Pope Benedict XVI carries the Eucharist during Holy Thursday chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
“The many bear responsibility for the all. The community of the many
must be the lamp on the lampstand, a city on the hilltop, yeast for all.
There is a vocation that affects each one of us individually, quite
personally. The many, that is to say, we ourselves, must be conscious of
our mission to responsibility for the whole.
Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to Archbishop of Freiburg
, April 14, 2012.
Evidently, a number of German bishops maintain that the liturgical
translation of the second consecration prayer should still read that
this sacrifice is to be offered “for all,” and not for “many.” The
German pope is dealing with stubborn German bishops. He promised those
bishops he would write a short letter explaining why “for many” is to be
used and not “for all.” Benedict XVI notes that they did very little,
if anything, to explain the proper reasoning for the “for many”
His letter, sent this past month, sets forth the reasons why “for many”
is the proper wording. Basically, it is because those are the words
Christ used as reported in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. The pope
again affirms that what Christ said is normative. The bishops’ office is
to pass down not their opinions or interpretation but what was given to
them all from the beginning.
In dealing with the reasons for this issue, Benedict recalls that, after
the Second Vatican Council, some exegetes wanted to use the term “for
all” because they thought it referred to Isaiah 53 concerning the
Suffering Servant who was to suffer for all. It turns out this exegesis
of the text has now been dropped by all scholars. However, a pastoral
problem remains. People were led to understand that the words “for all”
meant Christ died for everyone, so when the phrase “for many” is used,
it seems the scope of salvation was narrowed from all to a few. This
dubious understanding caused confusion for many Catholics.
The task to which the pope addressed himself was to explain clearly why
the words now in all the canons, “for many,” were the proper ones. In
doing so, he emphasized that Christ was indeed sent to save all men.
That mission is clear. So why not say so? Here is where something
remarkable about this pope comes in. He is so erudite and alert that he
foresees problems, real problems, where most of us do not. The use of
the term “for all” can easily come to undermine the way in which God,
through Jesus Christ, intended to redeem usthat is, all men. If Christ
simply came “for all,” it would be easy to make cases for salvation from
sources that were not really related to salvation history beginning
with Jewish revelation. In fact, this avenue has been a problem as the
Holy Father (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) demonstrated in Dominus Iesus
the August 2000 declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, “On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and
So what about the use of “for many?” The first thing the pope emphasizes
is that, at the Last Supper, Christ was talking to the Apostles about
His own body and blood to be shed. If Christ had intended to use the
word “all,” He would have. He must have had something else in mind. What
was that? The pope approaches an answer by noticing that Luke and Paul,
in their account of this action at the Last Supper, use the words “for
you.” Thus, in the present Liturgy, the words say that Christ’s blood
will be shed “for you and for many.” This makes Christ’s attention to be
directly on the Apostles before Him. The universal mission of salvation
is not some abstraction, nor is it apart from the plan of revelation
set down for us in Scripture.
Rather, this plan is to be carried out in the manner the Father has
decreed in sending Christ into the world to redeem us through the Cross.
Perhaps some other way to accomplish this end was conceivable. But God
directed this one way, which passed through the Apostles who were told
to “Do this in memory of Me” and were later sent to teach the nations.
The universality is there, but not apart from the centrality of the Mass
as the proper way to worship the Father. If this grounding in the text
is not maintained, it will be difficult to explain why the word “all” is
not a better word. “Not even the most sensitive translation can take
away the need for explanation.” Thus, “it is part of the structure of
revelation that the word of God is read within the exegetical community
of the Churchfaithfulness and drawing out the contemporary relevance go
together.” We do not make up or interpret the text, then look at its
The faithful need to know reasons. Bishops (even German bishops) need to
explain why such issues require clear episcopal explanations for the
priests and faithful. They will understand if it is properly explained.
Again, the issue is not whether Christ came to save all men. The issue
is the way that Christ proposed to carry out this purpose. He did not
proceed by abstractions, but by real persons, the “you and the many.”
