Letter from Fr. David
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week I began what will over the course of this year be a series of articles on the Mass. I began with the fundamental question “What is the Mass?” and I offered a few simple thoughts on the question. Admittedly I phrased my answer in the typical sound bite form of the modern age – something like a series of texts or tweets I suppose – but hopefully those short and sweet points, as well as those that will be forthcoming, are enough to whet your appetite for greater understanding on the subject of the Mass. That is my goal here, to crack open up a world that might otherwise remain unknown to some of you.
Let me now move on to the second fundamental question:
Q. What does the word “Mass” mean and where does it come from?
A. Much like the etymology of names sheds light on our personal ancestry and identity, the origin and meaning of the word Mass can help us Catholics to better understand who we are and what we do every Sunday.
Dictionary.com simply defines the word Mass as “the celebration of the Eucharist”.
Wikipedia.org offers this further explanation:
“The term ‘Mass’ is derived from the Late Latin ‘missa’ (dismissal), a word used in the
concluding formula of Mass in Latin: ‘Ite, missa est’ (‘Go, it is the dismissal’)”. “‘In
antiquity, ‘missa’ simply meant ‘dismissal’. In Christian usage, however, it gradually took
on a deeper meaning. The word ‘dismissal’ has come to imply a ‘mission’. These few
words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church.” – from the letter The
Sacrament of Charity by Pope Benedict XVI.
Let me now highlight a few summary thoughts on the word ‘Mass’.
Mass is the English form of the Latin word ‘Missa’.
Other terms instead of ‘Mass’ have been used throughout Christian history to describe it, including but not limited to: the Breaking of the Bread, the New Passover or Pasch, the Lamb’s Supper, the Celebration of the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice, and the Sacred Liturgy. In common parlance today Latin Rite Catholics most often use the word Mass.
The word ‘Mass’ itself occurs only once during the celebration, and that at the very end with the dismissal “Go forth, the Mass is ended” or in Latin “Ite, Missa est.”
The fact that the word ‘Mass’ is derived from the word ‘dismissal’ is significant. As Pope Benedict said, the term ‘Mass’ itself reminds us that we are a people constantly on mission and that the whole purpose of the Mass is to prepare us for mission.
“Go, the Mass is ended” echoes the words of Jesus on the Cross “It is finished / accomplished”. Therefore Jesus’ death on Calvary is sometimes described as the first Mass, or rather the completion of the first Mass (it began at the Last Supper).
The ‘It’ accomplished by Jesus’ ‘Mass’ on Calvary is his complete offering of himself out of love for his Father and love for us. Therefore the word ‘Mass’ can also signify a self-emptying sacrificial offering, what we would call pure, perfect, redemptive love.
Stay tuned for our next episode, “What did Vatican II really teach us about the Mass?”………
Go, this article is ended…………………… “Thanks be to God!”