Forgiveness of ‘many’ or ‘all’? – Divorce, remarriage and Communion

By Father Kenneth Doyle

Question Corner

Q. During Mass, at the consecration of the wine, the priest says, "for the forgiveness of many." Why not "for the forgiveness of all"? (Northampton, Pennsylvania)
A. I should start by saying that it is clearly the teaching of the church that Jesus suffered and died for all men and women. That is attested to in several different scriptural passages (Jn 11:52; 2 Cor 5:14-15; Ti 2:11; 1 Jn 2:2).
In the official English-language edition of the Order of the Mass (in use since 1973), the priest, while consecrating the wine, had said, "which will be shed for you and for all."
But in 2006, in a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, the Vatican explained that a more accurate translation of the Latin words "pro multis" would be "for many" and directed that subsequent translations should reflect that newer wording.
So when the current English version of the Roman Missal was published in 2011, that change was made. This language is not meant to denote any narrowing of the saving action of Christ.
Instead, it repeats more faithfully the wording used in the Last Supper narratives in the Gospels of Matthew (26:28) and Mark (14:24) and, as the 2006 Vatican letter explains, reflects the fact that the salvation won by Jesus is not automatically applied to everyone.
As the letter says, "This salvation is not brought about in some mechanistic way, without one's 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 in the 'many' to whom the text refers."
Q. My brother was married in the Catholic Church but got divorced many years ago. Since then, he has not received holy Communion, although he goes to Mass every week. He also got remarried (not, of course, in the Catholic Church -- he hadn't had his first marriage annulled), but he and his second wife are no longer living together.
My question is this: Since he is no longer living as a married person, couldn't he just go to confession and then be able to receive the Eucharist? (Miami)
A. Your brother was correct in not receiving holy Communion; the fact of his second marriage -- outside the Catholic Church -- did make him ineligible to take the Eucharist.
The divorce by itself did not take away the chance for Communion. A fair number of people think -- unfortunately -- that a divorce itself has that effect; that is untrue -- in fact, sometimes a divorce can occur with little, or even no, responsibility on the part of one of the spouses; and even a spouse who bears major responsibility for the breakup of a marriage can go to confession and be absolved.
But a marriage outside the church does remove the chance of receiving holy Communion; the reception of the Eucharist implies that a person recognizes and accepts what the church teaches, including the church's guidelines on marriage.
So what can your brother do now, since he is no longer living with his second wife? Well, if that second marital relationship is really over, you are right -- he can, and should, see a priest for confession.
He should explain to the priest his circumstances (the fact of the second marriage), ask forgiveness and be absolved. Then he would be ready to return to the nourishing presence of Christ in holy Communion.
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.