants the whole Church to respect the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, without inventing others like in the postconciliar missals. The complete text of the pope’s letter

by ***

VATICAN CITY, May 3, 2012 – The Churches of various nations of the world are restoring one after another, in the Mass, the words of the consecration of the chalice taken verbatim from the Gospels and in use for centuries, but in recent decades replaced almost everywhere with a different translation.

While the traditional text in its foundational Latin version still says: “Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei […] qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur,” the new postconciliar formulas have read into “pro multis” an imaginary “pro omnibus.” And instead of “for many,” they have translated “for all.”

Already in the last phase of the pontificate of John Paul II, the attempt was made by a few Vatican officials, including Joseph Ratzinger, to revive in the translations fidelity to “pro multis.” But with no success.

Benedict XVI has taken the situation in hand personally. Proof of this is in the letter that he wrote last April 14 to the bishops of Germany.

The complete translation of the letter is reproduced further below. In it, Benedict XVI summarizes the main issues of the controversy, to substantiate better his decision to restore a correct translation of “pro multis.”

But in order to understand the context thoroughly, it is helpful to recall a few elements here.


In the first place, in addressing his letter to the bishops of Germany, Benedict XVI also intends to address through them the bishops of the other German-speaking regions: Austria, the German cantons in Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy.

If in Germany, in fact, although with strong resistance, the episcopal conference recently opted to translate “pro multis” no longer with “für alle,” for all, but with “für viele,” for many, in Austria this is not the case.

And not in Italy either. In November of 2010, in a vote, out of 187 voting bishops only 11 sided with “per molti.” An overwhelming majority voted in favor of “per tutti,” indifferent to the Vatican guidelines. Shortly beforehand, the episcopal conferences of the sixteen Italian ecclesiastical regions, with the sole exception of Liguria, had spoken out for the retention of the formula “per tutti.”

In other parts of the world they are returning to the use of “for many”: in Latin America, in Spain, in Hungary, in the United States. Often with disagreement and disobedience.

But Benedict XVI clearly wants to see this one all the way through. Without impositions, but urging the bishops to prepare the clergy and the faithful, with appropriate catechesis, for a change that must come no matter what.

After this letter, it is therefore easy to predict that “per molti” will also be restored in the Masses celebrated in Italy, in spite of the contrary vote of the bishops in 2010.

The new version of the missal, approved by the Italian episcopal conference, is currently under examination by the Vatican congregation for divine worship. And on this point it will certainly be correct according to the pope’s guidelines.


A second annotation concerns the continual obstacles that the restoration of a correct translation of “for many” has encountered on its way.

Until 2001, the proponents of more “free” translations of the liturgical texts appealed to a document put together in 1969 by the “Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia,” the secretary of which was Monsignor Annibale Bugnini, an unsigned document unusually drafted in French, ordinarily cited by its first words: “Comme le prévoit.”

In 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship published an instruction, “Liturgiam Authenticam,” for the correct implementation of the conciliar liturgical reform. The text, dated March 28, was signed by Cardinal Prefect Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez and by archbishop secretary Francesco Pio Tamburrino, and had been approved by John Paul II in an audience granted eight days before by Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano.

Recalling that the Roman rite “has its own style and structure that must be respected in so far as possible in translation,” the instruction recommended a translation of the liturgical texts that would be “not so much a work of creative inventiveness as one of fidelity and exactness in rendering the Latin texts into a vernacular language.” Good translations – the documents prescribed – “must be freed from exaggerated dependence on modern modes of expression and in general from psychologizing language.”

The instruction “Liturgiam Authenticam” didn’t even cite “Comme le prévoit.” And it was a voluntary omission, to deprive that text definitively of an authority and officiality that it had never had.

But in spite of that, the instruction encountered extremely strong resistance, even within the Roman curia, so much so that it was ignored and contradicted by two subsequent pontifical documents.

The first is the encyclical of John Paul II “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” of 2003. In paragraph 2, where it recalls the words of Jesus for the consecration of the wine, it reads: “‘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’ (cf. Mt 14:24; Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25).” The “for all” there is a variation that has no basis in the biblical texts cited, evidently introduced from listening to the translations present in the postconciliar missals.

The second document is the last of the letters that John Paul II customarily addressed to priests each Holy Thursday. It was dated Policlinico Gemelli, March 13 2005, and in the fourth paragraph said:

“‘Hoc est enim corpus meum quod pro vobis tradetur.’ The body and the blood of Christ are given for the salvation of man, of the whole man and of all men. This salvation is integral and at the same time universal, because no one, unless he freely chooses, is excluded from the saving power of Christ’s blood: ‘qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur.’ It is a sacrifice offered for ‘many,’ as the Biblical text says (Mk 14:24; Mt 26:28; cf. Is 53:11-12); this typical Semitic expression refers to the multitude who are saved by Christ, the one Redeemer, yet at the same time it implies the totality of human beings to whom salvation is offered: the Lord’s blood is ‘shed for you and for all,’ as some translations legitimately make explicit. Christ’s flesh is truly given ‘for the life of the world’ (Jn 6:51; cf. 1 Jn 2:2).”

