New prayer text hearkens back to Old Testament prophesy

| Father John Paul Erickson | October 11, 2011 | 1 Comment
Last Supper

CNS photo / Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic

The following is the next in a series of articles regarding the new Roman Missal, which will be used in the United States beginning Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent.

We continue with our examination of the Roman Canon, also known as the First Eucharistic Prayer.  We have already discussed the orientation of the prayer: It is directed to the Father through Jesus Christ.

We also have pointed out that the prayer calls us to offer up our own lives upon the altar, in union with Christ’s one sacrifice of love to the Father. Finally, we have meditated upon the nature of the Eucharistic Prayer as a kind of intercession, that is, a crying out to God for our needs to be fulfilled.

We now jump forward several passages in the prayer and turn to the heart of the Roman Canon — the words of institution. With these words, the church remembers in a particularly poignant way the night of Our Lord’s betrayal. But it was not only a night in which evil had its way with the God-man. It was also the beginning of love’s definitive triumph and the institution of the great memorial of Christ’s sacrifice of praise to the Father, the Holy Mass.

When the priest celebrant pronounces these words, it is Catholic belief that Jesus Christ becomes present — body, blood, soul and divinity — in the sacred host.  What was once bread and wine is now Christ himself, hidden under the appearance of human food.

This is truly a mystery — God become hidden, little, and vulnerable, so that we might become like him and be joined to him in the worthy reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

The words of institution are not magic. Magic presumes that we control what is happening. This is not the case when the words of institution are spoken by the ordained priest. Rather, it is God himself who chooses, in divine freedom, to be present among us. It is he who acts in and through the ordained priest, willing himself to be present in the consecrated host.

And, this presence remains even after Mass concludes.  In those consecrated hosts, and in every fragment of those hosts, the Savior remains with us, and it is right and good to honor and adore these hosts as we would adore Christ himself.

Like much of the Mass, the words of institution are changing so as to better correspond to the Latin texts from which the English is translated. The new words read as follows:

“Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you. . . . Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”

There are, of course, a number of differences to point out between the new text and our current translation.  But perhaps none are so striking as the edits made to the words spoken over the chalice of wine.  “…which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins” (emphasis added).  Why such a radical change from the present “… it will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven”?

The church is crystal clear that Christ’s death on the cross was offered for all. We must be clear — exclusivity in salvation is not being proclaimed in the new words of institution. Paragraph 605 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God’s love excludes no one: “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” He affirms that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many;” this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us. The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”

As we can see, the words “for many” in the new English translation of the institution narrative are not meant to limit those who will be saved by Christ.  Rather, they follow more closely the Latin text, a text that in fact does use the phrase “pro multis,” that is, “for many.” But as the quote from the catechism makes clear, there is more going on here than simple fidelity to Latin.

Rooted in the Bible

The expression “for many” in this context is a profoundly biblical phrase. Indeed, both Matthew and Mark place this very phrase on the lips of Christ as he institutes the Eucharist in the upper room.

The expression hearkens back to the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of the suffering servant in chapter 53, a figure who “bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Here we have a key to understanding our Lord’s choice of this term “many” on the night of his betrayal, and why it is found in the Latin text. Christ is alerting the Apostles, and us, that he is the suffering servant prophesied by Isaiah, the one who sets his people free by offering up his own life.

Read this chapter of Isaiah and it is hard not to see the similarities between it and the story of Christ. Indeed, this is exactly why on Good Friday this very passage is used during the somber and moving service.

And so we are once again reminded of a key principle in the new translation: the many scriptural references and allusions to the sacred texts of the Bible are to be made ever more prominent and clear in the Sacred Liturgy. For those who will listen, the newly translated “for many” makes it clear that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies, the long expected Savior who has come to set his people free.

Father John Paul Erickson is director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.


Category: New Roman Missal