After the publication of a shorter essay entitled Per una moltitudine. Sulla traduzione delle parole eucaristiche, Francesco Pieri — lecturer at the Theology Faculty of Emilia-Romagna in Bologna — has returned to the same issue with this more substantial study.
In the Introduction (pp. 5-21), the author evokes the main steps that have marked the debate: the instruction Liturgiam authenticam (2001) which established the principle of a strict correspondence between the typical text of the liturgical books and their translations; the circular letter of the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (2006) to the presidents of the episcopal conferences specifically decreeing that the expression pro multis should be translated with the more literal «for many» instead of «for all», that had been adopted in many official translations; the letter of Pope Benedict XVI (2012) to the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, in which the Pope clearly expressed once more his thoughts on the subject. The work is divided into three parts.
The title of the first section takes its tack from a statement of the conciliar decree Ad Gentes 3: «For Many, that is, For All» (23-78). This section recalls the seriousness with which the translation «for all» was reached and put into the first edition of the Italian Missal, still in use today. In order to confirm that this choice was made after intense debate, the opinions of two eminent biblical exegetes are quoted: Max Zerwick (1970) and Albert Vanhoye (2010). Writing at different times, with forty years in between, both claimed the autonomy of philological and critical scriptural exegesis in respect to the previous theological-homiletical exegesis, which over the centuries had looked — within the institutional words pro vobis et pro multis — for the distinction between «sufficient grace» given to all, and «efficacious grace» that affects only those who will not refuse it. These two possible interpretations of pro multis are respectively called the inclusive and the exclusive approach.
Based on the principle of «literal correspondence», sanctioned by Liturgiam authenticam (2001) in clear discontinuity with the previous four general instructions issued by the same Congregation, the explicit request to translate the pro multis with «for many» intends to react against a false irenicism that risks to overlook the ethical commitment of everyone, with regards to one’s own salvation.
To meet the pressing requests of translating «for many», Pieri takes up the proposal — following what was previously suggested by Msgr. A. Catella at the Italian Bishops’ Conference — of adopting a «French» solution, using the formula «for the multitude» (or alternatively «for multitudes») as the only version capable of being faithful to the original as well as remaining true to the content. The Author also recalls that in France of 1967, in the proximity of the launching of the first official translation after Vatican II, an intellectual of the stature of Jacques Maritain did not hide his preference for the formula in the plural «pour des multitudes», judging that even formulas like «for a multitude» or «to a very large number» did not adequately represent the amplitude of the underlying Semitic original.
The second section, entitled «The Text and Its Readings» (79-146), deals with the translation of pro multis in properly exegetical terms. In particular, the Author wonders whether it is possible to translate a text without interpreting it; whether the criteria that govern the liturgical translation necessarily have to be the same as those that govern the translation of the Bible; whether it makes sense to advocate a unilateral verbalism that treats texts as if they were mathematical formulas. An overview follows on the developments of exegesis through the cultural periods.
While the Fathers of the Church moved freely across the textual and the homiletical interpretation, today’s exegetes, usually disregarding the latter, are concerned to identify what Jerome labeled as the «hebraica veritas». If those who contributed to the debate have widely taken into account the Fathers so that it is difficult to find a single one of these who has not been already mentioned, only a few have reviewed in detail the history of interpretation in the twentieth century. In doing so, Pieri managed to clear Joachim Jeremias of the heavy and repeated charges of being the first and only one responsible for the «semitical» — and therefore inclusive — interpretation, both for the Greek polloi as for the Latin multi. Despite being a staunch supporter and popularizer of this interpretation, Jeremias follows eminent commentators such as Knabenbauer, Lagrange, Joüon and Zorell, who are situated between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Under the title «Scientific Novelties?» Pieri examines, through a careful critical reading, the proposals by some scholars of the German language area who are particularly active in the debate: F. Prosinger, M. Hauke, and co-authors N. Baumert and M.I. Seewann (for the last two see the article published in Gregorianum 89  501-532).
In the third section, «From the Supper of Jesus to the Mass» (147-154), the Author recalls that, while waiting for the new Italian edition of the Missal, the revision of the translation of the words of institution is an especially favorable opportunity to free such a crucial text from an undue sacrificial emphasis that is foreign to the text itself. The reference is to the translation of the words over the bread which today render the expression quod pro vobis tradetur with an italian equivalent to «offered in sacrifice for you». «Determining that it is an addition — writes Pieri — does not question the doctrine of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, but the right and the opportunity itself of wanting to assert it in this context means an intervention that cannot be justified as a translation, neither literal nor interpretative, of the typical text, thus transforming a celebratory formula into what is rather a dogmatic formula» (147f.). In this respect I add my observation, noting that the decision to translate into Italian «offered in sacrifice for you» does not have any dogmatic motivation behind it, but derives simply from a school thesis concerned to protect the sacrificial autonomy of the Last Supper and the Mass, since both are to be identified in relation to the sacrifice of the Cross (cf. references in my book In unum corpus, 480f). Such a hidden thinking becomes particularly evident through the dismissed future connotation (quod tradetur), intentionally flattened in the Italian translation still being used to the present («offered in sacrifice», meaning «that is at present offered in sacrifice»).
The «Concluding remarks» (155-160), summing up the route taken and the proposals that emerged, is followed by an appendix of six documents, often cited but not always within the reach of the reader: (1) a speech by Paul VI to the Congress of translators of liturgical books (1965); (2) the instruction Comme le prévoit on the translation of liturgical books (1969); (3) some of the most relevant paragraphs of the instruction Liturgiam authenticam (2001); (4) the circular letter on the translation of pro multis (2006); (5) comparative tables of pro vobis et pro multis and similar wording taken from one of my essays concerning the Anaphoras of East and West (2007); (6) the Benedict XVI’s letter to the president of the German Bishops’ Conference (2012). The book ends with a comprehensive bibliography on the debate that since 2006 has affected not only exegetes and liturgists, but all scholars of theological disciplines. It can be assumed, with a considerable degree of reliability, that Francesco Pieri’s contribution will finally put an end to this heated debate.
C. Giraudo, in Gregorianum