John Paul II had his life hanging from a thread, he would be dead about twenty days later. And it was a Pope in this condition, without even the strength to read anymore, who was made to sign a document in favor of the formula “for all.”

At the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which had not been given the text ahead of time, the matter was noted with disappointment. So much so that a few days later, on March 21, Monday of Holy Week, in a tumultuous meeting of the heads of some dicasteries of the curia, Cardinal Ratzinger registered his protests.

And less than a month later, Ratzinger was elected pope. Announced to the world with visible satisfaction by Cardinal Protodeacon Medina, the same who had signed the instruction “Liturgiam Authenticam.”


With Benedict XVI as Pope, the restoration of a correct translation of “pro multis” immediately became an objective of his “reform of the reform” in the liturgical arena.

He knew that he would encounter tenacious opposition. But in this arena he has never been afraid of making tough decisions, as proven by the 2007 motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” for the liberalization of the Mass in the ancient rite.

One fact of great interest is the manner in which Benedict XVI wants to implement his decisions. Not exclusively with peremptory orders, but through persuasion.

Three months after his election as Pope, he had the congregation for worship, headed at the time by Cardinal Francis Arinze, conduct a survey among the episcopal conferences to find out their views on the translation of “pro multis” with “for many.”

Having gathered these views, on October 17, 2006, at the instructions of the pope, Cardinal Arinze sent a circular letter to all the episcopal conferences, listing six reasons in favor of “for many” and urging them – wherever the formula “for all” was in use – to “undertake the necessary catechesis of the faithful” in view of the change.

It is the catechesis that Benedict XVI suggests be made in Germany in particular, in the letter he sent to the German bishops last April 14. In which he points out that it does not appear to him that this pastoral initiative authoritatively suggested six years ago has ever been undertaken.

Two marginal notes on the papal text: 1) The “Gotteslob” is the common book of hymns and prayers in use in the German-speaking Catholic dioceses. 2) The citation “May thanks be given to the Lord who, by his grace, has called me into his Church…” is the last verse of the first stanza of a song frequently sung in German churches: “Fest soll mein Taufbund immer stehen”.


And here is some further backround information on this matter.

Pro multis
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pro multis is a Latin phrase that means “for many” or “for the many”. Not having the definite article, Latin does not distinguish between these two meanings.
The phrase is part of the longer phrase “qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum” used, with reference to the blood of Christ, in the consecration of the wine in the Roman Rite Mass.
In the definitively approved English translation this longer phrase appears as “which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”.
The phrase “poured out for you” comes from Luke 22:20 only. “Poured out for many” (in the original Greek, the phrase is not “for the many”) from Matthew 26:28 and Mark 14:24. “For the forgiveness of sins” from Matthew 26:28 only. 1 Corinthians 11:25, the earliest account of Jesus’ words over the cup at his Last Supper, mentions none whatever of these phrases in relation to the consecration of the wine.
The variety of these accounts indicates that the writers did not intend to give the exact words that Jesus used, probably in Aramaic. The only words that are considered essential for the consecration of the wine at Mass are “This is my blood”, though the form of the sacrament, which varies according to the liturgical rite (Roman Rite, Byzantine Rite, etc.) contains other words as well.
In its initial translation of the Order of Mass, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy rendered the phrase “qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum” as “which will be shed for you and for all men, so that sins may be forgiven”. (The word “men” was later omitted because of complaints that it could be understood as referring only to males.) This version was approved by the Episcopal Conferences of English-speaking countries in 1973 and confirmed by the Holy See…
The 1973 translation was confessedly a non-literal translation, and objections were raised against it not only for this reason but also on the grounds that it could be taken to mean that all are in fact saved, regardless of their relationship to Christ and his Church. Some even claimed that use of the “for all” translation made the consecration invalid.
In defence of the 1973 translation, it was said that the literal translation, “for many”, could nowadays be taken to mean “not for all”, contradicting the declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 that Christ died for all, though not all choose to avail of the redemption won for them by the shedding of Christ’s blood…

In the Apostolic Constitution Cum occasione of 31 May 1653 Pope Innocent X declared that it is orthodox Catholic teaching to say that Christ shed his blood for all human beings without exception. Indeed, the traditional blessing of a Paten found in the Pontificale Romanum includes the phrase, “Jesus Christ Thy Son, Who for our salvation, and of everyone (pro nostra omniumque salute), chose to immolate Himself to Thee, God the Father on the gallows of the Cross.”

