Liturgy of the Mass
The Mass is the complex of prayers and ceremonies that make up the service of the Eucharist in the Latin rites. As in the
case of all liturgical terms the name is less old than the thing. From the time of the first preaching of the Christian Faith
in the West, as everywhere, the Holy Eucharist was celebrated as Christ had instituted it at the Last Supper, according to
His command, in memory of Him. But it was not till long afterwards that the late Latin name Missa, used at first in
a vaguer sense, became the technical and almost exclusive name for this service.
In the first period, while Greek was still the Christian language at Rome, we find the usual Greek names used there, as
in the East. The commonest was Eucharistia, used both for the consecrated bread and wine and for the whole service.
Clement of Rome (d. about 101) uses the verbal form still in its general sense of "giving thanks", but also in connection
with the Liturgy (I Clem., Ad Cor., xxxviii, 4: kata panta eucharistein auto). The other chief witness for the earliest
Roman Liturgy, Justin Martyr (d. c. 167), speaks of eucharist in both senses repeatedly (Apol., I, lxv, 3, 5; lxvi,
1; lxvii, 5). After him the word is always used, and passes into Latin (eucharistia) as soon as there is a Latin Christian
Literature [Tertullian (d. c. 220), "De pr scr.", xxxvi, in P.L., II, 50; St. Cyprian (d. 258), Ep., liv, etc.]. It remains
the normal name for the sacrament throughout Catholic theology, but is gradually superseded by Missa for the whole rite. Clement
calls the service Leitourgia (I Cor., xl, 2, 5; xli, 1) and prosphora (Ibid., 2, 4), with, however, a shade
of different meaning ("rite", "oblation"). These and the other usual Greek names (klasis artou in the Catacombs; koinonia,
synaxis, syneleusis in Justin, "I Apol.", lxvii, 3), with their not yet strictly technical connotation, are used during
the first two centuries in the West as in the East. With the use of the Latin language in the third century came first translations
of the Greek terms. While eucharistia is very common, we find also its translation gratiarum actio (Tertullian,
"Adv. Marcionem", I, xxiii, in P.L., II, 274); benedictio (=eulogia) occurs too (ibid., III, xxii; "De idolol.",
xxii); sacrificium, generally with an attribute (divina sacrificia, novum sacrificium, sacrificia Dei), is a
favourite expression of St. Cyprian (Ep. liv, 3; "De orat. dom.", iv; "Test. adv. Iud.", I, xvi; Ep. xxxiv, 3; lxiii, 15,
etc.). We find also Solemnia (Cypr., "De lapsis", xxv), "Dominica solemnia" (Tert., "De fuga", xiv), Prex, Oblatio,
Coena Domini (Tert., "Ad uxor.", II, iv, in P.L., I, 1294), Spirituale ac coeleste sacramentum (Cypr., Ep.,
lxiii, 13), Dominicum (Cypr., "De opere et eleem.", xv; Ep. lxiii, 16), Officium (Tert., De orat.", xiv), even
Passio (Cypr., Ep. xlii), and other expressions that are rather descriptions than technical names.
All these were destined to be supplanted in the West by the classical name Missa. The first certain use of it is
by St. Ambrose (d. 397). He writes to his sister Marcellina describing the troubles of the Arians in the years 385 and 386,
when the soldiers were sent to break up the service in his church: "The next day (it was a Sunday) after the lessons and the
tract, having dismissed the catechumens, I explained the creed [symbolum tradebam] to some of the competents [people
about to be baptized] in the baptistry of the basilica. There I was told suddenly that they had sent soldiers to the Portiana
basilica. . . . But I remained at my place and began to say Mass [missam facere coepi]. While I offer [dum ofero],
I hear that a certain Castulus has been seized by the people" (Ep., I, xx, 4-5). It will be noticed that missa here
means the Eucharistic Service proper, the Liturgy of the Faithful only, and does not include that of the Catechumens. Ambrose
uses the word as one in common use and well known. There is another, still earlier, but very doubtfully authentic instance
of the word in a letter of Pope Pius I (from c. 142 to c. 157): "Euprepia has handed over possession of her house to the poor,
where . . . we make Masses with our poor" (cum pauperibus nostris . . . missas agimus" -- Pii I, Ep. I, in Galland,
"Bibl. vet. patrum", Venice, 1765, I, 672). The authenticity of the letter, however, is very doubtful. If Missa really
occurred in the second century in the sense it now has, it would be surprising that it never occurs in the third. We may consider
St. Ambrose as the earliest certain authority for it.
From the fourth century the term becomes more and more common. For a time it occurs nearly always in the sense of dismissal.
St. Augustine (d. 430) says: "After the sermon the dismissal of the catechumens takes place" (post sermonem fit missa catechumenorum
-- Serm., xlix, 8, in P.L., XXXVIII, 324). The Synod of Lerida in Spain (524) declares that people guilty of incest may be
admitted to church "usque ad missam catechumenorum", that is, till the catechumens are dismissed (Can., iv, Hefele-Leclercq,
"Hist. des Conciles", II, 1064). The same expression occurs in the Synod of Valencia at about the same time (Can., i, ibid.,
1067), in Hincmar of Reims (d. 882) ("Opusc. LV capitul.", xxiv, in P.L., CXXVI, 380), etc. Etheria (fourth century) calls
the whole service, or the Liturgy of the Faithful, missa constantly ("Peregr. SilviŠ", e.g., xxiv, 11, Benedicit
fideles et fit missa, etc.). So also Innocent I (401-17) in Ep., xvii, 5, P.L., XX, 535, Leo I (440-61), in Ep., ix, 2,
P.L., LIV, 627. Although from the beginning the word Missa usually means the Eucharistic Service or some part of it,
we find it used occasionally for other ecclesiastical offices too. In St. Benedict's (d. 543) Rule fiant missae is
used for the dismissal at the end of the canonical hours (chap., xvii, passim). In the Leonine Sacramentary (sixth cent. See
LITURGICAL BOOKS), the word in its present sense is supposed throughout. The title, "Item alia", at the head of each Mass
means "Item alia missa". The Gelasian book (sixth or seventh cent. Cf. ibid.) supplies the word: "Item alia missa", "Missa
Chrismatis", "Orationes ad missa [sic] in natale Sanctorum", and so on throughout. From that time it becomes the regular,
practically exclusive, name for the Holy Liturgy in the Roman and Gallican Rites.
