Pod People: For how many did Jesus die?

For this week’s Crossroads podcast, I spoke with host Todd Wilken about media coverage of changes to the Roman Catholic liturgy. One of the things I keep reflecting on, and I know we shouldn’t praise that which should be done, is that I really do think the level of coverage was a good thing. So often we see major issues in the lives of religious adherents that are completely under the radar of many in the media.

In this case, we really did see an appropriate level of coverage, with both national and local takes. We’d be the first to harp on this if it were otherwise, so it’s important to point it out when it’s done well. Now, as for the quality of coverage, that’s another debate entirely. It was kind of fun or funny to watch how reporters tried to convince us that the words they themselves use in their stories are somehow above the heads of the average worshiper. Likewise the way that change — always presented as inherently good — was suddenly viewed with suspicion because the proponents of change were more traditional than the opponents. And the basic errors of fact that ran rampant throughout too many stories were also worth noting.

I did mean to highlight also this interesting piece by Louisville Courier-Journal‘s Peter Smith, who took on an actual theological issue in his coverage of the changes to the liturgy:

By saying Jesus died “for many” instead of “for all,” will Roman Catholic priests be proclaiming a different theology beginning this weekend — narrowing the extent to which they believe Jesus saved sinners?

No, say the pope and bishops, the official teaching authorities of the church.

Opponents of sweeping liturgical revisions that will take effect this weekend, already distrustful of the top-down process that led to the changes, aren’t so sure.

The change in wording is just one of many in the works.

As we reported earlier this fall, the revisions are the biggest since Catholics began having Mass in local languages rather than Latin decades ago. They take effect with Masses this weekend.

Controversies have ranged from the content — such as the use of more technical theological terms and the revival of symbolic penitential breast-beating — to the Vatican process for approving the revisions, which critics said overrode years of work by an English-language commission.

You may read the story for more discussion of the debate. I actually still had unanswered questions about the matter and would have loved to see much more coverage.

In any case, on Crossroads, we also briefly discussed the weaknesses of a couple of other stories, such as the ones about female altar girls and Mormon views on sex. You may listen here.

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  • Jerry

    Mollie, thanks for highlighting that story. I had totally missed that “many” versus “all” issue. I really liked the full exposition in that news story. I guess it really is possible to have a readable report about a theological issue in spite of what many in the media think. Sigh.

  • http://costlygrace.blogspot.com The_Archer_of_the_Forest

    Wasn’t the old liturgy using “For All”, at least in the Catholic usage? Does the new liturgy say “for many”? I haven’t looked that closely at it, since I am an Anglican priest and not Roman Catholic.

    My issue with that “for all” usage (which is becoming trendy in the Episcopal Church) is that in all the institution narratives in the Gospels, Jesus always says “for many.” He never says “for all.” There is a Koine Greek word for ‘many’ and there is a Greek word for ‘all,’ and Jesus never says ‘for all’ in the Last Supper narratives.

    And so for the Eucharist prayer to put the direct words of Jesus in quotation marks and say, “Jesus said, ‘I die for you and for all’ is a blatant misquotation of what the gospels say.

    Now, if you want to paraphrase and say, “Jesus died for you and for all,” then I think that’s more theologically acceptable. But to directly and intentionally misquote Jesus is theologically and ethically wrong. And it is something I refuse to do.

  • fr john w fenton

    Perhaps Peter Smith’s question arose from looking at the USCCB website. Other journalists apparently did not consult the official statements of those producing the new translation, but simply offered reports based on anecdotal evidence. That seems to be the trend in much reporting–religious or otherwise. Perhaps this observation (double entendre intended) is yet more evidence of post-modernism.

    In either case, for those interested <a href=http://usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/roman-missal/frequently-asked-questions/six-questions-on-the-translation-of-pro-multis.cfmhere is the Catholic bishops’ answer to the translation of pro multis.

  • fr john w fenton

    Let me try that again:

    In either case, for those interested here is the Catholic bishops’ answer to the translation of pro multis.

  • Dan

    The Louisville Courier-Journal article was quite good I’d say. How refreshing it is to read something that is accurate, presents the Church’s side of a controversy in the Church’s own terms, and contains no gratuitous left-wing-oriented slams on the Church. (The latter thing – gratuitous slams (and at times a casual, almost unconscious anti-Catholicism) – is what I think most upsets many Catholics about the New York Times’ “news” coverage of the Catholic Church. Its failure to present the Church’s proclamations in the Church’s own terms is a more substantive failure however, in my judgment (particularly when reporting on what the Pope is saying).)