It is also orthodox Catholic teaching that not all will necessarily avail of the redemption obtained by the shedding of Christ’s blood. While Christ’s redemptive suffering makes salvation available to all, it does not follow that all men are actually saved. This seems never to have been authoritatively defined, since it has remained uncontroversial.
The Roman Catechism, also known as the Catechism of the Council of Trent, stated: “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.”
It would be heretical to interpret “for many” in the words of consecration of the wine as indicating that there were some for whom the shedding of Christ’s blood was in itself incapable of redeeming (its value). So the Roman Catechism interpreted “for many” in the context of the consecration form as referring to the effect actually accepted by individuals (its fruits). It declared: “When therefore (our Lord) said: ‘For you’, he meant either those who were present, or those chosen from among the Jewish people, such as were, with the exception of Judas, the disciples with whom he was speaking. When he added, ‘And for many’, he wished to be understood to mean the remainder of the elect from among the Jews or Gentiles.”
In this, the Catechism drew on the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who in his Summa Theologica interpreted “for you” as a reference either to the elect among the Jews, for whom the Old Testament sacrifices were offered, or to the priest and faithful partaking of Mass, and “for many” as referring either to the elect among the Gentiles or to those for whom Mass is offered…
It would also be heretical to interpret “for all” in the words of consecration of the wine as indicating that, without any exception, everybody must in concrete fact receive the benefit won by the shedding of Christ’s blood. So the Holy See has interpreted “for all” in the 1973 English translation of the consecration form as referring to the value of the shedding of Christ’s blood and to his intention. On 25 January 1974, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that there was no doubt whatsoever regarding the validity of Masses celebrated using “for all” as a translation of “pro multis”, since “for all” corresponds to a correct interpretation of Christ’s intention expressed in the words of the consecration, and since it is a dogma of the Catholic faith that Christ died on the Cross for all (cf. John 11:52, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Titus 2:11, 1 John 2:2)…


Lombardi editorial: For you and for many

The Holy See spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., clarifies the correct interpretation of the wording to be used during the consecration of the wine during mass


According to the rules of Mass, “the translation of the phrase ‘for many’ – which is more faithful to the Biblical text – is to be preferred to the translation ‘for all,’ a modification of the Biblical translation which was intended to clarify the universality of the salvation which was brought about by Christ.” The Holy See’s spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi confirmed this in a statement to Vatican Radio, explaining the content of a letter which Benedict XVI sent in recent days to German bishops, on the question of the correct interpretation of the wording to be used for the consecration of the wine during mass. Fr. Lombardi stressed that “There is no doubt that Jesus died so that everyone might be saved. This, along with the profound significance of the words that are used for the institution of the Eucharist, should be explained to the faithful through the use of solid catechesis.”

Indeed, “The words which are used for the institution of the Eucharist are fundamentally important for Pope Benedict, because these words lie at the heart of the Church. By saying ‘for many,’ Jesus is saying that he is the Servant of Yahweh who was foretold by the prophet Isaiah. When we say ‘for many,’ therefore, we both express our fidelity to the word of Jesus, and recognize Jesus’ fidelity to the words of the Scripture.” This question – Lombardi stressed – is of “profound theological and spiritual significance” to all Christians. Indeed, “When the Lord offers himself ‘for you and for many,’ Fr. Lombardi explained, we become directly involved and, in gratitude, we take on the responsibility for the salvation which is promised to everyone.

“The Holy Father – who has already touched upon this in his book about Jesus – is providing here profound and insightful catechesis about some of the most important words in the Christian Faith. The Pope concludes by saying that, in this Year of Faith, we must proceed with love and respect for the Word of God, reflecting on its profound theological and spiritual significance so that we might experience the Eucharist with greater depth,” Fr. Lombardi said.

Fr. Lombardi ended, stating that, in the letter the Pope wrote from Castel Gandolfo during his brief Easter visit, he “concludes by saying that in this Year of Faith we must make efforts to proceed in this direction. We hope to really do so.”


The complete text of Pope Benedict’s April 14 letter to the German bishop, in English (translation found at:

Letter to the German Bishops’ Conference
Your Excellency!
Venerable, dear Lord Archbishop!

During your visit of 15 March 2012 you let me know that, regarding the translation of the words “pro multis” in the canon of the Mass, there is still no consensus among the bishops of the German language area. There now seems to be the danger that, with the soon to be expected publication of the new release of ‘Gotteslob’, some parts of the German language area will keep the translation “for all”, even though the German Bishops’ Conference had agreed to use “for many”, as was desired by the Holy See. I promised you I would express myself in writing about this serious issue to prevent a split in our most inner prayer room. The letter, which I send through you to the members of the German Bishops’ Conference, will also be sent to the other bishops of the German language area.