The origin and first meaning of the word, once much discussed, is not really doubtful. We may dismiss at once such fanciful
explanations as that missa is the Hebrew missah ("oblation" -- so Reuchlin and Luther), or the Greek myesis
("initiation"), or the German Mess ("assembly", "market"). Nor is it the participle feminine of mittere, with
a noun understood ("oblatio missa ad Deum", "congregatio missa", i.e., dimissa -- so Diez, "Etymol. W÷rterbuch der
roman. Sprachen", 212, and others). It is a substantive of a late form for missio. There are many parallels in medieval Latin,
collecta, ingressa, confessa, accessa, ascensa -- all for forms in -io. It does not mean an offering (mittere,
in the sense of handing over to God), but the dismissal of the people, as in the versicle: "Ite missa est" (Go, the dismissal
is made). It may seem strange that this unessential detail should have given its name to the whole service. But there are
many similar cases in liturgical language. Communion, confession, breviary are none of them names that express the
essential character of what they denote. In the case of the word missa we can trace the development of its meaning
step by step. We have seen it used by St. Augustine, synods of the sixth century, and Hincmar of Reims for "dismissal". Missa
Catechumenorum means the dismissal of the catechumens. It appears that missa fit or missa est was the regular
formula for sending people away at the end of a trial or legal process. Avitus of Vienne (d. 523) says: "In churches and palaces
or law-courts the dismissal is proclaimed to be made [missa pronuntiatur], when the people are dismissed from their attendance"
(Ep. i). So also St. Isidore of Seville: "At the time of the sacrifice the dismissal is [missa tempore sacrificii est]
when the catechumens are sent out, as the deacon cries: If any one of the catechumens remain, let him go out: and thence it
is the dismissal [et inde missa]" ("Etymol.", VI, xix, in P.L., LXXXII, 252). As there was a dismissal of the catechumens
at the end of the first part of the service, so was there a dismissal of the faithful (the baptized) after the Communion.
There were, then, a missa catechumenorum and a missa fidelium, both, at first, in the sense of dismissals only.
So Florus Diaconus (d. 860): "Missa is understood as nothing but dimissio, that is, absolutio, which
the deacon pronounces when the people are dismissed from the solemn service. The deacon cried out and the catechumens were
sent [mittebantur], that is, were dismissed outside [id est, dimittebantur foras]. So the missa caechumenorum
was made before the action of the Sacrament (i. e., before the Canon Actionis), the missa fidelium is made "-- note
the difference of tense; in Florus's time the dismissal of the catechumens had ceased to be practised --" after the consecration
and communion" [post confectionem et participationem] (P.L., CXIX 72).
How the word gradually changed its meaning from dismissal to the whole service, up to and including the dismissal, is not
difficult to understand. In the texts quoted we see already the foundation of such a change. To stay till the missa catechumenorum
is easily modified into: to stay for, or during, the missa catechumenorum. So we find these two missae used for the
two halves of the Liturgy. Ivo of Chartres (d. 1116) has forgotten the original meaning, and writes: "Those who heard the
missa catechumenorum evaded the missa sacramentorum" (Ep. ccxix, in P.L., CLXII, 224). The two parts are then
called by these two names; as the discipline of the catechumenate is gradually forgotten, and there remains only one connected
service, it is called by the long familiar name missa, without further qualification. We find, however, through the
Middle Ages the plural miss , missarum solemnia, as well as missae sacramentum and such modified expressions
also. Occasionally the word is transferred to the feast-day. The feast of St. Martin, for instance, is called Missa S.
Martini. It is from this use that the German Mess, Messtag, and so on are derived. The day and place of a local
feast was the occasion of a market (for all this see Rottmanner, op. cit., in bibliography below). Kirmess (Flemish
Kermis, Fr. kermesse) is Kirch-mess, the anniversary of the dedication of a church, the occasion of a
fair. The Latin missa is modified in all Western languages (It. messa, Sp. misa, Fr. messe, Germ.
Messe, etc.). The English form before the Conquest was maesse,then Middle Engl. messe, masse --" It nedith
not to speke of the masse ne the seruise that thei hadde that day" ("Merlin" in the Early Engl. Text Soc., II, 375) --"And
whan our parish masse was done" ("Sir Cauline", Child's Ballads, III, 175). It also existed as a verb: "to mass" was to say
mass; "massing-priest" was a common term of abuse at the Reformation.
It should be noted that the name Mass (missa) applies to the Eucharistic service in the Latin rites only.
Neither in Latin nor in Greek has it ever been applied to any Eastern rite. For them the corresponding word is Liturgy
(liturgia). It is a mistake that leads to confusion, and a scientific inexactitude, to speak of any Eastern Liturgy
as a Mass.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX
Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort,
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York