Benedict XVI’s statement on the procedure for consecrating wine during mass has ended an underground dispute that had been causing divisions among bishops
For once, Benedict XVI chose to speak in German so that his message could reach everyone, including Italians, loud and clear. The letter, signed on 14 April, to bishops from his native Germany addresses in an articulate manner the issue of post-conciliar procedures for consecrating wine during Eucharistic celebrations. In his firm statement, Benedict XVI reiterated once again the instructions already given by the Holy See at the beginning of Ratzinger’s papacy. So far, these have not been clearly received in Episcopates, including the Italian one, which are usually quick to get in line with pastoral and liturgical advice.
The central issue has been the exact wording used for the Eucharistic prayer which is said during the consecration of the wine, to turn it into the blood of Christ. Ever since the early centuries, the Roman Rite in Latin, which copies the story of the Eucharist contained in the original Greek version of the synoptic gospels, has used the words attributed to Christ himself to say that his blood had been shed “for many” (pro multis, which corresponds to the Greek pollon). In the modern language versions of the Latin Missal, prepared after the Second Vatican Council, pro multis was translated as “for all”.
This was until, in 2006, the then Prefect emeritus of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Francis Arinze, signed a letter to try to revoke this lexical slip, making it possible for all national Episcopal Conferences to give an updated translation of the words of consecration that would correspond to the Latin words pro multis, in the new editions of the Missals that were undergoing revision.
Since then, in many cases, the updating process requested by the Holy See has been taking place at a slow and irregular rate, as new versions of the Roman Missal are gradually being approved in the various modern languages. The quickest to finish was the Hungarian Church, whose corrected version of the words of consecration for the bread and wine, was implemented on Pentecost 2009. They were followed by some Latin American Churches (Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia), after the approval of their version of the Roman Missal in Castilian Spanish. In Argentina, the passage from por todos to por muchos took place on the first Sunday of Lent 2010. In Chile, the change had already been implemented on the first Sunday of Advent 2009. In Churches across the English speaking world, the Vatican’s approval of the English version of the Roman Missal finally came about a year ago, after a lot of blood sweat and tears and the new Missal which substitutes for all with for many only came into use on Advent 2011.
Italy’s story is a story in its own right. The pro multis question was voted on during the plenary assembly of the Episcopal Conference held in Assisi in November 2010. According to figures which also find their way onto the website edited by Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister, 171 out of 187 voters voted in favour of keeping for all. This reluctance to implement the requested change had also been expressed by regional Episcopal Conferences.
Different insights into the issue have also been expressed recently by the College of Cardinals. One of the age-old supporters of the re-wording of the national Missals, changed to the Latin pro multis is the Singhalese Cardinal Malcolm Ranijth Patabendige Don. The current Archbishop of Colombo firmly supported the idea of returning to thefor many formula right from the days when he was Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome.
According to the cardinal, the return to the for many formula instead of for all, also serves as a timely reminder of “the seriousness of the Christian vocation”, in a situation which according to him is marked by “exaggerated optimism about salvation which leads everyone to Paradise, without the need for the gift of faith and the effort of conversion.” In an interview with Italian Catholic newspaper 30 Giorni, in the spring of 2010, Jesuit cardinal Albert Vanhoye took a more articulate stance. According to this distinguished Biblicist, the translation of pro multis into for all, adopted by many churches following the Second Vatican Council, was based on an exegetical reasoning that was by no means insignificant. Starting with the fact that Jesus spoke in Aramaic not in Greek or Latin. In the interview, the rector emeritus of the Pontifical Biblical Institute said that “In Italian molti (many) implicitly contradicts tutti (all). If one says that many students passed an exam, it means not all passed. In Hebrew, however, this dialectical connotation does not exist. The word rabim simply means a great many. It does not specify whether this great number corresponds to all.” According to Vanhoye “it is clear that Jesus was not referring to a determined, albeit numerous, group of individuals during the Last Supper. His address was universal. Jesus wants salvation for all.”
In actual fact, the instruction to return to more literal translations of the term pro multis used in the Latin edition of the Roman Missal - in accordance, on this point, with the majority of anaphoras used in the Eastern Churches – cannot be written off as a literalism or liturgical fixity. And it does not intend in itself to reduce the universal reach of Christ’s promises. Already the letter signed in 2006 by Cardinal Arinze categorically denied the insinuations of those who in recent years have actually raised doubts regarding the validity of masses celebrated using the for all formula. According to the Nigerian cardinal, the expression for many is to be preferred because “it is open to the inclusion of every single human being , whilst at the same time reflecting the fact that this salvation is not complete in an almost mechanic way, without one’s own will or participation.”
This is the core theological and pastoral point that drove Benedict XVI to intervene directly -addressing German bishops but others as well – to help them overcome any enduring reluctance to make the move from for all to for many.
In his letter, the Pope himself listed all the objections to the requested change (“Did Christ not die for everyone? Has the Church changed its teaching? Is it able to do so and can it do so? Does this reaction aim to destroy the Council's legacy?”), denying that any of these had any basis. Ratzinger is always keen above all to stress the unselfishness of the salvation brought to us by Jesus. Ever since he was a young theologian, Ratzinger has always distrusted theological formulas that interpret the history of salvation in a determinist way, like a compulsory mechanism that everyone is subject to, whether we like it or not. Even as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger showed his tireless joy for theological theories according to which mercy is given to humans a priori. This apriorism, which according to him disfigures the unselfishness and historicity of Christ’s redemption, takes away all the wonder of the Christian adventure and poses the risk of a religious and ethical imperialism toward us Christians. This is why, way before he became Pope, Ratzinger underlined the urgent need for the consecration formula to capture Christ’s authentic intention. As he wrote in an essay in 2001, “regardless of the formula [whether for all or for many] we must listen to the whole meaning of the message: that the Lord truly does love everyone and that he died for everyone. And one other thing: that he does not push aside our freedom using some kind of amusing magic, instead, he lets us to say “yes” through his great mercy.”