Is Christ’s Blood Offered for Many or for All?

By Clement Harrold

When Pope Benedict XVI authorized a series of corrections to the English translation of the Mass in 2010, one of the changes which raised more eyebrows than most was the alteration made to the words of institution over the Precious Blood. The new translation from the Latin reads:


Three novel elements distinguished this prayer from the translation which had been used across the English-speaking world since 1998. First, the word “chalice” was substituted for the previous word choice of “cup.” Secondly, the language of “poured out” was inserted in place of “shed.” Finally, and most controversially, the language of “for all” was updated to “for many.” But why on earth would the Church take this step of seemingly downgrading the impact of Christ’s sacrifice?

At the most basic level, Pope Benedict wanted the text changed from “for all” to “for many” because the former was a blatant mistranslation which had wrongly been allowed to stand for over two decades. In Latin, the phrase is “pro multis,” which means “for many,” and this is itself based on the Greek formulation found on the lips of Jesus in the New Testament. The Greek word used is pollōn (see Mt 26:28), which again means “many,” not “all.”

At a deeper level, we should remember that when Jesus speaks at the Last Supper about offering up His Blood for many, He does so in fulfillment of one of Isaiah’s important prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah in the form of a suffering servant: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Is 53:11). This message will later be echoed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which speaks of Christ “having been offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:28).

Clearly, then, this language of Christ’s victory on the cross being fruitful “for many” is deeply biblical. But it is essential to recognize that this is not in conflict with God’s desire to see every single one of His beloved creatures arrive at the fullness of salvation. As Scripture clearly affirms, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all” (2 Cor 5:14). Even more forcefully, the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares: “Christ died for all men without exception: ‘There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer’” (§605).

Make no mistake: the saving work of Jesus Christ has a universal value which all men are invited to participate in. Nevertheless, it is a fact of life that some people will freely choose to reject God’s offer of salvation. Hence, while there is a sense in which Christ’s blood is poured out for all people, it is also important to read the prayer in context: “. . . which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness of sins is what the divine outpouring of love is aimed at. Tragically, however, there are those souls who will fail to accept that forgiveness. This is a sobering reality. As human beings, our free will is an enormous gift, but that gift comes attached with profound responsibilities.

For good reason, then, the Scriptures repeatedly warn us that we have the ability to nullify the effects of Christ’s sacrifice on our souls. The U.S. Catholic Bishops explain:

It is a dogmatic teaching of the Church that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women (cf. John 11:52; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2). 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 ones own 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.

The simple truth is that Scripture uses language of both “all” and “many” when talking about Christ’s work. He desires to save all; but it is the many, not the all, who will respond to that desire.

In her liturgy, the Church opts for the language of many because it is the language Christ Himself uses at the Last Supper. One of the positive effects of this language is that it helps remind us that the Cross is not a magical formula which automatically saves us. Rather, the Cross is a salvific work which we are called to participate in as Christians, so that the Blood of Christ might be poured into our hearts for the forgiveness of sins.

Clement Harrold is a graduate student in theology at the University of Notre Dame. His writings have appeared in First ThingsChurch Life JournalCrisis Magazine, and the Washington Examiner. He earned his bachelor's degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2021.

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