My Liturgical Bête Noire

I’m a man of strong liturgical positions, as you may have noticed, but the first among them, the thing that really chars my toast, that makes my blood boil, involves a modern [mis]representation of the eucharistic words of institution (the words that Jesus is reported to have said at the Last Supper, which the church repeats at communion services).

Many recent liturgical texts report that Jesus said over the cup of wine, “This is my blood which is shed for you and for all, for the forgiveness of sins.” That vexes me because no ancient source at our disposal reports that Jesus said that. The Greek texts of the relevant gospel passages say “poured out for many” (Matthew 26:28 and Mark 14:24), “poured out for you” (Luke 22:20), “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:25); nowhere does a New Testament text ascribe the words “for all” to Jesus at this occasion. Nor, for that matter, did the traditional Latin Mass (“pro multis,” not “pro omnibus”), nor the Anglican Prayerbook tradition (“for many”). The Greek-speaking Orthodox tradition has always used the word that the Gospels scribe to Jesus, pollôn, “many.”

Now, if the liturgical prayer formulators would punctuate that differently, so as not to ascribe their “for all” to Jesus, that would be one story (and it would fit what I knock myself out trying to teach my students about proper use of sources). I’m not arguing that Christ’s death was not “for all” (though the simple claim is worth some carefully nuanced articulation), just that if you claim to be quoting him (“Again he gave thanks to you, gave it to them, and said:” — pretty tough to avoid the conclusion that this ascribes subsequent words, or their ancient equivalent*, to the speaker). No, the fact that this appears in a prayer does not render the rhetoric and punctuation of direct quotation somehow ambiguous. If he didn’t say it, don’t say he did. This, by the way, seems to be the reasoning of Cardinal Arinze, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; the Congregation recently instructed Roman Catholics to adhere to the “for many” formulation, correcting the modern misrepresentation of these words.

Cardinal Arinze points out that “ ‘For many’ is a faithful translation of pro multis, whereas ‘for all’ is rather an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis,” and “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 one’s 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.”

I would not, ordinarily, have cut loose with this point on a random day, save that I happened to notice that the proposed Anglican Covenant refers to “the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with the unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution” [my emphasis, but a direct quotation from the proposed Covenant; that is, a direct quotation in the non-liturgical sense].


* Sometimes smart people point out that it can’t be Jesus’ own words anyway, since we’re saying them in English. Well, yes, but if translation permits us deliberately to ascribe to others words for which there’s weighty evidence that they did not say, then the whole business no longer pertains. And if you want to argue that it’s a more appropriate translation, let’s see the evidence — evidence that had better outweigh the fact that the gospel writers chose a Greek word which corresponds to “many” rather than the word (that they knew perfectly well and used often in other contexts) that means “all.”
Continue reading “My Liturgical Bête Noire

Well, Maybe Kinda

A week or so ago, I was interviewed by C|Net’s Daniel Terdiman for a story about the new extension of World of Warcraft online game. I was very positively impressed by his careful attention to what I said, the points I thought I were worth highlighting.

I got an email the other day from the Northwestern [University] News Network, too; a reporter from the network wanted to talk to me about online games. The story was posted yesterday, and although it doesn’t misrepresent my part in any vital way, it seems to miss the high standard Terdiman set.

Home Stretch

Today’s the second of two days devoted to Margaret’s dissertation topic, a reconsideration of the theology of hope in light of critical theory, nihilism, and Thomas Aquinas (it’s much more coherent than that sounds, but I’m hurrying). Tomorrow morning she’ll hand in this exam, and will be done until her oral defense on March 2.

It’s an all-day faculty conference here at Seabury, so although I’ll be benefiting from the pedagogical counsel of our friend Richard Ascough, I won’t be free to just unwind and decompress from the very intense weeks Seabury’s been cultivating. Just so’s you know.

Further on Authenticity, Race, and Music

I’ve blogged before about the problems relative to un-nuanced judgments relative to race and music, most recently in relation to my search for the “Young Caucasians” clip from Saturday Night Live.

At the time, I didn’t think to link this to Michelle Shocked’s long, tireless devotion to the problem of race and music. She’s spent more time working through this topic both in performance and in theory than anyone I can think of (cf. the album notes to Arkansas Traveler). So, when she stands at the front of the choir of the Church of God in Christ Church in West Los Angeles — well, what’s the authenticity quotient?

