Cabrol F. Chapter XII-1. Excursus. The different names of the Mass and the Word
THE MASS OF THE WESTERN RITES By the Right Reverend Dom Fernand Cabrol
I. THE DIFFERENT NAMES OF THE MASS AND THE WORD "Missa" IN PARTICULAR. — II.
THE CHANTS OF THE MASS: Parts sung by the Cantors, schola, or people; parts
sung or recited aloud by the Priest, and those recited in a low voice. The
Gregorian chant. — III. ATTITUDE OF THE FAITHFUL AND LITURGICAL GESTURES
DURING MASS. — IV. THE BOOKS OF THE MASS. — V DIFFERENT SORTS OF MASSES.
I. THE DIFFERENT NAMES OF THE MASS AND THE WORD "Missa" IN PARTICULAR
THE word "Missa" has given rise to numerous dissertations mentioned in the
Bibliography, and to long philological discussions. The reason for this is
that the term was evolved before it was used to design the Mass. It would
seem that the following are the chief stages through which it has passed.
One of the clearest texts is that of St. Avitus, Bishop of Vienne (d. 518).
Gondebaud asks him the meaning of the word "Missa," he replies that "Missam
facere" means "dimittere," or dismiss, and that the expression was used by
Romans in audiences at the palace and in sessions of the tribunal to denote
that the sitting was over. The phrase was even used by them to denote
end of their sacrifices and religious offices.
The custom of giving a signal to show that an Office is ended is natural
enough, and indeed necessary in a numerous assembly. The Christians no
doubt accepted it, and Tertullian already speaks of a "Dismissio
St. Ambrose also uses the term "Missa" in this sense (Eph. xx. 4); and I
know not why it should be contested, for it appears quite clear (cf. Lejay,
article mentioned in Bibliography). St. Augustine uses the word "Missa" in
the sense of "Missio," "Dismissio" (dismissal), at the close of the Office.
From this Mgr. Batiffol justly concludes that the "Ite, Missa est," which
has the same meaning, dates from the same period. The same sense is given
to the expression in the "Peregrinatio Etheriae," in the Rule of Aurelian,
in Cassian, in St. Benedict. It is the end, not only of the Mass but of
every Office. For already in the latter writers, especially in Cassian, the
word has taken on this extended meaning and designs every Office, "Missa
Canonica," a canonical Office, and "Secunda Missa," the evening Office.
In the sixth century we have texts in which "Missa" means Mass. Thus in
Antoninus of Placentia, about 575 — "Missas faciebant" — they said Mass. The
same meaning is given in contemporary authors of that age, Gregory of
Tours, St. Gregory the Great, and Caesarius of Arles.
But why "Missa" instead of "Missio"? It is not a past participle of
"mittere," for it cannot be explained in that sense. "Missa" has been made
out of "Missio," just as "Collecta" has been made out of "Collectio;" there
are many examples of this practice, especially in the liturgy. "Missa" is
thus simply a popular expression which, taking the part for the whole, has
ended by designating the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Some authors, finding this
etymology rather below the dignity of this function, have sought a higher
origin and meaning in a Hebrew word which signifies Mission or Message. It
is the message of earth to Heaven; of man to God. This is the meaning which
Amalarius gives it in the ninth century. But we are not in the realm of
In the terminology of the Gallican and Mozarabic liturgies in the seventh
century, "Missa" also means a prayer. The "Praefatio Missae" is the prelude
of a prayer. The second Council of Milevia had already said: "Missae, vel
orationes Missae." "Missa secreta"=words of Consecration.
For those whom this meaning of "Missa" does not satisfy there is no lack of
synonyms with a much loftier signification.
"Eucharistia" or "Eulogia." — These two terms, the first of which means
thanksgiving, the second, blessing, were once of equal value, and were used
indifferently to design the Eucharist. Thus, in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus
"blessed the bread" and gave thanks." This, of all blessings the most
efficacious, was doubtless made by the laying on of hands, or, if we like
to follow certain other interpreters, by a sign of the Cross, which
prophetically signified the Bloody Sacrifice of the following day. This is
one of the essential elements of the Consecration: the Priest at Mass
blesses and consecrates the bread and wine by a sign of the Cross.
But the term "Eulogy," blessing, early fell into disuse, and merely meant
the bread or other objects blessed at Mass at the same time as the bread
and wine. The other term, "Eucharist," has lived longer. In the Gospel the
"Gratias agens," giving thanks, is heavy with meaning. Every time He
blessed bread (as in the multiplication of the loaves) Our Lord gave
thanks. The prayer over the bread before taking a meal is a traditional
Jewish custom. This people had felt the necessity of thanking God for His
benefits more strongly than any other ancient race. In the books of the Old
Testament, especially in the Psalms, this duty of gratitude to God is
expressed. The first duty of the creature is to thank God who has given to
the earth wheat and the vine, fruits, and all things which contribute to
the nourishment of mankind. But the blessing of blessings henceforth is the
very bread and wine which Jesus Christ has transformed by His blessing into
His Body and Blood. The most ancient "anaphora," especially that of the
"Apostolic Constitutions," reminds us that the Eucharist is the great
Sacrifice, and the most efficacious means in man's possession to "render
thanks to God."
