Arinze’s pro multis letter

Arinze’s pro multis letter

I have obtained a copy of the letter sent by Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to the heads of all the national episcopal conferences regarding the pro multis translation:


[To their Eminences /Excellencies,
Presidents of the National Episcopal Conferences]


Prot. n. 467/05/L

Rome, 17 October 2006

Your Eminence / Your Excellency,

In July 2005 this Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, by agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote to all Presidents of Conferences of Bishops to ask their considered opinion regarding the translation into the various vernaculars of the expression pro multis in the formula for the consecration of the Precious Blood during the celebration of Holy Mass (ref. Prot. n. 467/05/L of 9 July 2005).

The replies received from the Bishops’ Conferences were studied by the two Congregations and a report was made to the Holy Father.  At his direction, this Congregation now writes to Your Eminence / Your Excellency in the following terms:

1. A text corresponding to the words pro multis, handed down by the Church, constitutes the formula that has been in use in the Roman Rite in Latin from the earliest centuries.  In the past 30 years or so, some approved vernacular texts have carried the interpretive translation “for all”, “per tutti”, or equivalents.

2. There is no doubt whatsoever regarding the validity of Masses celebrated with the use of a duly approved formula containing a formula equivalent to “for all”, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already declared (cf. Sacra Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, Declaratio de sensu tribuendo adprobationi versionum formularum sacramentalium, 25 Ianuarii 1974, AAS 66 [1974], 661).  Indeed, the formula “for all” would undoubtedly correspond to a correct interpretation of the Lord’s intention expressed in the text.  It is a dogma of faith that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women (cf. John 11:52; 2 Corinthians 5,14-15; Titus 2,11; 1 John 2,2).

3. There are, however, many arguments in favour of a more precise rendering of the traditional formula pro multis

a. The Synoptic Gospels (Mt 26,28; Mk 14,24) make specific reference to “many” ([Greek word transliterated as polloin])) for whom the Lord is offering the Sacrifice, and this wording has been emphasized by some biblical scholars in connection with the words of the prophet Isaiah (53, 11-12).  It would have been entirely possible in the Gospel texts to have said “for all” (for example, cf. Luke 12,41); instead, the formula given in the institution narrative is “for many”, and the words have been faithfully translated thus in most modern biblical versions.
b. The Roman Rite in Latin has always said pro multis and never pro omnibus in the consecration of the chalice.
c. The anaphoras of the various Oriental Rites, whether in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, the Slavic languages, etc., contain the verbal equivalent of the Latin pro multis in their respective languages.
d. “For many” is a faithful translation of pro multis, whereas “for all” is rather an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis.
e. The expression “for many”, while remaining open to the inclusion of each human person, is reflective also of the fact that this salvation is not brought about in some mechanistic way, without one’s willing or participation; rather, the believer is invited to accept in faith the gift that is being offered and to receive the supernatural life that is given to those who participate in this mystery, living it out in their lives as well so as to be numbered among the “many” to whom the text refers.
f. In line with the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, effort should be made to be more faithful to the Latin texts in the typical editions.

4. The Bishops’ Conferences of those countries where the formula “for all” or its equivalent is currently in use are therefore requested to undertake the necessary catechesis of the faithful on this matter in the next one or two years to prepare them for the introduction of a precise vernacular translation of the formula pro multis (e.g, “for many”, “per molti”, etc.) in the next translation of the Roman Missal that the Bishops and the Holy See will approve for use in their country.

With the expression of my high esteem and respect, I remain, Your Eminence/Your Excellency,

Devotedly Yours in Christ,

Francis Card. Arinze

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  • For what it’s worth, over the past five years I’ve been saying “for the many” in place of “for all.”

    I recognize that some will say that my use of that wording’s been disobedient and that I have no right to change the words of the Eucharistic Prayer on my own.  And, to a large extent, I agree with those who will say that.

    However, in my defense, I felt that the ICEL translations were not only poor but misleading to the faithful, and that while I could have said the Mass in Latin and avoided the whole issue, one of the primary responsibilities of the priest is to teach the faith that has been handed down from the time of the Apostles.  Frankly, the ICEL mis-translations that have become so much a part of the American novus ordo Mass have led many astray, and I didn’t feel I could look the Judge in the eye and say I’d taught His Gospel if I continued to utilize some of ICEL’s more blatant errors.

    So, prior to Cdl. Arinze’s letter which says we must (soon) use the words “for many” I checked out the Greek and the Latin, and decided (based on my cursory knowledge of both languages and the informed opinion of others whose knowledge is more broad and deep than my own) that “for the many” was as close to the Gospel and the Tradition as I could come in English.

    All of that said, if my bishop were to call me and tell me to cease and desist, I would do so immediately under obedience.

  • Dear Ed – thank you for your curt response.  I’ll try to be a little more respectful.

    If you’ll notice, in my post I said I agreed with those who would call my action ‘disobedient,’ so you didn’t need to call my attention to it again.

    But I also tried to explain how I felt caught on the horns of a dilemma:  since I am, de facto, a teacher, must I teach that which is false even if it is “the law”?

    There is a concept called ‘epekeia’ (which I am sure I have spelled wrong).  It is understood as the privilege (and responsibility) to act outside the letter of the law in order to achieve the intent of the law.  I know that it is to be applied – sparingly – by the leader of the community for the benefit of justice.

    Now, in this case the intent of “the law” is to transmit faithfully what the Church desires her liturgy to be.  Should I, as leader of this particular community, not apply ‘epekeia’ and translate the words pro multis properly, so as to teach what the Church desires to teach?

    The words “for all” are clearly not intended by the original Latin, since there exists a word in Latin which means “all” (omnibus).  So I have to wonder if you have sent as sharply-worded a message to ICEL, the USCCB and all the individual bishops who have accorded this mis-translation pride of place in our liturgy?  After all, correct translation is the law, is it not?

  • Alternatively, Ed, as I noted in my post, I could say the entirety of the canon in Latin, thereby avoiding entanglement with the ICEL agenda.

    Would you defend me in a court of canon law if I were to stand on my right to say Mass in Latin any time I chose to do so?

  • Well, now it’s not “any personal translation,” it’s the teaching of the Holy See.