This subject, to me, is most intriguing. True, it does not affect us quite as directly and forcefully as it did our forefathers four centuries ago. For them the question of the mass was all-important. They had been part of it. They had been raised in that doctrine and fed its heresies from infancy on. Then, by the grace of God, they had been delivered from its errors through the wonder of the Protestant Reformation. In fact, the mass was one of the main issues in the whole Reformation. One Catholic authority puts it this way, “The history of the Protestant Reformation is largely the story of the new religion’s efforts to destroy the Mass and the Catholics’ efforts and determination to save the Mass.” This statement contains much truth. Today all this belongs to the more distant past. No longer is the mass our chief stumbling block. Other issues have our concern. Even so, the question is interesting, and practical too, for at the basis of the mass lie principles of abiding significance. In this essay our main purpose is to familiarize ourselves with the thing itself.
What is the mass, of which the Catholics make so very much and against which the Protestants have set themselves so determinedly?
The derivation of the name “mass” is not entirely clear. According to some Catholic theologians the name is derived from the Latin word mesna, meaning “table,” and has reference to the idea of a supper, a feast. This is perhaps the more distant derivation. According to others the immediate connection is with the Latin wordmission, meaning “to dismiss, send away,” and the reference is to the last part of the form for the celebration of the mass, when the church is dismissed with the words: “Go now, the sacrament, the holy sacrifice, the Mass is ended.”
The mass is the heart of the Catholic religion. It’s the one thing every Catholic must do to be saved; the central act of devotion in the Catholic Church; the chief glory and center of their entire worship. Missing the mass is a deadly sin, that must and will be most heavily punished. People need not go every day, although they are urged to do so. Missing the mass on Sundays or holy days, however, is fatal.
The mass is the Roman Catholic Lord’s Supper, to them an exact duplicate and repetition of that first Supper in the night wherein the Lord Jesus was betrayed. So much so, in fact, that in some form or other, largely by way of glittering symbolism, they seek to imitate all Jesus did that night. A study of the mass with this in mind is positively intriguing. It immortalizes and perpetuates that first Lord’s Supper. It does not only represent it, it represents it,—day after day, till the end of time.
Excluding all embellishments and matters of incidental importance from our discussion, it may be noted that the mass contains four elements, which are essential: the consecration, the sacrifice, the adoration, and the communion. Where these four things are present you have a complete mass, whether it be the simple requiem mass, the briefest of them all, or the elaborate pontifical mass of an hour or more; whether it be said by an army chaplain in the mud of a trench on an altar of ammunition boxes or administered in the great cathedral of Notre Dame. A priest dressed in ordinary clothes, standing at an ordinary table, consecrating bread and wine, consuming these elements in communion that’s just as real a mass as the one with all the trimmings. If only the four above-mentioned essentials are there.
The reasons for all the trimmings that frequently go with the mass are twofold. Mainly, no doubt, the Catholic Church wants to make the mass as much as possible like the Last Supper of Christ and His disciples. As stated, they want to imitate everything Jesus did that night. Therefore, as Christ proceeded from the womb of Mary, so the priest marches in all dignity from the sacristy (where the robes and holy vessels are kept) to the altar with the chalice in his hand. As Christ washed His hands, so the priest washes his hands as a symbol. As Christ washed the feet of the disciples, so the priest begins with an act of humiliation, confessing his sins at the foot of the altar. As Christ lifted His eyes to heaven, so the priest lifts his eyes to heaven. As Christ prayed, so the priest prays. Besides, the Catholic Church feels that in the mass it has something so precious, that it cannot be made too beautiful. Therefore the most beautiful music; the gorgeous vestments of the priest; the burning of incense, from the Old Law, and the burning of candles, from the catacombs; a host of attendants, all immaculately robed and each with his own function. Too much cannot be made of the mass nor can it be too beautiful.
Even so, trimmings or no trimmings, the essentials of the mass are the four elements enumerated above.
There is first of all the CONSECRATION of the bread and wine into the real body and blood of Christ, the Eucharist. This consecration takes place in the following manner. There are the bread and the wine. To the wine a drop or two of water is added. The Catholics claim that the wine which Jesus and His disciples drank was mixed with water. Especially is the water added to symbolize the blood and water that flowed from the wound of Jesus. Instead of the bread they now have the wafer. You can appreciate the reason for that. Since that bread changes into the very body of Christ, it obviously becomes sacrilege to allow it to crumb, fall on the floor, be eaten by mice or rats, etc. Hence, the wafer. These means are now placed on the altar. Then, at the moment the priest, who reads the form, utters the words, “This is my body,” a miracle of God occurs whereby the natural bread is actually consecrated to the very body of Christ. The same takes place with the wine the moment the priest says: “This is my blood.” Mind you, the priest utters these words in the place of Christ. So completely does helose his personality in that of Christ, that for himself and the congregation it is as if the priest no longer existed and Christ Himself were standing there.