Let me first say a few words about the origin of the problem. In the 1960s, when the Roman Missal was translated into German under the responsibility of the bishops, there was an exegetical consensus that the words “the many” and “many” in Is. 53, 11 and further was a Hebrew expression to indicate the community, the “all”. The word “many” in the accounts of Matthew and Mark was accordingly considered a Semitism to be translated as “all”. This is also related directly to the Latin text that was to be translated, that the “pro multis” in the Gospel accounts refer back to Is. 53, and must therefore by translated as “for all”. This exegetical consensus has know shattered; it no longer exists. In the German translation of Sacred Scripture the account of the Last Supper states: “This is my Blood, the Blood of the Covenant, which is shed for many” (Mark 14:24, cf. Matt. 26:28). This indicates something very important: The rendering of “pro multis” with “for all” was not a pure translation, but an interpretation, which was and remains very reasonable, but is already more than translation and interpretation.

This mingling of translation and interpretation belongs in hindsight to the principles which, immediately after the Council, directed the translation of the liturgical books into the vernacular. It was understood how far the Bible and the liturgical texts were removed from the language and thought of modern man, that even when translated they would remain largely incomprehensible to the participants of the divine service. It was a new endeavour that the sacred texts were, in translation, disclosed to the participants of the service, yet still remained removed from their world, yes, would now even be more visible in their removal. One not only felt justified but even required to mix interpretation into the translation and so shorten the way to the people, whose hearts and minds would be reached through these words.

To a certain degree, the principle of a substantive but not necessarily justified literal translation of the source texts remain. As I [pray the liturgical prayers time and again in various languages, I notice that it is often hard to find a common ground between the various translation, and that the underlying common text often only remains visible from afar. Added to that are the undermining banalisations which constitute the real losses. In this way it has, over the course of the years, become more clear to me that the principle of the non-literal but structural equivalence as a translation guideline has its limits. Following such insights, the translation instruction Liturgiam authenticam, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 28 March 2001, has once more placed the literal translation in the foreground, but of course without dictating a singular vocabulary. The important insight which lies at the basis of this instruction is already expressed in the distinction between translation and interpretation, outlined above. This is necessary for both the Word of Scripture as the liturgical texts. One the one hand, the sacred Word should, if possible, be presented as itself, even with the strangeness and questions it contains in itself; on the other hand the Church has been given the task of interpreting, by which – within the limits of our respective understanding – the News which the Lord has intended comes to us. An empathic translation can also not replace the interpretation: it is part of the structure of Revelation that the Word of God is read in the interpreting community of the Church, that faithfulness and realisation are combined.The Word must exist as itself, in its own shape which is perhaps strange to is; the interpretation must be measured to the faithfulness to the Word itself, but at the same time be made accessible to the modern ear.

In this context the Holy See has decided that in the new translation of the Missal the words “pro multis” must be translated as such and not at the same time interpreted. The simple translation “for many” must come in the place of the interpretative ” for all”. I would like to point out that in both Matthew and in Mark there is no article, so not “for the many”, but “for many”. As the decision of the fundamental ordering of translation and interpretation is, as I hope, understood from this, I am yet aware that this represents a tremendous challenge for all who have the task of interpreting the Word of God in the Church. Since for the regular visitors of the church this will almost inevitably seem to be rupture at the heart of the holiest. They will ask: did Christ not die for all? Has the Church changed her teaching? Can and is she is allowed to do so? Is this a reaction against the heritage of the Council? We all know, through the experience of the last fifty years, how deeply the changes in the liturgical forms and texts affects the people; how much must a change in the text of such a central point affect the people? While this is the case, it has long been held that the translation of “many” was to be preceded by a thorough catechesis on the difference between translation and interpretation, a catechesis in which the bishops must inform their priests, through which they must make themselves clear to their faithful, what it is about. This catechesis is a basic requirement before the new translation comes into force. As far as I know, such a catechesis has, until now, not been given in the German language area. The intention of my letter, dear brothers, is to most urgently ask for such a catechesis to be established, to then discuss it with the priests and immediately make it available to the faithful.

Such a catechesis must first briefly explain why after the Council the word “many”was translated in the Missal with “all”: to clearly express the universality of the salvation desired by and coming from Jesus. This leads to the question: If Jesus died for all, why do the words of the Last Supper then say “for many”? And why do we then keep these institutional words of Jesus? Added to this must be that Jesus, according to Matthew and Mark, said “for many”, but according to Luke and St. Paul “for you”. This apparently narrows the circle even more. But from here one can also reach the solution. The disciples know that the mission of Jesus transcends them and their inner circle; that He came to gather together all the scattered children of God (cf. Joh. 11:52). This “for you” makes the mission of Jesus very concrete for those present. They are not some anonymous element of some vast totality, but everyone knows that the Lord died particularly for me, for us. “For you” reaches into the past and into the future; I have been named very personally; we, who gather here, are known as such by Jesus. In this way, “for you” is not a constriction, but a specification which is valid for every community that celebrates the Eucharist, unites itself concretely to the love of Christ. In the words of consecration, the Roman Canon has united the two Biblical reading and reads: “for you and for many”. At the reform of the liturgy, this formulation was then taken over for all prayers.

