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The Mass

A term used mainly in the Roman Catholic Church for Holy Communion.* The word is derived from Latin missio, “dismiss,” referring to the dismissal of catechumens before the Eucharist was celebrated. J.A. Jungmann suggested that missa came to be synonymous with “blessing” and so linked with the “consecration” of the elements. It was first used strictly for the Eucharist by Ambrose.* The Roman Catholic Mass still closes with “Ite, missa est.

Two main ideas are involved in the doctrine of the Mass: (1) the change whereby the bread and the wine become the actual body and blood of Christ, i.e., transubstantiation*; (2) the conception of the Mass as a sacrifice. According to the Council of Trent,* “in this divine Sacrifice which is performed in the Mass, that same Christ is contained in a bloodless sacrifice who on the altar of the cross once offered himself with the shedding of his blood: the holy Synod teaches that this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”

This particular sacrificial interpretation begins with Cyprian. Earlier writers had used the term “sacrifice,” but with the ideas of self-offering and commemoration of Christ's passion, e.g., Justin and Irenaeus. The process continued in the following centuries, e.g., Gregory the Great in the sixth century, Paschasius Radbertus in 844. A tendency in the later Middle Ages associated with each Mass the idea of a distinct offering for sin, leading to the multiplication of Masses. The cup was also denied the laity (Council of Constance,* 1415). The Reformers' rejection of these concepts led to the Tridentine definition which established subsequent Roman Catholic doctrine.

See also under Music, Christian.

B.J. Kidd, The Later Mediaeval Doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice (1898); D. Stone, A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist (1909); C. de L. Shortt, The Mass (1936); C.A. Scott, Romanism and the Gospel (1937); W. Barclay, The Lord's Supper (1967).

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