  • Matt

    I agree this is a good article, and I’ll allow that it makes sense for only Catholic theologians to be quoted. On the other hand, my Reformed mind sees the real question to be not the meaning of “all/many” but the meaning of “for”.

    We Calvinists believe that Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all but only efficient for those who are saved. That is, its value is enough to save all, but its actual effect is to save only some. And while Calvinists come in for some criticism for the way we express this doctrine, it seems to me that most Christians (including Catholics) actually believe it.

    So the real question is what do you mean by “Jesus died for”? Do you mean who could potentially be saved, or who is actually saved? I was a little frustrated that this side of the issue was not mentioned, but I don’t know if that is a fault of the reporter, or if it is just not a side of the issue that Catholics tend to discuss.

  • Matt

    Of course, when I say “I was a little frustrated”, I’m treating this as a theological discussion rather than as a mainstream news article. I heartily agree that this is an extraordinarily thorough discussion of the issue for the MSM, and kudos to the reporter.

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    Two things… one is about “for many” vs “for all” — I think the right way to interpret what Jesus meant was this: “…shed for you disciples, and not just you who are here with me tonight, but a whole lot of others as well.” And this instead of what those opposed to “for many” would have us think, namely, “not for everyone.”

    The other pertains to the appreciation of change, which really struck me as a I read. It is funny — if the Vatican wanted to change things and permit barefoot prancing waifs in pink tutus waiving Hindu incense burners during MAss, that would be ok. If the Vatican permitted priests to make up the words for the whole Mass on the fly, that would be ok. We should be docile to all manner of changes in poster, words, ceremony, practice, decor, decorum, and regulation — but if we change the words to be more faithful to the Latin, watch out!!

    Well. I would be all for not changing the translation if THEY would stop changing things to suit themselves.

    As it is, I happened to go to Mass today, my first with the new translation (I normally go to a tradition Latin Mass). The priest was as mediocre as ever, but the words really made a difference. I still prefer Latin, but this is a major step forward to regaining beauty, reverence, and mystery at the Mass.

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    Matt, as a Catholic theologian I can say that the many/all distinction is close to what you say in Catholic theology. The fact is, if Jesus skinned His knee as a kid (not likely, but that’s only a pious opinion), the blood shed would have been sufficient to save an infinite number of universes full of fallen rational beings–it is infinitely efficacious at least in power. On the other hand, the sad fact is, not everyone will benefit from that saving power, so the efficacy will not extend to all.

    Where I think we might diverge is in the cause of the inability of some to benefit from Jesus’ sacrifice. But the upshot is the same: The power and perhaps opportunity is “for all” but only “many” will end up benefiting.

    And see my post just above on this. I don’t think Jesus’ use of “many” necessarily expresses His intent, but His foreknowledge — it should not be read as exclusive, but as inclusive of more than just the disciples.

    (in that post, “poster” should be posture…)

  • Ben Dunlap

    @The_Archer_of_the_Forest: Here’s a quick overview since there are so many meanings of “old” and “new” in this discussion. Sorry if I’m saying stuff you already know.

    The Latin text of the Mass has “pro multis”. To my knowledge this has been the case for as long as there has been a Latin liturgy. Certainly St. Thomas attests it in the 13th century, and I’m sure there are much older witnesses I’m not specifically aware of, precisely because of the biblical resonance you mention. These two particular words did not change in 1969 when the Latin liturgy was significantly overhauled — and the 1969 revision of the Latin is what’s usually meant when you hear about the “old mass” vs. the “new mass”.

    BUT, the English-language translation produced in 1973 rendered “pro multis” as “for all” (as did a number of other translations, I believe). So in terms of last weekend’s change, the “old mass” (i.e., the now-defunct English translation of the “new” Latin mass) did say “for all”.

    The new English translation we just started using has “for many”, which syncs it up with the Latin again.

  • Jimmy Mac

    We all know that He died for only 144,000 – and most of them will be clerics.

  • Matt

    @AuthenticBioethics, I agree that “many” should be interpreted as an inclusive word, not an exclusive one. That’s a good way to put it.

  • Will

    Todd, “female altar girls”? As opposed to “female altar BOYS?” Or was there just a release from the Congregation of Redundancy Congregation?


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