On November 3, during a memorial Mass for the 14 cardinals and bishops who died last year, Pope Francis spoke during his homily on the question of whether the Latin phrase pro multis, which appears in the formula for consecration of the Eucharistic Prayer in the Extraordinary and Ordinary Form of the Mass, means what it says it means: “for many.”
In a November 3 article for Crux, Ines San Martin reports that “Pope Francis…appeared to wade into one of the most contentious liturgical debates in Catholicism in recent years, siding with his predecessor Pope emeritus Benedict XVI by insisting that Christ died ‘for many,’ instead of using the phrase ‘for all.’”
Critics of the “for all” translation of pro multis say that, besides misconstruing what the Latin actually says—not to mention what Jesus is recorded as saying in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark—such a rendering implies an unwarranted universalism and downplays the role of the individual in freely accepting Christ’s gift of salvation.
Quoted by San Martin in the Crux article, Pope Francis says, “The ‘many’ who will rise for eternal life are to be understood as the ‘many’ for whom the blood of Christ was shed. They are the multitude that, thanks to the goodness and mercy of God, can experience the life that does not pass away, the complete victory over death brought by the resurrection.”
Furthermore, San Martin writes, Pope Francis argued that “for many” better communicates the part that mankind’s God-given free will plays in an individual soul’s salvation, since “human beings have to make a choice during this life, either for or against God.”
“Awakening from death isn’t, in itself, a return to life,” the pope says, quoted by San Martin. “Some in fact will awake to eternal life, others for eternal shame.”
“Death renders definitive the ‘crossroads’ which, already here in this world, stand before us: The way of life, that is, the one that leads us to communion with God, or the path of death, that is, the one that leads us away from Him” to hell.
Citing the Gospel of Mark (14:24) and Matthew (26:28) as the sources of the phrase pro multis, San Martin writes that the phrase appears in the most recent English translation of the Eucharist Prayer as the Blood “which will be poured out for you, and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.”
Following Liturgiam Authenticam’s instructions issued in 2001 by the Vatican’s Divine Worship office, this corrected English translation of pro multis, San Martin reports, was normalized by the Vatican in 2006.
“In 2006, the Vatican decreed that in translations of the revised edition of the Roman Missal…, the phrase was to be translated literally, as ‘for many,’” San Martin writes. “The official version in English has been published, using that literal translation. However, that change for several other languages is still in the works.”