But once again: Why “for many”? Did the Lord then not die for all? The fact that Jesus Christ, as incarnated Son of God, is the Man for all Men, the new Adam, belongs to the basic certainties of our faith. I would like to remind you of but three passages in Scripture: God gave His Son “up for the sake of all of us,” Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans (Rom. 8:32). “One man died for all,” he says in the Second Letter to the Corinthians about the death of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:14). Jesus has “offered himself as a ransom for all”, it says in the First Letter to Timothy (1 Tim 2:6). But then it is right to ask ourselves once again: When this is all so clear, why then does the Eucharistic Prayer say “for many”? Well, the Church took this formulation from the institution narrative from the New Testament. She does so out of respect for the Word of Jesus, to remain true to Him, also in the Word. The respect for the Word of Jesus is the reason for the formulation of the prayer. But then we ask: why did Jesus say this Himself? The true reason for that is that Jesus, in this way, revealed Himself as the servant of God from Is 53, identified Himself as the form that the word of the prophet was expecting. Respect of the Church for Jesus’ Word, faithful to Jesus Word from Scripture, is this double faithfulness the solid basis for the formulation “for many”. In this chain of reverent loyalty we join the literal translation of the Word of Scripture.

As we have said before, that the “for you” in the Lucan-Pauline tradition does not constrict, but rather specifies, so we can now say that the dialectic of “many” – “all” has its own significance. “All” exists on the ontological level – the being and action of Jesus includes all of mankind, past, present and future. But factually, in the concrete community of those who celebrate the Eucharist, it involves only “many”. In this way one can see an threefold significance in the ordering of “many” and “all”. Firstly, it should mean for us, who may sit at His table, surprise, joy and gratitude, that he has called me, that I am with Him and can know Him. “Thanks to the Lord, who has called me out of mercy into His Church…” Then, secondly, this is also a responsibility.How the Lord reaches the other – “all” – in His own way remains a mystery. But without a doubt it is a responsibility to be called to Him and His table, so that I may hear: For you, for me has He suffered. The many carry a responsibility for all. The community of the many must be the light on the candles, the city on the hill, leaven for all. This is a calling that applies to everyone personally. The many, who we are, must consciously experience their mission in responsibility for the whole. Finally, a third aspect may be added. In modern society we have the feeling that we are far from “many”, but very few – a small number that is continuously decreasing. But no – we are “many”: “After that I saw that there was a huge number, impossible for anyone to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language,” the Revelation of John tells us (Rev. 7:9). We are many and we stand for all. In this way both words, “many” and “all”, belong together and relate to each other in responsibility and promise.

Your Excellency, beloved brother bishops! With all the above I wanted to indicate the basic content of catechesis, which should prepare, as soon as possible, priests and laity for the new translation. I hope that all this may serve towards a more profound celebration of the Eucharist and becomes part of the great task that lies before in he “Year of Faith”. I would hope that the catechesis will soon be presented, to become part of the liturgical renewal for which the Council has worked from its very first session.

With Easter blessing, I remain in the Lord,

Benedictus PP XVI.


Here is the text in the original German, found at the website of the German bishops’ conference:


14. 4. 2012

Seiner Exzellenz
dem Hochwürdigsten Herrn
Dr. Robert Zollitsch
Erzbischof von Freiburg
Vorsitzender der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz
Herrenstraße 9

D-79098 F R E I B U R G

Sehr geehrter, lieber Herr Erzbischof!

Bei Ihrem Besuch am 15. März 2012 haben Sie mich wissen lassen, daß bezüglich der Übersetzung der Worte „pro multis“ in den Kanongebeten der heiligen Messe nach wie vor keine Einigkeit unter den Bischöfen des deutschen Sprachraums besteht. Es droht anscheinend die Gefahr, daß bei der bald zu erwartenden Veröffentlichung der neuen Ausgabe des „Gotteslobs“ einige Teile des deutschen Sprachraums bei der Übersetzung „für alle“ bleiben wollen, auch wenn die Deutsche Bischofskonferenz sich einig wäre, „für viele“ zu schreiben, wie es vom Heiligen Stuhl gewünscht wird. Ich habe Ihnen versprochen, mich schriftlich zu dieser schwerwiegenden Frage zu äußern, um einer solchen Spaltung im innersten Raum unseres Betens zuvorzukommen. Den Brief, den ich hiermit durch Sie den Mitgliedern der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz schreibe, werde ich auch den übrigen Bischöfen des deutschen Sprachraums zusenden lassen.