It would be tough to convince me that that’s not the real thing; but then, I’m inclined to believe Michelle Shocked about almost anything (except copyright, but that’s another story).


It is Reading Week at Seabury. Even with an all-day faculty meeting tomorrow, that is such a relief that I feel ten years younger (sadly, as Pippa would quickly remind me, that doesn’t enable me to feel as though I weigh what I did ten years ago, but I’m not complaining).

The weather report indicates a thaw for this week, with several days reaching well over freezing, and several days of rain (to wash away the tired old snow). It’s almost summer!

Sunday Morning and Saturday Night

This morning’s presentation in honor of Robert Brawley went well, I think; it was a shame that more people couldn’t have made it out to Bourbonnais, but the speakers made clear our admiration for Robert and his work. My observations on postmodernism as the context for Robert’s scholarship were well received, and the audience even found a musing a line that I hadn’t intended to elicit mirth (I’ll have to think about that).

And the night before, Pippa went to the Mardi Gras party at St. Luke’s (held on a Saturday, but nonetheless not called “Samedi Gras”):

Samedi Gras

I was not so well-dressed at my occasion; I should’ve checked with Pippa to see what she thought of The Postmodern Condition relative to Text to Text Pours Forth Speech.

Digital Seabury, Post Two

Earlier I suggested a selection of posts that pertain to the difference it would make for an institution of theological higher education to emigrate to digitally-indigenous teaching. Today’s blog from David Weinberger relative to his consulting visit to NPR (summarized by Jeff Jarvis, to whom I haven’t had a good excuse for linking in a long time, Hi Jeff!) raises, in a different venue, an array of topics that could provoke an established institution to rethink its mission in more digitally-coherent ways.


This morning is Margaret’s third preliminary exam, the one on comparative literature and critical theory (she’s concentrating on nihilism). This is the last of the closed-room exams; after this one, she has a two-day take-home exam on her dissertation topic.

Send a few supportive thoughts her way, give her spirit a boost as she churns through this phase of the academic gauntlet. She’s coming around the bend, into the home stretch, and we’re cheering her on. Come on, sweetheart!

[After the exam: First reports are positive. Now, for the two-day take-home exam on her special area of concentration!]

Reviewing the Situation

Pippa’s starring in the chorus of the local homeschool production of Oliver!. OK, she’s in the chorus. But a couple of weeks ago, she was awarded the vital role of the Night Watchman.

On that account she gets a line. It goes: “Murder! Murder!”

I, being a diligent homeschool parent, have been working with her on her line. I cue her: “How’s your part going? Think you have a handle on your part?” I try to help her get into her character. “What do you think the Night Watchman’s motivations are? What’s his backstory? How old is he? Does he even have a name?”

For some reason, Pippa seems unimpressed by these considerations.

Those Who Don’t Remember

Tripp was querying me about history, historicism, texts, and ancient credulity. He called my attention to Paul Cantor’s article at the Claremont Review of Books — an article I found very impressive, though I applied the brakes at the sentence, “Historicists always stress the integrity of a culture and treat it as a seamless whole, set apart from the rest of the world,” a sentence that casts the rest of the argument in doubt. The point is not an oversimplified generalization about what historicists always do, but the rare and extraordinary circumstances in which cultural production demonstrably attains a currency and affective power across the boundaries of cultural difference. Let’s not a write a check we can’t cash by saying that this or that work attains universality; we don’t need to. And sometimes historicists overestimate cultural seamlessness, but more often they attend to the complexities of how cultures determine meaning, and how meaning resounds beyond the cultural limits we might anticipate. (Speaking as a biblical theologian and a defender of a traditionalist-classicist approach to liturgy, I’m vigorously in favor both of attending to ancient texts both in their antiquity and of allowing that they may harbor dimensions that bespeak an unanticipated contemporaneity.)

This came up partly in response to Tripp’s having heard from someone about how foolishly credulous people were in the ancient world — so I pointed him to Lucian’s “On Sacrifices” and Plutarch’s (warning! subsequent link leads to a PDF) “De Superstitione.” And of course, to illustrate the foolish credulity of twenty-first century people, there’s always Fox News.