Liturgy: February 2007 Archives

Accuracy in Translation

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Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pennsylvania, who has drawn much ire around Catholic blogland for his criticisms of the new translation of the Mass, has an op-ed of sorts making his case in the UK Catholic paper The Tablet. Specifically, he pushes his argument against the "for many" translation of the latin phrase "pro multis" in the institution narrative of the Eucharistic Prayer.

In Matthew 26: 28 and following, we read: "For this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins." The reference to the "many" is certainly drawn from Isaiah 53: 11, where we read: "Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many and their guilt he shall bear."

In this passage the term "many" is a Hebrew word that means "for everyone", since there was no Hebrew word "for all". The term was originally inclusive and signified "everybody". The Jesuit scholar Max Zerwick's Philological Analysis of the Greek New Testament is still an unsurpassed authority. On Matthew 26: 28 Zerwick explains that polloi, the Greek for "the many", translates a Semitic expression that can signify a multitude and at the same time a totality. It means "all (who are many)".

This was strongly affirmed by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1970 when the Congregation commissioned Zerwick to research and write an article on the meaning of pro multis. That article was published in the official organ of that Congregation (Notitiae) in May 1970 (pages 138-140). It states: "According to exegetes, the Aramaic word which in Latin is translated ‘pro multis' means ‘pro omnibus': the multitude for whom Christ died is unbounded, which is the same as saying: Christ died for all. St Augustine will help recall this: ‘You see what He hath given; find out then what He bought. The Blood of Christ was the price. What is equal to this? What, but the whole world? What, but all nations?' "

In 1970 the Congregation for Divine Worship made a definitive judgement and published it in its official organ. What reasons now compel the Holy See to reverse itself? The English word "many" is normally taken to exclude some. The Pope's decision to revert to this literal translation does not seem to express in English the true meaning of the phrase. "Many" does not mean everyone. On a pastoral level we must have from the Vatican a better rationale for this major change than what has been given. With full respect and love for the Holy See, we need a pastoral explanation for the people. Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, concedes that "for many" does not convey at face value the Lord's universal salvific intent, but that this belongs to catechesis. Is not the liturgy the best form of catechesis? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "The liturgy is the privileged place for catechising the people of God" (Paragraph 1074).

This argument is much more credible than his last attempt at making this point ("it's too confusing!"). I, however, not knowing any Hebrew or Greek, find myself unable to evaluate the merit of the new piece. I'd be interested if anybody knows where I can find this treated more fully.

UPDATE: Father Z fisks brutally:

Remember: this is all based on a conjecture (oopps… "guess") about what the Lord might have said in Aramaic – which we don’t know. This sets up a conflict between the "guess" and the Greek text of the New Testament. In other words, people who make this claim are creating their own text by which they judge the veracity of the New Testament accounts of the Last Supper. Neat, huh? NOTE: I demolished the passe argument that follows in a four part WDTPRS series. In that series I show the sandy foundations the following arguments rest upon. Also, kindly note that when you translate liturgical texts you are not translating Scripture. The Pope agrees.

He also claims to have treated this in a four part series, though he doesn't say if that was on his blog or his in his Wanderer column.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Liturgy category from February 2007.

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