Hence, Catholicism certainly maintains, that the signs change into the things signified, and that after the consecration Christ Himself is really present on that altar.
Then there is the element of SACRIFICE. In the mass Christ repeatedly sacrifices Himself anew for the salvation of sinners. How they like to talk about the unbloody sacrifice of Christ in the mass! Therefore they have the altar rather than the table. To the Catholics Calvary, the first Lord’s Supper and the mass are all essentially the same. On Calvary Christ sacrificed Himself in a bloody manner. There He actually shed His blood and body and blood were separated from each other, and that, to them, is really death. In the first Lord’s Supper Christ did the same thing in an unbloody way. Also here body and blood were separated. Therefore Christ did not take the bread and wine together and say: This is my body and blood. Rather, he first consecrated the bread; then, and separately, He consecrated the wine. Thus the two were separated mystically and Christ sacrificed then and there without the shedding of blood. Now, what Christ did in that first Supper the priest does every mass in the place of Christ. He first consecrates the bread and it becomes the body of Christ. Then he consecrates the wine and it becomes the blood of Christ. Thus the two are separated and Christ sacrifices Himself anew every time the mass is celebrated. Thus the latter is not a mere representation, but a re-presentation of the cross of Jesus.
This sacrifice is the heart of the mass, even as the mass is the heart of the Catholic religion. It is a sacrifice of atonement just as truly as was the cross, meriting forgiveness and life, not only for the living but also for the dead in purgatory. Therefore the altar, not the pulpit, is the heart of the church. One Catholic leader put it this way: “Our most beautiful cathedrals have no other purpose than to shelter an altar.”
The third cardinal element constituting the mass is that of ADORATION. By virtue of the consecration Christ Himself, sacrificed anew, now lies on that altar. That Christ must be worshipped, of course. Wherefore the church kneels before that altar to worship what to them is the Christ, but actually is only bread and wine. They strike their breasts in token of repentance in the presence of that Christ. In this way one heresy leads to another. Transubstantiation converts the wafer and the wine into Christ Himself. This leads to worship, inevitably.
Finally, there is the COMMUNION proper. The congregation eats the real body and drinks the real blood of Christ, under the taste and shape and, color and texture of bread and wine. Rather, the priest partakes of both elements while the people receive only the sacred wafer. The chalice is withheld from the laity, for several reasons: to prevent the sacred blood from being spilt; to declare thereby, that Christ is present, wholly and entirely in each element, every crumb and every drop; to make a proper distinction between the laity and the clergy. However, the important thing is,—they really eat and drink Christ. “We no longer receive bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We are nourished by divinity itself.”
It is difficult to see how something so simple and obvious as the Lord’s Supper could have changed into something so complex and fantastic.
The basic error of Catholicism on this point is, of course, that the mass is based on a wrong interpretation of the words: “This is my body.” They take the phrase literally; it should be understood figuratively. This stands for My body, represents it, symbolizes it. As I might say of someone’s picture: This is my father, or wife, or child. As Paul says to the Corinthians: “The rock is Christ.”
Moreover, if it is as the Catholics would have it, the logical implication would be that all who partake of the holy sacrament are saved. Theoretically they reject this conclusion. It is possible to eat the very body and drink the very blood of Christ and still be lost forever. Does not Paul say that we must eat and drink worthily? Practically, however, the church has quite well fallen into this fallacy and self-deception. If only they partake of the mass all will be well. With the physical mouth they eat and drink Christ. And Jesus Himself says: “Whoso eateth my body and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life.”
“The mass,” says our Catechism, “is at bottom nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ.” That it is! Scripture teaches: in His sacrifice on the cross Christ once and for always atoned for the sins of His people. “For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified”—Hebrews 10:14. “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” — Hebrews 10:18. In the mass, however, Calvary is and must be repeated constantly. With a blindness that can neither be explained nor excused Rome contradicts the very Word of God.
Finally, and undeniably, the mass is nothing but “accursed idolatry.” What Rome imagines to be the Christ is in reality nothing else than bread and wine. Those means they worship. Accursed idolatry! The Bible teaches: Christ is in heaven, at the right hand of God, and there will He be worshipped. Pitiful blindness! Is if a wonder that in such a religion there is less need of Bible study and preaching? They have and receive Christ in the mass. What more do they need? How deeply the church can fall when once it departs from the way of implicit trust and childlike faith in the infallible Word of God alone.