Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Rite of Institution, Part 2: Pro Multis

Perhaps the most controversial change in the entirety of the new translation is a change of one word in the rite of institution.

Here's the second half of the rite of institution:
In a similar way, when supper was ended,
he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples, saying:

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 from you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.
In our translation currently, we say "the blood of the new and eternal covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven." Now, instead of "all", we're using "many". Big, big change.

Here's the explanation I found on the US Catholic Conference of Bishops' website:
When you think of who Jesus chose to die for, it should be all. That's his intention, as we believe it. Jesus did die for everyone.

But "many" is a more accurate translation of the scripture passages from which this line comes. It also recognizes the fact that Jesus' action alone does not save us. We have to accept the invitation offered and participate in our own salvation.

In the abstract, all very well and good. But let's read it again:

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 from you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.


If you ask me, the new translation does not read as though Jesus is saying people have to choose or have to participate. The statement concerns rather who his sacrifice is for or what it will accomplish -- either way, his sense of purpose. "Many" is scripturally accurate, yet I know of no accepted, orthodox theologians today who would say that Jesus didn't come for everyone. Gospel texts make a point of showing him reaching out to non-Jews, to those on the margins, to sinners and those who were culturally taboo. At the crucifixion he calls on God even to forgive his murderers. When even those who reject him or do him violence are accepted, who practically speaking is not included in his "many"? Few or none, I would say.

Bottom line, the rite of institution is not a moment in which we as Church should imply some are in and some are out. Frankly, I'd say it's not a moment which should be tampered with at all; changing the language, particularly in this way, will only create conflicts and "sides" that distract from this radical offer of Christ's love. Unintentionally or no, it politicizes, destabilizes a sacred moment. Not a good idea.

We've also decided cup is no longer appropriate, we must say "chalice". To my mind, this show the translators playing a bit of fast and loose. Does any of us actually think at the Last Supper Jesus spoke about "chalices"? But there you go.

1 comment:

god googler said...

All I can say about the current changes to those who propose them and to all who care about young people being absent from our pews is one simple sentence:

"Yep, changing all the words is clearly the answer to why only 10-20 percent of people under 40 aren't showing up."

Words are, of course, important, and ritual moreso. I wish they'd spend some time teaching people how to preach and preside more effectively than just a simple word change here and there.