Pro multis is a Latin phrase that means "for many" or "for the many". Not having the definite article, Latin does not distinguish between these two meanings.
The phrase is part of the longer phrase "qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum" (which will be shed for you and for (the) many for remission of sins) used, with reference to the blood of Christ, in the consecration of the wine in the Roman Rite Mass.
The phrase "shed for you" comes fromonly. "Shed for many" (in the original Greek, the phrase is not "for the many") from and . "For remission of sins" from only. , the earliest account of Jesus' words over the cup at his Last Supper, mentions none whatever of these phrases in relation to the consecration of the wine.
The variety of these accounts indicates that the writers did not intend to give the exact words that Jesus used, probably in Aramaic. The only words that are considered essential for the consecration of the wine at Mass are "This is my blood", though the form of the sacrament, which varies according to the liturgical rite (Roman Rite, Byzantine Rite, etc.) contains other words as well.
Translation as "for all"
The International Commission on English in the Liturgy translated the phrase "qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum" as "which will be shed for you and for all men, so that sins may be forgiven". This was the version approved by the Episcopal Conferences of English-speaking countries in 1973 and confirmed by the Holy See. The word "men" was later omitted because of complaints that it could be understood as referring only to males.
This was confessedly a non-literal translation, and objections were raised against it not only for this reason but also on the grounds that it could be taken to mean that all are in fact saved, regardless of their relationship to Christ and his Church. Some even claimed that use of the "for all" translation "made the consecration invalid".
In response it was said that the literal translation, "for many", could now be taken to mean "not for all", contradicting the declaration in that Christ died for all, though not all choose to avail of the redemption won for them by the shedding of Christ's blood.
The word "many" (Latin multi, Greek πολλοί) is opposed to "few" (Latin pauci, Greek ὀλίγοι), not to "all" (Latin omnes, Greek πάντες). In a large group, all the members are many; in a small group, all are few. People can be many whether they form the totality of a group or only part of a group. An article by Father Max Zerwick, S.J. gives examples of texts in which the totality of a group are referred to as "many".
For whom was Christ's blood shed
It is also orthodox Catholic teaching that not all will necessarily avail of the redemption obtained by the shedding of Christ's blood. While Christ's redemptive suffering makes salvation available to all, it does not follow that all men are actually saved. This seems never to have been authoritatively defined, since it has remained uncontroversial.
The Roman Catechism, also known as the Catechism of the Council of Trent, stated: "If we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed his blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind have received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race."
It would be heretical to interpret "for many" in the words of consecration of the wine as indicating that there were some for whom the shedding of Christ's blood was in itself incapable of redeeming (its value). So the Roman Catechism interpreted "for many" in the context of the consecration form as referring to the effect actually accepted by individuals (its fruits). It declared: "When therefore (our Lord) said: 'For you', he meant either those who were present, or those chosen from among the Jewish people, such as were, with the exception of Judas, the disciples with whom he was speaking. When he added, 'And for many', he wished to be understood to mean the remainder of the elect from among the Jews or Gentiles.
In this, the Catechism drew on the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who in his Summa Theologica interpreted "for you" as a reference either to the elect among the Jews, for whom the Old Testament sacrifices were offered, or to the priest and faithful partaking of Mass, and "for many" as referring either to the elect among the Gentiles or to those for whom Mass is offered.
It would also be heretical to interpret "for all" in the words of consecration of the wine as indicating that, without any exception, everybody must in concrete fact receive the benefit won by the shedding of Christ's blood. So the Holy See has interpreted "for all" in the 1973 English translation of the consecration form as referring to the value of the shedding of Christ's blood and to his intention. On 25 January 1974, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that there is no doubt whatsoever regarding the validity of Masses celebrated using "for all" as a translation of "pro multis", since "for all" corresponds to a correct interpretation of Christ's intention expressed in the words of the consecration, and since it is a dogma of the Catholic faith that Christ died on the Cross for all (cf. , , , ).
More precise translation ordered
On 17 October 2006, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments sent a circular (No. 467/05/L) to Presidents of Episcopal Conferences on the question of the translation of "pro multis".
After recalling the 1974 declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments pointed out that "for all" is not a literal translation of "pro multis", nor of the words "περὶ πολλῶν" in or "ὑπὲρ πολλῶν" in . "For all", it said, is not so much a translation as "an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis".
It then directed the Episcopal Conferences to make an effort, in line with the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, to translate the words pro multis "more faithfully" and to prepare the faithful for the introduction, when the next translation of the Roman Missal has been approved by the Conferences and examined by the Holy See, of a "precise" vernacular translation of the phrase.
- The same holds for other sacraments: for instance, "I baptize you …" (Roman Rite), but "The servant of God (identified by name) is baptized …" (Byzantine Rite).
- Follow-up: Why "For All" at Consecration?
- "The phrase 'for many' (it is said) in our minds today is understood without reflection to exclude the universality of Christ’s redemptive work. The Semitic mind of the Bible could see that universality connoted in the phrase 'for many'. In fact that connotation was certainly there, because of the theological context. However eloquent it was for ancient peoples, today that allusion to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah is clear only to experts" Fr Max Zerwick, SJ, Pro Vobis et Pro Multis Effundetur. Cf. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, The Catholic answer book, Volume 1, p. 47.
- Pro Vobis et pro Multis Effundetur
- Texts of Roman Documents Condemning Jansenism
- The Catechism of Trent
- "The blood of Christ's Passion has its efficacy not merely in the elect among the Jews, to whom the blood of the Old Testament was exhibited, but also in the Gentiles; nor only in priests who consecrate this sacrament, and in those others who partake of it; but likewise in those for whom it is offered. And therefore he says expressly, "for you," the Jews, "and for many," namely the Gentiles; or, "for you" who eat of it, and "for many," for whom it is offered" (Summa Theologica, Part III, question 78, article 3, reply to objection 8).
- Letter from Cardinal Arinze on the translation of pro multis
- Circular Letter 467/05/L of 17 October 2006 from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the translation of pro multis
- "Pro multis": Can it mean "for all"?
- Why "For All" in the Words of Consecration?
- Max Zerwick: Pro Vobis et Pro Multis Effundetur
- John F. McCarthy: The Sacramental Validity of "for you and for all" in Living Tradition, organ of the Roman Theological Forum
- Matt C. Abbott: Schismatic Traditionalists