Thursday, October 22

The Mass and "Catholic"

What does the term “Mass” mean? Why do Christians not simply say “service”? Mass is a medieval English coinage derived from the Latin rite's words of dismissal: Ite, missa est ("Go, it is ended"). The Latin word Missa appears quite early in Christian literature as a synonym for eucharistic (communion) rites as part of a church service. For example, St. Ambrose of Milan used it casually in a letter to his sister Marcellina, at Easter in A.D. 386. In the midst of riots and the arrival of imperial soldiers, Ambrose retorted, "I kept to my duty and began to say Mass" [missam facere caepi]. What of the term “Catholic”? Why do they not call themselves “Christian”? The Church has essentially always called itself Catholic, even in New Testament times. St. Ignatius (disciple of St. John, of the twelve) was the first to call the Church "Catholic" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8). If Revelation was finished by around AD 95, this reference is very close to the last book of the New Testament, as the Letter to the Smyrnaens was written between AD 95-107. One would presume that St. Ignatius learned the term from his mentor John.

How do we know that Mass is today what the early Christians had? Well, Justin Martyr (AD 155, within 50-60 years of the New Testament) is the earliest Christian apologist. In his work, Apologies, we read of the sign of peace, the Gospel reading, the prayers of the faithful, the offeratory, the great Amen, the Eucharist, and the collection of alms - all parts of the modern Mass. He is also the earliest person to describe a full-length Mass, which is easily recognizable in Mass today:

"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration" (Apologies 66-67).

This early description of Mass is important, because many Christian denominations today do not realize that the structure of their church service comes from a Catholic Mass. Their service may begin with a prayer, then praise and worship, then another prayer, followed by an interpretation of the Scriptures (sermon/homily), another prayer, often a celebration of communion/eucharist, another prayer, ending with a song - and then the congregation is dismissed to love and serve the Lord. All of this comes from a Catholic Mass, so that when a Non-Denominational, a Methodist, a Baptist, an Anglican, a Lutheran or others attends service, the structure of their church service is derived directly from the early "Catholic" Church. A last note on the Mass would be helpful. Dr. Scott Hahn, a former Protestant pastor, wrote a book titled The Lamb’s Supper. In this book, he uses Revelation as a basis for looking at Mass. For those who are curious, one may find the root of different traditions and practices in Mass within the book of Revelation:
  • Sunday worship (1:10)
  • A high priest (1:13)
  • An altar (8:3-4; 11:1; 14:18)
  • Priests (4:4; 11:15; 14:3; 19:4)
  • Vestments (1:13; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9; 15:6; 19:13-14)
  • Consecrated celibacy (14:4)
  • Lamp stands, or Menorah (1:12; 2:5)
  • Penitence (ch.2-3)
  • Incense (5:8; 8:3-5)
  • The Eucharistic Host (2:17)
  • Chalices (15:7; ch.16; 21:9)
  • Sign of the Cross/Tau (7:3; 14:1; 22:4)
  • The Gloria (15:3-4)
  • The Alleluia (19:1, 3-4, 6)
  • “Lift up your hearts” (11:12)
  • The “Holy, Holy, Holy” (4:8)
  • The Amen (19:4; 22:21)
  • The “Lamb of God” (5:6 and throughout)
  • The prominence of the Virgin Mary (12:1-6, 13-17)
  • Intercession of saints and angels (5:8; 6:9-10; 8:3-4)
  • Antiphonal chant (4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:10-12)
  • Readings from Scripture (ch. 2-3; 5; 8:2-11)
  • Priesthood of the faithful (1:6; 20:6)
  • Catholicity or Universality (7:9)
  • Silent Contemplation (8:1)
  • The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:9, 17)
Now, there is much that could be said, explained and pointed out about these selections from Revelation. There is also something to be said about the “senses” of Scripture: literal, allegorical, literary, spiritual and others. But for those who are curious about the origins of Mass, one may find much interesting material in the early Church Fathers, such as the Apostolic Traditions of Hippolytus of Rome, the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and other individuals. But for many Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics and others, the Mass is an integral part of their walk with God for a number of reasons, if for no other reason than as Justin Martyr points out, we all come "together" to "one place."

No comments:

Post a Comment