The "Supper" ("Coena," repast, supper), and more especially the Last
Supper, is a term which we need hardly explain. It was at this Last Supper,
taken with His Apostles on the evening of Holy Thursday, that Our Lord
instituted the Eucharist (cf. Chap. I). But since the sixteenth century,
as Protestants have used the words "Last Supper" in a narrow sense,
excluding all relation with the Sacrifice of the Cross, they have almost
dropped out of Catholic language. However, the Church has retained a lively
remembrance of the Last Supper, and during Holy Week, Holy Thursday, the
anniversary of this great event, is marked in the liturgical year by
exceptional solemnity. The prayers of the Canon, "Communicantes," "Hanc
igitur," recall the "Diem sacratissimum quo Dominus noster Jesus Christus
pro nobis est traditus," the "Diem in qua Dominus noster Jesus Christus
tradidit discipulis suis Corporis et Sanguinis sui mysteria celebranda."
The "Qui pridie" itself contains this curious variant: "Qui pridie quam pro
nostra omniumque salute pateretur, hoc est hodie, accepit panem," etc. The
Priest consecrates two Hosts, one of which is reserved for the next day's
Mass; this is carried processionally into a chapel, where It is exposed for
the adoration of the faithful during the day and all that night, and on
Good Friday, the day following, is brought back to the high altar with the
same ceremonies, and is consumed at the Mass of the Presanctified. This is
the only day in the whole year on which this Mass is celebrated in the
The term "Sacrifice," "Holy Sacrifice," is also used; the Mass being for
Christians the only Sacrifice, as we have explained (Chap. IV). It is that
which has replaced all others; where Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim,
renews the Sacrifice of the Cross, and offers Himself to God the Father for
the salvation of all.
The Mass is also often called "The Sacrament," or "Sacraments," especially
by the Fathers and in the liturgy, because it is at the same time Sacrifice
and Sacrament, the chief of all, since it is the Sacrament of the Body and
Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, source of all Sacraments. We often find in
prayers the words: "Sacramenta quae sumpsimus," or analogous expressions.
The Oblation, Offering ("Offerre"), is also a very ancient term used at
Rome, in Africa, and elsewhere, the Mass being the greatest of all
Offerings, the Sacrifice of sacrifices. The Church offers it by her
Pontiff; and we have seen with what insistence she urges the faithful to
unite their offering with that of the Priest.
The words "Fractio Panis" have been explained in another place (cf. Chap.
"Liturgy." — In the East this word is used specially to design the service
of the Mass. Primitively it had a much more extended sense; it was a
general public function, more especially a religious service. In Christian
language it designates all religious services, though in the East it is
confined to the Mass.
Other terms are less popular, yet they express some aspect of the
Eucharist. Mgr. Batiffol explains very well the meaning of the word
"Dominicum" ("convivium"), used in Africa, and even at Rome, in the time of
St. Cyprian. St. Paul had already spoken of the "dominica coena," or
"mensa Domini" (I Cor. xi. 20; X. 21). ("Kuriakon deipnon trapeze kuriou")
It is a table, reminding us of the Last Supper wherein Christ instituted
the Eucharist; it is a banquet in which all those present are called upon
to take part. This characteristic of the Eucharist has perhaps become
slightly effaced in the course of time but in ancient days it was a living
memory; and the frescoes in the catacombs recall it.
1. "Ep.i.;" "Ad Gond.," c. I.
2. "De anima," c. 9. The text of Pope Pius I (142-57) does not seem to be
3. These texts will be found in Kellner and in the other authors cited.
4. Mansi, IV, 330. A good collection and explanation of these terms will be
found in Thibaut, "Liturgie Gallicane," PP. 49-51; "Liturgie Romaine," PP.
50, 51, 88, 99, 122 seq.
5. Cf. "Eucharistie, Eulogie," in DACL.
6. Fr. Thurston, S.J., justly remarks that the altar and tabernacle in
which this Host reposes is wrongly called sepulcher. There is a confusion
here, the sepulcher being really a tomb in which a third consecrated Host
was also laid on Holy Thursday. This was brought back in procession on
Easter Day to figure the Resurrection. This Mystery was represented in many
churches in the Middle Ages.--Lent and Holy Week, p. 299 (London, 1904).
7. op cit., p. 171 seq.
0. ROTTMANNER, "Ueber neuere und altere Deutungen des Wortes Missa," in
"Theol. quartalsch." (Tubingen, 1889, PP. 531-557).
H. KELLNER, "L'Annee ecclesiastique" (tr. J. Bund), Paris 1910, PP. 111-
121, "Digression sur le nom de Messe."
H. KELLNER, "Wo und wann wurde 'Missa' stehende Bezeichnung fur das
Messopfer," in "Theol. quartalsch.," 1901, LXXXIII, pp- 427-443.
P. LEJAY, "Revue d'histoire et de litterature relig.," Vol. II (1897) P.
287, and VIII (1903), P. 512; and "Ambrosien" in DACL, col. 1400 seq.
FORTESCUE, "The Mass." An appendix on the names of the Mass.
Mgr. BATIFFOL, "Lecons sur la Messe," pp. 166 seq., 175, 183. DACL,
"Actio," "Eucharistie," "Eulogie."