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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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Missa, in the church of Rome, the office or prayers used at the celebration of the eucharist; or, in other words, consecrating the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and offering them, so transubstantiated, as an expiatory sacrifice for the quick and the dead. As the mass is in general believed to be a representation of the passion of our blessed Saviour, so every action of the priest, and every particular part of the service, is supposed to allude to the particular circumstances of his passion and death. Nicod, after Baronius, observes, that the word comes from the Hebrew missach (oblatum;) or from the Latin missa missorum; because in the former times the catechumens and excommunicated were sent out of the church, when the deacons said, Ite, missa, est, after sermon and reading of the epistle and Gospel; they not being allowed to assist at the consecration. Menage derives the word from missio, "dismissing;" others from missa, "missing, sending;" because in the mass the prayers of men on earth are sent up to heaven. The general division of masses consist in high and low. The first is that sung by the choristers, and celebrated with the assistance of a deacon and sub-deacon: low masses are those in which the prayers are barely rehearsed without singing.

There are a great number of different or occasional masses in the Romish church, many of which have nothing peculiar but the name: such are the masses of the saints; that of St. Mary of the Snow, celebrated on the fifth of August; that of St. Margaret, patroness of lying-in-women; that of the feast of St. John the Baptist, at which are said three masses; that of the Innocents, at which the gloria in excelsis and hallelujah are omitted, and, it being a day of mourning, the altar is of a violet colour. As to ordinary masses, some are said for the dead, and, as is supposed, contribute to fetch the soul out of purgatory. At these masses the altar is put in mourning, and the only decorations are a cross in the middle of six yellow wax lights: the dress of the celebrant, and the very mass-book, are black; many parts of the office are omitted, and the people are dismissed without the benediction. If the mass be said for a person distinguished by his rank or virtues, it is followed with a funeral oration: they erect a chapelle ardente, that is, a representation of the deceased, with branches and tapers of yellow wax, either in the middle of the church, or near the deceased's tomb, where the priest pronounces a solemn absolution of the deceased.

There are likewise private masses said for stolen or strayed goods or cattle, for health, for travellers, &c. which go under the name of votive masses. There is still a further distinction of masses, denominated from the countries in which they were used: thus the Gothic mass, or missa mosarabum, is that used among the Goths when they were masters of Spain, and which is still kept up at Toledo and Salamanca; the Ambrosian mass is that composed by St. Ambrose, and used only at Milan, of which city he was bishop: the Gallic mass used by the ancient Gauls; and the Roman mass, used by almost al the churches in the Romish communion. Mass of the presanctified (missa praesanctificatorum) is a mass peculiar to the Greek church, in which there is no consecration of the elements; but, after singing some hymns, they receive the bread and wine which were before consecrated. This mass is performed all Lent, except on Saturdays, Sundays, and the Annunciation. The priest counts upon his fingers, the days of the ensuing week on which it is to be celebrated, and cuts off as many pieces of bread at the altar as he is to say masses; and after having consecrated them, steeps them in wine, and puts them in a box; out of which, upon every occasion, he takes some of it with a spoon, and, putting it on a dish, sets it on the altar.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Mass'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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