Why is it called Mass?

Picture1Some may be mystified by my habit of calling the most important act of worship to the Christian Community ‘Mass’. Surely, one might think, that Mass was something exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church, and what was wrong with Holy Communion or The Eucharist ? However, if we pause to reflect, the Mass is indeed a word in common Anglican Usage – every 24th of December, Midnight Mass is openly celebrated by Anglican Churches of all traditions as the first act of worship of Christmas. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer also referred to this worship as ‘comonly called the Masse’.

If we look closer, we can note that Holy Communion and the Eucharist refer to specific parts of the wider act of worship: Holy Communion refers to the actual partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, whilst the Eucharist (Greek for ‘Thanksgiving’) speaks really of the portion of worship which consecrates the elements of bread and wine into the Blessèd Sacrament and Precious Blood. Only the term Mass speaks of the whole act of worship (as does Divine Liturgy the Orthodox word used.

Mass itself is rooted in the Latin word Missio meaning to send, and is therefore related to Mission. It is in the sense therefore of the people of God gathering together (amassing, perhaps?) and then, empowered by the Holy Spirit through the sacraments, being sent out to make a difference to the world, hence the use of the ancient dismissal: ite missa est – go, the mass is ended […and you are now sent out to do God’s work. I would therefore want to reclaim the word from the exclusive jurisdiction of Rome, and keep it within common Anglican usage, as used in a number of other parishes within Plymouth and within the wider Diocese.