That is, the mission of the Church includes reaching each person in his
individual, particular being. Revelation does not save abstractions or
shadows. Before the Apostles left the upper room at the Last Supper, the
plan of God was carried no further than them, the “you” to whom Christ
addressed His words.
We might say that God’s plan was not a very good one if it depended on
eleven relatively unknown fishermen in an obscure corner of the world.
But that is just another way of saying we could have figured out a
better way than God to accomplish what God had in mind. This view is
touching, but highly dubious. So the Church insists the words of
consecration be kept to the words Jesus used. This is what obliges the
Church, whether some of her members like it or not. This insistence
enables us to get at what is at stake in the “for all” translation.
“The Holy See has decided that in the new translation of the Missal, the
words ‘pro multis,’ should be translated as they stand, and not
presented in the form of an interpretation.” Neither Matthew nor Mark
said “for the many,” but “for many.” The pope again adds he is aware of
how the words can confuse. “I am aware that it poses an enormous
challenge to those with the task of explaining the word of God in the
Church, since to the ordinary church-goer it will almost inevitably seem
like a rupture at the heart of the sacred. They will ask, did Christ
not die for all? Has the Church changed her teaching? Can she do so? May
she do so?” Maybe people are trying to undermine Vatican II with this
insistence on “for many”?
Benedict continues: “‘For you’ covers the past and the future; it means
me, personally; we, who are assembled here, are known and loved by Jesus
for ourselves. So this ‘for you’ is not a narrowing down, but a making
concrete, and it applies to every Eucharistic community, concretely
uniting it to the love of Jesus.” Nothing that is saved is an
abstraction. Salvation is through Christ but through men. This is the
meaning of the Incarnation.
Did the Lord die for all or just for the “many”? Clearly, for all. But
the words are taken from the Gospel. “She (the Church) says words out of
deference to Jesus’ own words, in order to remain faithful to him.”
Yet, as people who recognize that revelation is directed also to our
minds, we have to ask why Jesus said these words and not the ones that
we might prefer? It is here that we refer back again to the Suffering
Servant text from Isaiah 53. Christ reveals Himself in the line of the
prophets and the fulfillment of their words. Jesus Himself is faithful
to the words of Scripture.
If we speak, on the ontological plane, of why Jesus came, Benedict
explains that the relation of many and all becomes clear. The many are
to be sent to everyone concretely, to each person with a name, everyone
who existed in the world. The many to whom Christ spoke are sent but not
with their own ideas of how it should be done. They are to follow the
example of Christ in establishing of the Eucharist in the first place.
All men and women in all times are included in Christ, but not as
abstractions or universals, but as individuals who must listen and
accept what is handed down to them.
How does the Lord “reach” others? This is a “mystery,” but we are
directly called to his table. The words that the sacrifice are “for you”
are heard there, no place else. Christ suffered “for me.” Thus, the
“many bear responsibility for all.” This community is the light, the
hill, the yeast; it is the Church. Each individual has a vocation to the
many as concrete persons. Finally, it seems that we are not “many,” but
“few.” We seem, however, to be becoming smaller, not growing. The pope
here cites the book of Revelation, of the “great multitude that no man
So, why do we use “for many?” The Holy Father puts it this way:
“We are many and we stand for all. So the words ‘many’ and ‘all’ go
together and are intertwined with responsibility and promise.” In
insisting on the accuracy of the translation, in disallowing an
interpretation, it turns out that the pope is defending the very purpose
and scope of revelation. We are all impatient with the Lord’s slowness
with us. We want to save “all” by bypassing ourselves and by overlooking
the way Christ provides for our sanctification through the sacrifice of
Again, God does not save “all” apart from the concrete way Christ dealt
with the Apostles and all of us. He addressed His words “for you and for
many” because the all were not to be reached apart from “the you and
the many.” What ultimate is saved is not an abstraction, an “all,” but
each individual person in his concreteness. The “all” that Christ died
for is the one that includes us in our concreteness, in our existence.
This is what is at stake in the words “for you and for many.”