ROME, 24 JULY 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: A question has come up regarding the use of the word "sin" in the
Gloria and "sins" in the Agnus Dei. Would you please explain the
theological reason for this?
S.G., Colorado Springs, Colorado
A: I would be at a loss to explain the theological reason for this
difference for the simple reason that I don't believe there is much
The difference is in the translation, not in the original Latin. The
Latin in all three cases (counting the "This is the Lamb of God" that is
said by the celebrant) uses the same plural form "peccata mundi."
There is a discussion among the experts as to the best translation of
this formula. Some sustain that it is best translated as a simple plural
"sins." Others render it as an abstract singular "sin," meaning the
totality of sin in the world.
This difference is seen in some other versions. The Italian missal
translates the expressions each time as sins, "i peccati," whereas the
Spanish conveys it as sin, "el pecado."
The first translation is perhaps closer to the literal sense and, being
more concrete, it tends to includes not only the sins but in some way
also refers to the sinners.
The second translation might lay greater stress on the universal and
even cosmological effects of redemption, in the sense that Christ's
death and resurrection has also restored a certain sense of order to
creation itself. It could be said that all things are recapitulated in
Christ, to use an expression of St. Paul (Ephesians 1:10) which was
later theologically developed by St. Ireneus of Lyon.
Both translations, however, essentially express the same underlying
reality. It may be that the English translators Solomonically divided
their options. But it might also mean no more than that different people
were responsible for different parts of the missal and never got
together to iron out the creases.
The most important thing is that Christ, the Lamb of God who died and
rose for us, is the source of all salvation and has the power to
effectively take away our sins, and all sin from the world. This power
is exercised above all through the sacraments, especially the
re-enactment of his paschal sacrifice that is the holy Mass.
* * *
Follow-up: Gloria's "Sin" and Agnus Dei's "Sins"
Pursuant to our debate (July 24) on whether the Latin "peccata mundi"
should be translated "sin" or "sins" of the world, an Indian priest from
Mumbai sent in the following reflection (excerpted here) which I gladly
"There has always been confusion among quite a few on the singular and
the plural aspect of sin. The English text of Scripture, which is
faithful to the original, always uses the singular aspect of sin when it
talks of the role of Agnus Dei (John 1:29,36).
"There is a sin which is referred to in the singular sense and there are
sins which plurally mean the many areas of sins we as human beings
commit. The singular normally refers to the original sin committed by
our first parents and now through conception passed on to us.
"Christ Jesus came into the world to destroy this work of the devil (1
John 3:8), that is,
1) The darkness of evil that prevents us to have a right knowledge of
God. Jesus repairs this flaw by revealing to us God as Abba Father and
giving us his Spirit that bears witness with our spirit, even calling
God Abba Father.
2) His shedding of blood and death is that ransom taking us out from the
kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of his beloved. This for us is the
beginning of a new life sealed with Christ's life in baptism that has to
now struggle against the concupiscence of sin.
"The proclamation of the Gospel is an invitation to faith and
reconciliation and is made complete through baptism. The sacraments,
especially of reconciliation, are primarily our constant struggle
against the concupiscence of sin. This is where the dividing line of sin
and sins diminishes, where ultimately they are one reality."