Lassen Sie mich zunächst kurz ein Wort über die Entstehung des Problems sagen. In den 60er Jahren, als das Römische Missale unter der Verantwortung der Bischöfe in die deutsche Sprache zu übertragen war, bestand ein exegetischer Konsens darüber, daß das Wort „die vielen“, „viele“ in Jes 53, 11f eine hebräische Ausdrucksform sei, um die Gesamtheit, „alle“ zu benennen. Das Wort „viele“ in den Einsetzungsberichten von Matthäus und Markus sei demgemäß ein Semitismus und müsse mit „alle“ übersetzt werden. Dies bezog man auch auf den unmittelbar zu übersetzenden lateinischen Text, dessen „pro multis“ über die Evangelienberichte auf Jes 53 zurückverweise und daher mit „für alle“ zu übersetzen sei. Dieser exegetische Konsens ist inzwischen zerbröckelt; er besteht nicht mehr. In der deutschen Einheitsübersetzung der Heiligen Schrift steht im Abendmahlsbericht: „Das ist mein Blut, das Blut des Bundes, das für viele vergossen wird“ (Mk 14, 24: vgl. Mt 26, 28). Damit wird etwas sehr Wichtiges sichtbar: Die Wiedergabe von „pro multis“ mit „für alle“ war keine reine Übersetzung, sondern eine Interpretation, die sehr wohl begründet war und bleibt, aber doch schon Auslegung und mehr als Übersetzung ist.

Diese Verschmelzung von Übersetzung und Auslegung gehört in gewisser Hinsicht zu den Prinzipien, die unmittelbar nach dem Konzil die Übersetzung der liturgischen Bücher in die modernen Sprachen leitete. Man war sich bewußt, wie weit die Bibel und die liturgischen Texte von der Sprach- und Denkwelt der heutigen Menschen entfernt sind, so daß sie auch übersetzt weithin den Teilnehmern des Gottesdienstes unverständlich bleiben mußten. Es war ein neues Unternehmen, daß die heiligen Texte in Übersetzungen offen vor den Teilnehmern am Gottesdienst dastanden und dabei doch in einer großen Entfernung von ihrer Welt bleiben würden, ja, jetzt erst recht in ihrer Entfernung sichtbar würden. So fühlte man sich nicht nur berechtigt, sondern geradezu verpflichtet, in die Übersetzung schon Interpretation einzuschmelzen und damit den Weg zu den Menschen abzukürzen, deren Herz und Verstand ja von diesen Worten erreicht werden sollten.

Bis zu einem gewissen Grad bleibt das Prinzip einer inhaltlichen und nicht notwendig auch wörtlichen Übersetzung der Grundtexte weiterhin berechtigt. Da ich die liturgischen Gebete immer wieder in verschiedenen Sprachen beten muß, fällt mir auf, daß zwischen den verschiedenen Übersetzungen manchmal kaum eine Gemeinsamkeit zu finden ist und daß der zugrundeliegende gemeinsame Text oft nur noch von weitem erkennbar bleibt. Dabei sind dann Banalisierungen unterlaufen, die wirkliche Verluste bedeuten. So ist mir im Lauf der Jahre immer mehr auch persönlich deutlich geworden, daß das Prinzip der nicht wörtlichen, sondern strukturellen Entsprechung als Übersetzungsleitlinie seine Grenzen hat. Solchen Einsichten folgend hat die von der Gottesdienst-Kongregation am 28. 3. 2001 erlassene Übersetzer-Instruktion Liturgiam authenticam wieder das Prinzip der wörtlichen Entsprechung in den Vordergrund gerückt, ohne natürlich einen einseitigen Verbalismus vorzuschreiben. Die wichtige Einsicht, die dieser Instruktion zugrunde liegt, besteht in der eingangs schon ausgesprochenen Unterscheidung von Übersetzung und Auslegung. Sie ist sowohl dem Wort der Schrift wie den liturgischen Texten gegenüber notwendig. Einerseits muß das heilige Wort möglichst als es selbst erscheinen, auch mit seiner Fremdheit und den Fragen, die es in sich trägt; andererseits ist der Kirche der Auftrag der Auslegung gegeben, damit – in den Grenzen unseres jeweiligen Verstehens – die Botschaft zu uns kommt, die der Herr uns zugedacht hat. Auch die einfühlsamste Übersetzung kann die Auslegung nicht ersetzen: Es gehört zur Struktur der Offenbarung, daß das Gotteswort in der Auslegungsgemeinschaft der Kirche gelesen wird, daß Treue und Vergegenwärtigung sich miteinander verbinden. Das Wort muß als es selbst, in seiner eigenen, vielleicht uns fremden Gestalt da sein; die Auslegung muß an der Treue zum Wort selbst gemessen werden, aber zugleich es dem heutigen Hörer zugänglich machen.

