Rome Corrects Error...After 40 Years
"Pro Multis" means "for Many", says Vatican Directive to Bishops

Christopher A. Ferrara

It will be shed for you and for many...

(POSTED Nov. 20, 2006, For traditionalist Catholics nothing is more symptomatic of the crisis in the Church than the deliberate mistranslation of pro vobis et pro multisfor you and for many—as “for you and for all” in vernacular renderings of the Latin typical edition of the Mass of Paul VI by local episcopal conferences and the ICEL.  This error, which falsely suggests the universal application of the fruit of the Mass to the elect and non-elect alike, was rightly described as “truly scandalous” by Monsignor Klaus Gamber in his Reform of the Roman Liturgy, to which the current Pope wrote an approving French language preface when he was Cardinal Ratzinger.

For nearly forty years the Vatican tolerated this abuse, while both lay and clerical traditionalists objected to it as a blatant falsification of the very words of Our Lord at the Last Supper—a novelty not even Protestant versions of the Bible had dared to venture.  Yet, over the past forty years, neo-Catholic defenders of the postconciliar novelties in the Church, such as The Wanderer, Catholic Answers (which publishes This Rock magazine) James Likoudis and James Akin, have consistently defended the error, even though no command of Paul VI or John Paul II had actually imposed it on the Church and the error was plainly open to criticism.

Now, it seems, Pope Benedict XVI has ordered that the error be corrected at long last. On November 18, 2006 Catholic World News reported “The Vatican has ruled that the phrase pro multis should be rendered as ‘for many’ in all new translations of the Eucharistic Prayer.”  The operative word is ruled. According to CWN, Cardinal Francis Arinze, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, “has written to the heads of world’s episcopal conferences, informing them of the Vatican decision” and further directing “the bishops to prepare for the introduction of a new translation of the phrase in approved liturgical texts ‘in the next one or two years.’”

As CWN rightly notes, “critics of the current translation”—almost exclusively traditionalists—“have argued, since it first appeared, that rendering pro multis as ‘for all’ not only distorts the meaning of the Latin original, but also conveys the impression that all men are saved, regardless of their relationship with Christ and his Church. The more natural translation [i.e., the correct one], ‘for many,’ more accurately suggests that while Christ’s redemptive suffering makes salvation available to all, it does not follow that all men are saved.” That, indeed, is the teaching of the Catechism of the Council of Trent or Roman Catechism, which insisted upon the truth revealed by Our Lord’s own words: that the fruit of the Mass avails only the members of the elect unto salvation, not all men.[i]

CWN further reports that Cardinal Arinze’s letter to the presidents of episcopal conferences gives these reasons, among others, for the worldwide correction of the defective translation:

·         The Synoptic Gospels (Mt 26,28; Mk 14,24) make specific reference to “many” for whom the Lord is offering the Sacrifice… and the words have been faithfully translated thus in most modern biblical versions…


·         The Roman Rite in Latin has always said pro multis and never pro omnibus in the consecration of the chalice...


·          “For many” is a faithful translation of pro multis


·         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….


·         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.


·         In line with the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, effort should be made to be more faithful to the Latin texts in the typical editions.

That is, “for many” is faithful to the text of the Gospel and the words of Our Lord, to the original Latin text of the Mass of Paul VI, to the unbroken liturgical tradition of the Church in all her rites of Mass, and to the Church’s teaching on the divine election of some, but not all, men. “For all,” on the other hand, is not faithful in any of these respects and is therefore being corrected.

The reversal of this scandalous novelty is obviously of enormous importance for the Church in general and for the traditionalist cause in particular.  It is important for the Church because, if the Pope’s apparent order is followed, it will rectify a major distortion of the theology of the Mass in vernacular translations used throughout most of the world, a distortion that constitutes an ongoing insult to Our Lord Himself, whose very words have been twisted by the translators. Many graces will no doubt proceed from this act of justice, if and when it is accomplished. And for that we must thank the Holy Father and redouble our prayers for his intentions.

The development is also important for the traditionalist cause because it demonstrates that traditionalist opposition to this erring novelty was not “private judgment,” as neo-Catholic spokesmen insisted in their Pharisaical nominalism, but a mere observation of what is self-evident: that “for many” cannot mean “for all,” and that the Church has never sanctioned such an idea concerning the fruit of the Mass.  Likewise, as this development certainly highlights, the rest of the traditionalist position is nothing but a systematic statement of the obvious about recent changes in the Church.  Just as it is obvious that “for all” is a mistranslation, so is it obvious that the traditional Mass was never prohibited by any papal command—a fact the Vatican itself now openly acknowledges, despite decades of neo-Catholic advice to the contrary. Also obvious is that “ecumenism” is a pastoral program that can be abandoned as a failure, not an irrevocable doctrine of the faith—a fact that one can hope will soon enough be recognized as well by the Vatican.

Now it falls to our neo-Catholic critics to explain to the people they have been misleading these many years how they could have defended as perfectly acceptable a grave mistranslation of the Mass that the Pope himself is now correcting.   For the sake of justice it is necessary to recall how neo-Catholic spokesmen assisted in perpetuating damage to the Church by this error—not only by defending it, but also by attacking traditionalists for exercising their right and duty to call for the error’s correction.

