We have been told for years that Jesus died to save all people. In the Mass, we are told that he came to save “many.” Which is correct?
Jesus died to save all people. Anyone who says otherwise is guilty of material heresy—and I don’t say that lightly! Genuine heresy requires explicitly denying something the Catholic Church has formally defined as necessary for the faith. In Colossians 3:11, St. Paul wrote, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all” (see also 1 Tm 2:6; Rom 3:28; 8:32; 14:10; Col 1:20; and 1 Cor 15:28). Some translations render “all and in all” as “everything in all of you.”
I suspect the problem that some people have with saying “all” is that they think this wording affirms that all people are, in fact, guaranteed that they will be saved. Salvation is a gift that can be refused. Saying “all” does not deny that. Whoever thinks that here “many” means less than “all” should be ready to explain whom the saving death of Jesus excludes.
It is true that the official English translation of the Roman Missal’s third edition uses the expression many at the consecration of the Mass. Before that Missal was promulgated, Cardinal Francis Arinze, then prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, stated that this changed wording did not deny that Jesus died to save all people.
The incarnation of Jesus, which we celebrate in a special way this month, was for the benefit of the entire human family, a point that Matthew emphasizes by including the story of the Magi in his Gospel’s infancy narrative.