By FATHER KENNETH DOYLE
Q. Why was the wording of the blessing of the wine at Mass changed from "for you and for all" to "for you and for many"? Didn't Christ die for all of us? Can you please shed some much-needed light on this confused Catholic? (Radford, Virginia)
A. You are absolutely right that Jesus died on behalf of all of us. That truth is manifest in various scriptural passages, such as 2 Corinthians 5:15: "He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."
But you are also correct that, since the current English text of the Mass was introduced in 2011, the priest now says when consecrating the wine: "This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins." That change had been directed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, to be applied to all subsequent translations of the words of consecration.
Why the change? To make the prayer more faithful to the words of Jesus at the Last Supper in the accounts of Matthew and Mark: "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many" (Mk 14:24).
It also reflects the fact that the salvation won by Jesus for the sake of all is not applied automatically; it requires that to attain eternal life each individual must, to the extent of his or her understanding, accept and live in the grace won by Christ.
Q. Jesus told many stories about God's willingness to forgive our sins -- like the story of the prodigal son. But he also said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father" (Mt 7:21).
And in the account of the king who gave a great banquet, but the invited guests declined to come, Jesus says at the end, "Many are invited, but few are chosen." How do we know if we are among the "few" or the "many"? (Louisville, Kentucky)
A. First, as to the scriptural verse "Many are invited, but few are chosen" (Mt 22:14): A common view among scriptural scholars is that the passage is not meant to forecast the relative proportion of those who will be saved.
Instead, it indicates in its context that relatively few of the Israelites of Christ's time would choose to follow Jesus and that his message would then be offered to the gentiles. (Some commentators also note that the relative harshness of the passage is a rhetorical and pedagogical technique on Christ's part to highlight the centrality of his teaching.)
But as to the crux of your question -- how can we be sure that we're among those who will be saved? The answer is that we can never be certain. All we can do is trust in Christ's teaching and make a decent effort to respond appropriately in faith and in conduct.
Personally, I am comforted by such passages as 1 Timothy 2:4, where Paul says that God "wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of truth." I have always felt that, in the end, most people will make it to heaven. Otherwise, why would God have decided to create us all if the whole enterprise is destined for failure?
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.