Let us recall, for example, how in The Pope, the Council and the Mass, Messrs. Likoudis and Whitehead defended the mistranslation against traditionalist criticism, dismissing even the teaching of the Roman Catechism in defense of “for many” on the ground that the Catechism “was not issued by the Council of Trent but was only prepared afterwards at the request of the Council.”[ii] Yes, and it was “only” promulgated by the authority of Pope Saint Pius V!  Likoudis and Whitehead even pitted the opinion of a lone contemporary theologian against the Roman Catechism, quoting him for the proposition that “Christ had no intention of establishing a rigid formula.”[iii]  So, the “private judgment” of a lone theologian was perfectly acceptable to Likoudis and Whitehead when defending novelty in the Church instead of opposing it.  Such is the neo-Catholic mind.

And let us recall, as just one of many other examples of the neo-Catholic defense of the indefensible, This Rock magazine’s relatively recent reliance on the opinion of that putative authority on the theology of the Mass, James Akin, in defense of “for all”:

I can do no better on this subject than to quote James Akin’s book, Mass Confusion: “According to exegetes [which exegetes?], the Aramaic word translated in Latin by pro multis has as its meaning “for all”: the many for whom Christ died is without limit. . . . [I]t is theologically true that Christ shed his blood for all men (1 Tim. 4:10, 1 John 2:2). The claim that he shed his blood only for the elect or only for the faithful was condemned during the Jansenist controversy (Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum 1096, 1294. In biblical idiom, the term ‘many’ is often used as a synonym for ‘all.’…”[iv]

Akin’s opinion completely mangles the crucial theological distinction between the objective efficacy of the Passion, which suffices to save all men, and the subjective application of the fruit of the Passion to the elect—the very distinction CWN noted in its report.  Only the elect actually receive the fruit of the Passion of Christ—salvation—by corresponding to the grace won for them on the Cross. As the Roman Catechism teaches: “Looking to the efficacy of the Passion, we believe that the Redeemer shed His blood for all men; but looking to the advantages which mankind derive from its efficacy, we find at once that they are not extended to the whole, but to a large proportion of the human race…” As the Catechism concludes: “With great propriety were the words for all omitted [by Christ], because here the fruit of the passion alone is spoken of [by Christ], and to the elect only did his passion bring the fruit of salvation.”  Hence, the Catechism observes, Our Lord Himself declares in the Gospel of Saint John: “I pray not for the world, but for them thou hast given me, because they [i.e., the elect] are thine.”

Akin’s inept theology advocates precisely the opposite of the Church’s teaching, and his argument that “In biblical idiom ‘many’ is often used as a synonym for ‘all’” is pure sophistry. Yet This Rock/Catholic Answers presented Akin’s faulty opinion as a “Catholic Answer” to the supposed errors of traditionalists.

In like manner, Catholic Answers’ online “Quick Questions” forum, aping the approach of Likoudis and Whitehead, minimized the Roman Catechism’s teaching on “pro multis” by asserting that “No pope or council ever issued a dogmatic definition that the Roman Catechism is without error.”  The advice goes on to state that “the translation of the phrase pro vobis et pro multis as ‘for you and for all’ has been approved [by who?]” and seriously invokes the Angelic Doctor in defense of an error he would never have defended, quoting his obiter dicta (having nothing to do with this question) that “We must abide rather by the pope’s judgment than by the opinion of any of the theologians…” Of course, the defective translation of pro multis was never a matter of a papal judgment made binding on the Church, but rather local vernacular translations whose defects were tolerated by Rome. And now the Pope himself has ordered correction of the most serious of these defects.[v]

And, by the way, it was a blatant self-contradiction for Catholic Answers to dismiss as “not infallible” the Roman Catechism of St. Pius V in its teaching on the theological necessity of “for many” rather than “for all,” while arguing that everyone must accept “for all” because it was “approved”—but not really—by the Pope.  The Roman Catechism was “published by the command of Pope Pius V,” but neither Paul VI nor John Paul II ever commanded the translation of pro multis as “for all.” Indeed, the current Pope clearly views that translation as an error that must be corrected. Here again we see the selective deference to papal authority that undergirds the neo-Catholic defense of postconciliar novelty in the Church.

Traditionalists have every right to take neo-Catholic spokesmen to task for having helped perpetrate for so long what Msgr. Gamber rightly calls a “scandalous” mistranslation of the Mass.  The defenders of this scandal have committed a great injustice by suggesting that traditionalists were disobedient to the Church for opposing it. Justice demands that those who were wrong in this matter admit they were wrong, not only for the benefit of those they falsely accused of disobedience, but for the many who have been misled by the counsel of these defenders of novelty—in this and so many other matters which have troubled the Church since the Council.

Both neo-Catholics and sedevacantists have reason to be nonplussed by this development on the pro multis question—the former because it shows that they are wrong (yet again) in their defense of non-binding novelties in the Church, and the latter because Pope Benedict’s reversal of this longstanding abuse could hardly be the act of an heretical anti-pope.  Meanwhile, Roman Catholic traditionalists will continue to remark the obvious and pray for the day when, under the leadership of the Pope—and let it be Pope Benedict, by all means—the Church puts behind her every one of the contingent novelties, abuses and pastoral blunders of the past forty years. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

[i]Catechism of the Council of Trent (Hawthorne, CA: Christian Book Club, 1829), p. 220.

[ii] The Pope, The Council and the Mass, p. 106.

[iii]Ibid., p. 103.

[iv]From Editor’s reply to traditionalist objection to “for all,” This Rock Magazine, at

[v] See “Quick Answer” by Jason Evert at