Saturday, November 19, 2011

'For you and for many' (Homily 5 on new Mass translation)

Next week, as you know, we begin using
the new translation of the Mass.
Today I want to look at the one change
that I know has a lot of people talking.
If it’s misunderstood, which will be easy to do,
it will cause some concern.

In the Eucharistic Prayer,
we are all familiar with the words the priest says,
when he holds the cup of wine:
“this is the cup of my blood—
the blood of the new and everlasting covenant,
it will be shed for you…”

In the outgoing translation, it goes on to say,
“…and for all.”
In the new translation, it says, “for you and for many.”

That certainly raises a lot of questions.
There’s more going here, so let’s dig into it.

We have to go back to the Scriptures to understand this.
The fact is, this is what the Gospels say
Jesus said at the Last Supper.

Listen to what Matthew wrote,
which we read on Palm Sunday:
“this is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’”
The Gospel of Mark has very similar words.

Now, some might ask,
are the words in the Bible, in Greek,
hard to translate? Is the Latin of the Mass prayers ambiguous?
They really aren’t.

And, for those who are interested in more detail on this,
I prepared a handout which is in the bulletin today.

But before we go any further,
let’s stop and realize why it is that “many”
sounds bad to us.
It’s only because we’re contrasting it with “all.”

If at first I tell you, you get to have “all” the cookies—
but then I tell you, no, you get to have “many”—
that sounds like a step down.

But take the word “all” out of the picture.
If the word “all” had never been used in the first place,
there’s no reason for “many” to sound bad to us.
Because the natural and logical counterpoint to “many” is what? How about “few”?

And that is the very question—regarding salvation—
that comes up so often in Scripture!

At one point, the disciples asked:
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
That was what everyone was asking:
is salvation only for a handful?
Can only the rich be saved?
Can only the Jews be saved? Is it only a few?

And the Lord’s words at the Last Supper are his rebuttal:
“for many.”

Even so, the Lord could have said “all.” So, why didn’t he?

First, while it is true that Jesus’ death
is available for all people, if they respond,
that doesn’t mean all people are guaranteed heaven.

The Gospel we heard is pretty stark:
if we don’t live as Jesus commands,
we risk being sent to the Lord’s left—with the goats.

We have no idea who or how many will,
ultimately, be saved.
It’s certainly less concerning
if we assume salvation is easy,
and everyone, or nearly everyone, makes it.
That’s the downside of the translation we’ve been using.
In any case, whoever is saved, it won’t be “few”!
Many times the Lord makes clear
that they will come from
“east and west, north and south.”
The “many” will be vast number;
the Book of Revelation says an uncountable multitude.

But there’s something more here.
One of the things the Lord was mindful of
was the Old Testament passages that foresaw
his coming as Messiah.

And none are more vivid than what Isaiah said
about God’s “servant,” “the just one,”
whose suffering and death “shall justify the many.”
This phrase appears several times in Isaiah’s prophecies.

In other words, this is about fulfilling those prophecies.
Not only did the Lord himself know the prophecies—
he realized his disciples knew them too.

He was extremely mindful,
especially on Holy Thursday and Good Friday,
of how his actions would fulfill those passages.

Recall when Peter pulled out his sword, Jesus said,
“Put back your sword…
Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father
and he will not provide me
with more than twelve legions of angels?
But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled
which say that it must come to pass in this way?”

So at the Last Supper, the Lord was determined
that even his choice of words
should fulfill the words of Isaiah.
Ever the Good Shepherd,
Jesus wanted us not to have the least cause for doubt
that he is truly our Messiah!
As we say in the Creed: “in fulfillment of the Scriptures.”

This is our last weekend using the old translation.
When you come to Mass next weekend,
you’ll hear it all the first time,
and we’ll all pray the it together for the first time.
It will sound somewhat different, and for awhile,
that’s what we’ll notice. But it’s the same Mass.

Remember, the Lord said,
“do this in remembrance of me.”
In the end, we are attempting, as best we can,
to carry out the Mass faithfully.

Faithful to what the Church teaches us,
faithful to prayers that were handed down
from the early Church,
faithful to the texts of the Bible,
and faithful even to Jesus’ own choice of words.

Sometimes—as in this case—
we find the Lord’s words jarring.
But we don’t paper them over.
We recall just what he said, the way he said it.

If they make us ponder, so much the better.

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