In diesem Zusammenhang ist vom Heiligen Stuhl entschieden worden, daß bei der neuen Übersetzung des Missale das Wort „pro multis“ als solches übersetzt und nicht zugleich schon ausgelegt werden müsse. An die Stelle der interpretativen Auslegung „für alle“ muß die einfache Übertragung „für viele“ treten. Ich darf dabei darauf hinweisen, daß sowohl bei Matthäus wie bei Markus kein Artikel steht, also nicht „für die vielen“, sondern „für viele“. Wenn diese Entscheidung von der grundsätzlichen Zuordnung von Übersetzung und Auslegung her, wie ich hoffe, durchaus verständlich ist, so bin ich mir doch bewußt, daß sie eine ungeheure Herausforderung an alle bedeutet, denen die Auslegung des Gotteswortes in der Kirche aufgetragen ist. Denn für den normalen Besucher des Gottesdienstes erscheint dies fast unvermeidlich als Bruch mitten im Zentrum des Heiligen. Sie werden fragen: Ist nun Christus nicht für alle gestorben? Hat die Kirche ihre Lehre verändert? Kann und darf sie das? Ist hier eine Reaktion am Werk, die das Erbe des Konzils zerstören will? Wir wissen alle durch die Erfahrung der letzten 50 Jahre, wie tief die Veränderung liturgischer Formen und Texte die Menschen in die Seele trifft; wie sehr muß da eine Veränderung des Textes an einem so zentralen Punkt die Menschen beunruhigen. Weil es so ist, wurde damals, als gemäß der Differenz zwischen Übersetzung und Auslegung für die Übersetzung „viele“ entschieden wurde, zugleich festgelegt, daß dieser Übersetzung in den einzelnen Sprachräumen eine gründliche Katechese vorangehen müsse, in der die Bischöfe ihren Priestern wie durch sie ihren Gläubigen konkret verständlich machen müßten, worum es geht. Das Vorausgehen der Katechese ist die Grundbedingung für das Inkrafttreten der Neuübersetzung. Soviel ich weiß, ist eine solche Katechese bisher im deutschen Sprachraum nicht erfolgt. Die Absicht meines Briefes ist es, Euch alle, liebe Mitbrüder, dringendst darum zu bitten, eine solche Katechese jetzt zu erarbeiten, um sie dann mit den Priestern zu besprechen und zugleich den Gläubigen zugänglich zu machen.

In einer solchen Katechese muß wohl zuerst ganz kurz geklärt werden, warum man bei der Übersetzung des Missale nach dem Konzil das Wort „viele“ mit „alle“ wiedergegeben hat: um in dem von Jesus gewollten Sinn die Universalität des von ihm kommenden Heils unmißverständlich auszudrücken. Dann ergibt sich freilich sofort die Frage: Wenn Jesus für alle gestorben ist, warum hat er dann in den Abendmahlsworten „für viele“ gesagt? Und warum bleiben wir dann bei diesen Einsetzungsworten Jesu? Hier muß zunächst noch eingefügt werden, daß Jesus nach Matthäus und Markus „für viele“, nach Lukas und Paulus aber „für euch“ gesagt hat. Damit ist scheinbar der Kreis noch enger gezogen. Aber gerade von da aus kann man auch auf die Lösung zugehen. Die Jünger wissen, daß die Sendung Jesu über sie und ihren Kreis hinausreicht; daß er gekommen war, die verstreuten Kinder Gottes aus aller Welt zu sammeln (Joh 11, 52). Das „für euch“ macht die Sendung Jesu aber ganz konkret für die Anwesenden. Sie sind nicht irgendwelche anonyme Elemente einer riesigen Ganzheit, sondern jeder einzelne weiß, daß der Herr gerade für mich, für uns gestorben ist. „Für euch“ reicht in die Vergangenheit und in die Zukunft hinein, ich bin ganz persönlich gemeint; wir, die hier Versammelten, sind als solche von Jesus gekannt und geliebt. So ist dieses „für euch“ nicht eine Verengung, sondern eine Konkretisierung, die für jede Eucharistie feiernde Gemeinde gilt, sie konkret mit der Liebe Jesu verbindet. Der Römische Kanon hat in den Wandlungsworten die beiden biblischen Lesarten miteinander verbunden und sagt demgemäß: „Für euch und für viele“. Diese Formel ist dann bei der Liturgie-Reform für alle Hochgebete übernommen worden.

