Part of my Lenten journey this year has been to travel in the company of Pope Benedict – I set out to read through his latest work, Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two.
In so many ways, it is an astonishing book. The Holy Father sees our faith on so many different levels, and has a gift in being able to explain it clearly and compellingly. Every few pages there is a fresh insight that causes me to stop and pause to digest it. Pope Benedict has been an excellent companion to me this Lent.
One of the most startling passages in the book came amidst his discussion of the Last Supper. First, a little background. There has been a long-standing controversy about the words of Consecration in the current English translation of the Roman Rite. The prayer over the chalice in Latin says that the Lord’s blood was shed “pro multis”, which is the same phrase used in Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels (in Luke and First Corinthians, the phrase attributed to the Lord is “for you”). That phrase means, literally, “for many”. In the current English translation, the phrase “pro multis” is rendered as “for all”. In the new translation, which we will begin to use this Advent, the phrase “pro multis” is correctly translated as “for many”.
Pope Benedict unpacks what he calls the “extraordinary theological depth” of the words of the Lord over the chaliceThere is a This is all very interesting, and I found it both illuminating and enriching.
But what was arresting to me in that discussion had nothing to do with the theological depth of the words “all” or “many”. Instead, it was the startling things that Pope Benedict wrote about the humble word “for”:
Recent theology has rightly underlined the use of the word “for” in all four accounts [of the institution of the Eucharist], a word that may be considered the key not only to the Last Supper accounts, but to the figure of Jesus overall. His entire being is expressed by the word “pro-existence” — he is there, not for himself, but for others. This is not merely a dimension of his existence, but its innermost essence and its entirety. His very being is a “being-for”. If we are able to grasp this, then we have truly come close to the mystery of Jesus, and we have understood what discipleship is.
All that, from a simple preposition.