Friday, November 13, 2015

Why it's called the Mass, (aka Its not from Ite misa est).


A couple of weeks ago, on Catholic365, I asked the question, "Why is it called "the Mass"?  In that article, I challenged the consensus that the name of the Catholic Liturgy comes from the dismissal.  And I suggested the Mass derives from the Latin root "masa" which is an ancient and universal word signifying bread.


I followed that up with another article, The Mass, St. John chapter 6 and the test of faith.  In this article, I suggested that it is more likely that the name of the Mass derives from the Hebrew word massah or test. Another ancient word which can be traced to Moses' time, when the Israelites tested God in the desert.  That ties back to the idea that the Doctrine of the Eucharist is so hard for many to believe, that it is a test (massah) of faith as witnessed in John 6 when many walked away from Christ based upon that Teaching.

Masa goes back to Moses

What I didn't know at the time, is that the Latin root, "masa" derives from the Greek word "mazza" which signifies "wheat cakes" and that Greek word derives from the Hebrew "matstsah" which means, unleavened bread.  And that ties the word "masa" directly to the Passover.  Again, all the way back to Moses' time.

Not a Teaching from the Early Church

But, someone said that I am opposing the Church.  They claimed this was a Teaching from the early Church.

That is not the case, the oldest document I could find that ties the Mass to the dismissal, is from the Catholic Encyclopedia, Liturgy of the Mass.  This article makes the claim that "mass" derives from the Latin "misa" in the dismissal of the Latin Mass.  But I think I've detected several errors in the logic used to arrive at that conclusion.

Let's go through it together.  I'll skip to the pertinent parts.  But you can examine my findings in the link above.

Under the Category, "Name and Definition"

The first paragraph is an introduction to the theory that the word "misa" was not in extensive use in the first and second centuries.  He says:
....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.
I can't disagree with that.  The only thing to say, perhaps, is that there is really no way to know, since we don't have very much from that early date.

The 2nd paragraph begins in the same vein.  Relating how, in the first period (the first 300 years), even in Rome, the Greek language was the language of Christianity.

Nothing there with which to disagree.  One thing to note, however, is that during that period, none of the names for the Mass signify a dismissal or departure.  Many of them do make a reference to the Eucharist, such as, eucharistia and koinonia.

The 3rd paragraph begins the transition, in the West, from the Greek to the Latin language and the appearance of the word, misa.  Let's look at what he says:

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 are some very interesting things said there.

1st.  He (St. Ambrose) dismissed the Catechumens.

How did he dismiss them?  Did he use the word, "misa" in the sense of dismissal when he did so?

2nd.  There I was told suddenly that they had sent soldiers

How did they send them?  Did they use the word, "misa" in the sense of sending when they did so?

Apparently not, I'm sure he would have said so since the entire point of this article is how "mass" is derived from a form of "dismissal".

But there's more.

3rd.  But I remained at my place and began to say Mass [missam facere coepi]. 

St. Ambrose uses the word "missa" for the Mass in such a matter of fact manner that the author is forced to admit,
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.
In fact, St. Ambrose is using the term in the same way that it is used today.  The author makes noise about it being a reference to the Liturgy of the Faithful.  But, so what?  It remains a reference to the Eucharist as he also admits.

Still on the 3rd paragraph, the author continues:
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.
Personally, if that is the only reason he doubts the authenticity of this letter, then he has no grounds at all except his own presupposition that it could not be true.

Intermission (pun not intended)

To me, that puts the last nail on the coffin for the idea that the "mass" comes from the dismissal.   However, something to note in the remainder of the article.  Although, the author wants us to see a progressive use of the word "misa" as dismissal and then somehow to jump to the conclusion that "misa" therefore comes from dismissal, we need only remember that the word "misa" as the Eucharist already exists.  There is no need to conclude that "misa" comes from "dismissal".  In fact, it is very likely in my mind, that the word "misa" becomes a conjugal form of "mittere" due to the its continued association with the dismissal.

What?  Isn't that what the author says?

No.  I'm saying that dismiss comes from misa.  Not that misa comes from dismiss.  I'm saying that the root word for dismissal comes into existence due to its continued assocation with the dismissal at the end of the Mass of the Catechumens.

In other words, Its time for the Mass takes on the meaning, its time to depart (i.e. misa).  Anyway, let's get back to the article:

4th paragraph, he says,

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). 
I'm not a Latin expert, but I read that as saying, "After the sermon, ends (fin) the mass of the Catechumens".  And, of course, the Catechumens are dismissed.

But, even if I'm wrong, we know that the word "missa" for Mass, already exists.  Therefore, this would be an example of the word now becoming associated with the dismissal.  Not an example of the dismissal being the source of the name for the Mass.

4th paragraph continued

The Synod of Lérida 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).
I put that phrase in the Google Translate tool and here is what I got, "as far as the mass of catechumens".  Try it yourself.

He says that phrase is used very frequently.  And I say, the phrase doesn't mean what he thinks it means.

Anyway, in the 4th paragraph, he continues with examples of that phrase as though they prove his point, when in fact, they prove simply that the Mass was always called the Mass.  Then he says that "misa" suddenly gets the connotation as the entire Liturgy.  Which, I think is disproved by his very first comments on the subject in paragraph 3.

But in the 5th paragraph, he says,
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").  
I was quite surprised when I read this.  I didn't realize that he knew anything about these arguments.  But, it seems really arrogant of him to say that these can merely be dismissed because he says so.  In my opinion it is much more plausible for these to be the source of the name for the Mass, than the convoluted and faulty reason he has proposed.

He goes on and says:
Nor is it the participle feminine of mittere, with a noun understood ("oblatio missa ad Deum", "congregatio missa", i.e., dimissa — so Diez, "Etymol. Wörterbuch der roman. Sprachen", 212, and others).
This is what most people seem to believe today.  I guess they didn't bother to read the whole article.

Then he says:
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.
I guess he didn't bother to read the etymology for the word, "missio".  It turns out, that the word "missio" comes from the Catholic Church.  It is attributed to the Jesuits.

mission (n.) Look up mission at
1590s, "a sending abroad," originally of Jesuits, from Latin missionem (nominative missio) "act of sending, a despatching; a release, a setting at liberty; discharge from service, dismissal," noun of action from past participle stem of mittere "to send," oldest form probably *smittere, of unknown origin. 

Essentially, what the Catholic Encycopledia has proven, is that the word "dismiss" comes from the name for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Mass.

Let me know what you think.

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