The Pinnacle of Christianity is The Catholic Mass, But Why? The Mass Explained, Part 1, It’s About History

Missio Dei is a Latin Christian theological term that can be translated as the “mission of the God,” or the “sending of God.” This is where the term Mass originated. We are commissioned or sent to go forth and proclaim the Gospel at the completion of every mass.

Mass is one of the names by which the sacrament of the Eucharist is commonly called in the Catholic Church, Western Rite Orthodox churches and many Old Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches.

We believe St. Ambrose in the year 385 in a letter to his sister Marcellina describing the troubles of the Arians used the term Missa to describe what we today call the Mass. Pope Pius I, somewhere between the years 142-157 wrote in a letter 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. (taken from http://www.newadvent.org)

The Mass is broken into The Liturgy of The Word and The Liturgy of The Eucharist. Today’s article will cover The History of The Mass. Article 2 will cover The Liturgy of The Word or first part of the Mass and article 3 will cover The Liturgy of The Eucharist or second part of The Mass. Both parts of the Mass are supernaturally most important. Jesus is The Word made Flesh. Both go together and cannot be separated. Let us never forget that Jesus did not write anything. The Bible was not even written as we know it today until around the year 400 AD by St. Jerome who translated the manuscripts that were written in Hebrew by some 40 authors over a period of 1800 years dating back to the year 1500 BC into Latin and called The Vulgate.

Stories were passed down from generation to generation starting with the creation story we find in the book of Genesis to what happened to the nation of Israel, the prophets and culminating with the birth of Jesus and the early Christian church in its first 100 years of existence. Hence, this is why tradition is so important to Catholics. As stated in The Bible, New testament, if every deed Jesus performed were to be written down, every book in the world would not be enough to contain them. What was written was given to us so we would be believe. Stories passed down throughout the last 2000 years are critical to our faith, hence tradition is so important.

The Vulgate was the standard Bible of The Catholic Church for a thousand years.

The English versions of the Bible were started with John Wycliffe (1320-1384). He translated the New Testament about 1380. It is not known how much of the Old Testament he translated before he died, but his friends completed the work after his death. Wycliffe’s work was taken from the Latin Vulgate

William Tyndale was next in order of the great English translators. His translation was issued in 1525, and the Pentateuch in 1530. Tyndale used not only the Vulgate, but had access to the Greek text of Erasmus and other helps that Wycliffe did not possess.

Miles Coverdale, a friend of Tyndale, prepared a Bible dedicated to King Henry the VIII in 1535. His New Testament is largely based on the Tyndale version.

The Matthews Bible appeared in 1537. The authorship of this version is somewhat uncertain, but it appears to be based on Tyndale’s and Coverdale’s work.

The Great Bible, published in 1539, was based on the Coverdale and Tyndale Bibles. This was a large-sized volume that was chained to the reading desks in many churches, where people came to hear the reading of the word of God.

The Geneva Bible was a translation made in Geneva, Switzerland in 1560 by English scholars who fled the persecution of Queen Mary. This was a revision of the Great Bible collated with other English versions. A scholarly version, handy in size, it became a popular bible in England for many years.

The Bishop’s Bible was translated in 1568, under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This was mainly a revision of the Great Bible, but was also somewhat dependent on the Geneve version.

The Douay Rheims Bible was an English version Roman Catholic Vulgate. The New Testament was published at Rheims in 1582, and the Old Testament at Douay in 1609-10.

The King James version was published in 1611. It was made by 47 scholars under the direction of King James I of England. This version was based on the Bishop’s Bible, but both the Hebrew and Greek texts were studied and other English translations were consulted with a view of obtaining the best results. This Bible has held first place in the English-speaking world now for almost four centuries.

Several more modern versions also exist, including the Revised Version, 1881-84, and the American Standard Version, 1900-01. These versions attempted to replace the Elizabethan English with the contemporary English of the time. (information taken form http://www.askgramps.org).

The Bible I read is called The New American Bible, Catholic Study edition.

The Bible is an integral and critical part of The Catholic Mass, hence The Liturgy of The Word. Liturgy means service; service to God as in public and communal worship. (taken from http://www.ewtn.com)

The second part of the Mass is the Liturgy of The Eucharist. This comes from Jesus’ last Supper and as St Paul writes, …on the night he was betrayed he took bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it and said, “This is My Body, do this in remembrance of me…, he did likewise with the chalice, this is the blood of the new covenant”. These words are so powerful, spoken by Jesus. He never said this is a symbol, he said THIS IS MY BODY, THIS IS MY BLOOD, DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME!

The early church took this very seriously and when they met, they brought their own bread and wine for the “mass”. They listened to the stories from the Apostles and after the Apostles, the “bishops”, presbyters or priests and deacons that the Apostles appointed and so forth down the line. For instance St. Ignatius of Antioch learned at the feet of the Apostle John and one tradition has it that he was the small child Jesus took up in his arms when he proclaimed let the little children come to me. That simple statement by Jesus also explains why Catholics believe in infant baptism.

The early church was also in danger and had to celebrate mass underground where the “saints” were buried. We call it the catacombs. This is why we have an altar and inside of every Catholic altar is a relic of a saint. This is taken from the tradition of the early church who celebrated the mass on top of the tombs or catacombs of the saints. Mind boggling really.

Jesus actually is the altar, that is why the priest kisses the altar before mass begins. It also represents we are surrounded by witnesses: the saints.

I hope this helps you gain a better understanding of Catholic Church tradition and why Catholics do what we do during the mass.

Everything that happens in the mass down to what the priest is wearing and why has meaning, everything!

The vestments of the priest celebrating the mass (by the way bishops and the Pope are priests) are this, the first garment he puts over his priestly clothes is an alb, alb means white and represents being washed in the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) as well as a symbol of baptism. Next the priest puts on the cincture, which is made of rope and is a belt and goes around his waist; it represents the priest’s prayer for chastity, purity – it is a girding (surrounding, encircling). Next the priest puts the stole around his neck. Think of the stole as a yoke as in a beast of burden. It represents Authority, power to serve, not power to rule. It also shows he is laying down his life and embracing the cross. Lastly the chasuble, a sleeveless outer vestment with a hole for the head to go through. This garment is like a casual little house. Casula means little house. It is ornate and usually colored.

The vestment colors are Violet – removing rocks in the field, Green – growing in the field, White – celebration, Red – fire of The Holy Spirit or blood of martyrs (Jesus is King of martyrs), Black – somber; funerals; All Soul’s day; death.

All these garments are not meant to make the priest stand out but rather to hide him so as to reveal Jesus Christ. That is why we call a Catholic priest In persona Christi when he is administering sacraments like the consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus or when hearing our confession.

The Catholic Mass is a mystery but even more importantly it’s a hidden treasure!

The postures of the mass are equally important and meaningful. As one of my priest friends once explained during a mass, we stand to PRAY, sit to LISTEN and kneel to witness a miracle.

I hope this was helpful and helped explain the mystery of the mass. It really is so beautiful and ordered and meaningful it’s really hard to explain but needs to be experienced by body, mind and soul.

Tune in next week as we explore the first part of the mass called Liturgy of The Word starting with our entrance into church. What do we do when we walk into church and why.

God bless and keep walking!!!

I want to thank “ALTARATION”, Rev. Father Michael Schmitz and all the people at Ascension Press especially Matthew Pinto and Chris Stefanick for inspiring me through words, videos and actions. Thank you Mrs. Mary Ann Corcoran, our director of Religious education at St. Pius X, Broomall for sharing Altaration and for your leadership and witness to our faith.

The author of this article is Mr. Charles A. DeFeo, O.P.

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