Aber nun noch einmal: Warum „für viele“? Ist der Herr denn nicht für alle gestorben? Daß Jesus Christus als menschgewordener Sohn Gottes der Mensch für alle Menschen, der neue Adam ist, gehört zu den grundlegenden Gewißheiten unseres Glaubens. Ich möchte dafür nur an drei Schrifttexte erinnern: Gott hat seinen Sohn „für alle hingegeben“, formuliert Paulus im Römer-Brief (Röm 8, 32). „Einer ist für alle gestorben“, sagt er im zweiten Korinther-Brief über den Tod Jesu (2 Kor 5, 14). Jesus hat sich „als Lösegeld hingegeben für alle“, heißt es im ersten Timotheus-Brief (1 Tim 2, 6). Aber dann ist erst recht noch einmal zu fragen: Wenn dies so klar ist, warum steht dann im Eucharistischen Hochgebet „für viele“? Nun, die Kirche hat diese Formulierung aus den Einsetzungs-Berichten des Neuen Testaments übernommen. Sie sagt so aus Respekt vor dem Wort Jesu, um ihm auch bis ins Wort hinein treu zu bleiben. Die Ehrfurcht vor dem Wort Jesu selbst ist der Grund für die Formulierung des Hochgebets. Aber dann fragen wir: Warum hat wohl Jesus selbst es so gesagt? Der eigentliche Grund besteht darin, daß Jesus sich damit als den Gottesknecht von Jes 53 zu erkennen gab, sich als die Gestalt auswies, auf die das Prophetenwort wartete. Ehrfurcht der Kirche vor dem Wort Jesu, Treue Jesu zum Wort der „Schrift“, diese doppelte Treue ist der konkrete Grund für die Formulierung „für viele“. In diese Kette ehrfürchtiger Treue reihen wir uns mit der wörtlichen Übersetzung der Schriftworte ein.

So wie wir vorhin gesehen haben, daß das „für euch“ der lukanisch-paulinischen Tradition nicht verengt, sondern konkretisiert, so können wir jetzt erkennen, daß die Dialektik „viele“ – „alle“ ihre eigene Bedeutung hat. „Alle“ bewegt sich auf der ontologischen Ebene – das Sein und Wirken Jesu umfaßt die ganze Menschheit, Vergangenheit und Gegenwart und Zukunft. Aber faktisch, geschichtlich in der konkreten Gemeinschaft derer, die Eucharistie feiern, kommt er nur zu „vielen“. So kann man eine dreifache Bedeutung der Zuordnung von „viele“ und „alle“ sehen. Zunächst sollte es für uns, die wir an seinem Tische sitzen dürfen, Überraschung, Freude und Dankbarkeit bedeuten, daß er mich gerufen hat, daß ich bei ihm sein und ihn kennen darf. „Dank sei dem Herrn, der mich aus Gnad’ in seine Kirch’ berufen hat…“. Dann ist dies aber zweitens auch Verantwortung. Wie der Herr die anderen – „alle“ – auf seine Weise erreicht, bleibt letztlich sein Geheimnis. Aber ohne Zweifel ist es eine Verantwortung, von ihm direkt an seinen Tisch gerufen zu sein, so daß ich hören darf: Für euch, für mich hat er gelitten. Die vielen tragen Verantwortung für alle. Die Gemeinschaft der vielen muß Licht auf dem Leuchter, Stadt auf dem Berg, Sauerteig für alle sein. Dies ist eine Berufung, die jeden einzelnen ganz persönlich trifft. Die vielen, die wir sind, müssen in der Verantwortung für das Ganze im Bewußtsein ihrer Sendung stehen. Schließlich mag ein dritter Aspekt dazukommen. In der heutigen Gesellschaft haben wir das Gefühl, keineswegs “viele“ zu sein, sondern ganz wenige – ein kleiner Haufe, der immer weiter abnimmt. Aber nein – wir sind „viele“: „Danach sah ich: eine große Schar aus allen Nationen und Stämmen, Völkern und Sprachen; niemand konnte sie zählen“, heißt es in der Offenbarung des Johannes (Offb 7, 9). Wir sind viele und stehen für alle. So gehören die beiden Worte „viele“ und „alle“ zusammen und beziehen sich in Verantwortung und Verheißung aufeinander.

Exzellenz, liebe Mitbrüder im Bischofsamt! Mit alledem wollte ich die inhaltlichen Grundlinien der Katechese andeuten, mit der nun so bald wie möglich Priester und Laien auf die neue Übersetzung vorbereitet werden sollen. Ich hoffe, daß dies alles zugleich einer tieferen Mitfeier der heiligen Eucharistie dienen kann und sich so in die große Aufgabe einreiht, die mit dem „Jahr des Glaubens“ vor uns liegt. Ich darf hoffen, daß die Katechese bald vorgelegt und so Teil der gottesdienstlichen Erneuerung wird, um die sich das Konzil von seiner ersten Sitzungsperiode an gemüht hat.

Mit österlichen Segensgrüßen verbleibe ich

im Herrn Ihr


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