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Why Did the Latest Roman Missal Translation Change the Eucharistic Prayer From ‘All’ to ‘Many’?

The latest English translation of the Roman Missal was introduced in 2011, and one listener asks Father Dave about one particular change to the prayers at Mass. Derek takes issue with the latest translation and says, “What I dislike the most is the change of the words during the Consecration. In the old version, Jesus tells us ‘this is the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.’ The new translation says that Jesus’ blood was shed for many. Since ‘many’ is not ‘all,’ and I was always taught that Jesus suffered and died for all of us, who is being excluded?”

“You’re definitely not alone,” Father Dave begins. “There are good reasons to feel the way you feel. We certainly see [in] so many instances throughout the Gospels, particularly Luke’s Gospel, a theme of what’s called universal salvation, or salvation for all people. It was a very strong emphasis at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s; the salvation offered to all.”

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Father Dave explains how these prayers were said in Latin until the Second Vatican Council, and why the English translation changed in 2011 after further examination. “The reason why we changed it is because we are quoting Jesus’ exact words as they appear in the Gospels,” he says. “The best and most accurate translation that we have of that scene in the Gospel, he uses the word for ‘many,’ he doesn’t use the word for ‘all.’”

“Our theology is that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is offered to all people,” he continues. “Likely [Jesus] knows in his divinity that not 100% of all human beings in all time will accept that offer. He’s maybe subtly, even at the moment of Last Supper, emphasizing that God loves us so much that he gives us free will; God never forces us to accept the offer.”

He offers another way to look at this translation. “In the Greek, it would be more accurately transliterated, as in if we took it literally how the word works, as ‘the many,’ or ‘the multitudes.’ What he’s saying at the Last Supper [refers to] not just you 12 guys; it is the many people throughout the world,” Father Dave says. “Jesus is trying to get those 12 people to think beyond…they didn’t realize [that] people would be reading his words and praying his words thousands of years from now. So Jesus uses this word to get them to think, ‘Oh wow, this is really bigger than we thought.’”

Brett notes how he also struggles with this translation change and says, “I haven’t heard you say that part before, ‘the many.’ That’s something that’s different from just ‘many’ to me and honestly helps me bridge the gap a little bit.”

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In Jesus saying ‘many,’ Father Dave notes, “Whatever [Jesus’] reason was, it’s kind of immaterial. When they approached the retranslation that came out in 2011, it was [about being] faithful to the original language. That’s why we changed to words like ‘consubstantial,’ even though it sounds clunky.”

He responds to Derek’s ending question in regards to who is excluded from salvation. “Jesus isn’t excluding anyone; people choose to opt out themselves. They get that little email that says, ‘Do you wish to receive more emails?’ and check the little box that says, ‘opt out, I do not want to receive this salvation from Jesus.’ That’s a goofy way of saying it, but that is what we do with our sin, and God doesn’t flick a little switch in the back of our brains and force us to believe and accept it,” Father Dave says. “So technically, it is not ‘all’ who will reap the benefits of Jesus’s blood spilled. His blood is offered for all, but not all will benefit from the shedding of his blood and the forgiveness of sins and salvation.”