Mass (religion)

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Mass, religious service of the Roman Catholic Church, which has as its central act the performance of the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is based on the ancient Latin liturgy of the city of Rome, now used in most, but not all, Roman Catholic churches. The term Mass [Lat. missa,=dismissed] probably derives from the practice of dismissing the catechumens—those not yet initiated into the mystery of the Eucharist—before the offertory and from the words Ite, missa est [Go, you are dismissed] spoken to the faithful at the end of the Mass. The term is also used among Anglo-Catholics; in the Eastern churches the Mass is generally called the Holy Liturgy or the Offering. For non-Roman liturgies, see liturgy.

The Role of the Catholic Mass

In the Roman Catholic Church, except for the altogether distinct Ambrosian rite (see Ambrose, Saint) and for some variant forms among religious orders, especially that of the Dominicans, the service is the same everywhere, under regulation of the Holy See. The language of the liturgy is typically terse. The celebrant, who must be a priest, follows a prescribed missal and wears certain vestments. Mass is said at an altar containing relics; two candles must be burning. A congregation is not essential, but solitary Mass is discouraged. A High (solemn) Mass requires a priest, deacon, and choir. Low Mass, much more common, is the same service said by one priest. Normally at Low Mass a server or acolyte, traditionally called an altar boy but now often a girl, helps the celebrant. Most of the text is invariable, or "ordinary," but certain parts, called "proper," change with the occasion or day. Mass may be offered with a special intention, as in thanksgiving or for peace. A requiem is a proper Mass for the dead. Most priests say Mass daily. Sunday Mass is an important sociocultural factor in Roman Catholic life. All members are required to attend Mass on Sunday as a minimum participation in public worship.

The Service

The Mass begins with an entrance hymn, a greeting, and a brief penetential rite that includes the Kyrie eleison, the Gloria in excelsis (not always), a collect or collects, the proper epistle, an anthem and the proper Gospel (usually chanted and with all standing), and a homily on the texts. This ends the part of the Mass known in earlier times as the Mass of the Catechumens.

Mass continues with the creed (sometimes), the offertory (anthem with offering of bread and wine), offering of incense (sometimes), washing of the celebrant's hands, and proper prayers called "secrets." Then there is a chanted or spoken dialogue and proper preface of thanksgiving, ending in the Sanctus. That opens the long eucharistic prayer, or canon. It begins with prayers for the living. The consecration of the bread and wine follows; then the celebrant raises Host and chalice above his head for all to see and adore. The canon ends with prayers for the dead and a doxology, which is the solemn climax of the eucharistic prayer.

After the canon the Mass consists of the Lord's Prayer, a prayer amplifying the supplication "Deliver us from evil," the symbolic breaking of the Host and putting a piece into the cup, the kiss of peace (shared by the members of the congregation), the Agnus Dei, the communion, the ablution of vessels, the communion anthem, postcommunion prayers, the dismissal, and the blessing. There are ceremonial adjuncts such as processions, blessings, censings, and in some places, the ringing of a handbell at the consecration.

Music in the Mass

Of the portions of the Mass that may be sung, some are chanted solo at the altar with choral response; there are also nine hymns for the choir. Four of these are proper and related in theme, with texts usually from the Psalms: introit, anthem after the epistle (alleluia, gradual, tract, or sequence), offertory, and communion. The five ordinary choral pieces are Kyrie eleison, Gloria in excelsis, Credo (see creed), Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Plainsong is prescribed for all texts, but latitude is permitted the choir. A musical setting for the five ordinary hymns, called a Mass, has been a major musical form. The principal period of Mass composition lasted from 1400 to 1700. It came to an end with shift of interest to instrumental music, although later composers did use the form. Among the many composers who produced Masses are Josquin des Prés, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, and Stravinsky.

Changes in the Mass

The basic structure of the Mass is largely unchanged since the 6th cent. In the Counter Reformation the forms were restricted and local variants eliminated. As a result of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Mass liturgy has undergone extensive reformation. The revisions include the use of the vernacular languages in the place of Latin, an emphasis on congregational singing, latitude for modifications that may be introduced by local bishops, additional eucharistic prayers, and communion in both bread and wine. In 2011, however, a new English translation of the Mass was put into effect. The changes were designed to align the English text more literally with the Latin, and revised much of the wording adopted after Vatican II.


See J. A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite (rev. ed. 1959); F. Amiot, History of the Mass (tr. 1959); H. Daniel-Rops, This Is the Mass (rev. ed. 1965); P. Loret, The Story of the Mass (1983).

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Mass. Owing to the importance the RC Mass holds in the minds of worshippers and the opportunities it offers for mus. participation it has exercised a large influence upon the development of mus. High Mass is sung, Low Mass is spoken. The Proper of the Mass (i.e. the parts which vary from season to season and day to day) has naturally usually been left to its traditional plainsong treatment. The 5 passages that are frequently set for ch., or for ch. and soloists, are: (a) Kyrie (Lord have mercy), (b) Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory be to God on high), (c) Credo (I believe), (d) Sanctus, with Benedictus properly a part of it, but in practice often separated (Holy, Holy … Blessed …), (e) Agnus Dei (O Lamb of God). These are, properly, the congregational element in the Ordinary, or Common of the Mass, i.e. the invariable part. Innumerable mus. settings have been provided by hundreds of composers of all European nations. The earliest polyphonic setting was probably that by Machaut in 14th cent. In the 15th cent. Du Fay and others introduced secular tunes as a cantus firmus, e.g. the folk song L'Homme armé. A high point was reached at the end of the 16th cent., when the unacc. choral contrapuntal style of comp. reached its apogee (Palestrina in It., Byrd in Eng., Victoria in Sp., etc.). In the 17th and 18th cents. the development of solo singing and increased understanding of the principles of effective orch. acc. led to great changes in the style of mus. treatment of the Mass, and the settings of the late 18th-cent. and early 19th-cent. composers ( Haydn, Mozart, Weber, Schubert, etc.), however musically effective, have not the devotional quality of the settings of the late 16th and early 17th cents. The practice had grown up of treating the 5 passages above mentioned as the opportunity for providing an extended work in oratorio style, two outstanding examples of this being the Mass in B minor of J. S. Bach (1724–49) and the Mass in D of Beethoven (1819–22). Many impressive settings have been comp. since Beethoven, e.g. by Bruckner, and in the 20th cent. by Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams, Rubbra, and many others.

In large-scale settings the above-mentioned 5 passages tended to become subdivided. The great setting by Bach is as follows: (a) Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy), Christe eleison (Christ, have mercy), Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy); (b) Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory be to God on high), Laudamus te (We praise Thee), Gratias agimus tibi (We give Thee thanks), Domine Deus (Lord God), Qui tollis peccata mundi (Who takest away the sins of the world), Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris (Who sittest at the right hand of the Father), Quoniam tu solus sanctus (For Thou only art holy), Cum Sancto Spiritu (With the Holy Spirit); (c) Credo in unum Deum (I believe in one God), Patrem omnipotentem (Father almighty), Et in unum Dominum (And in one Lord), Et incarnatus est (And was incarnate), Crucifixus (Crucified), Et resurrexit (And rose again), Et in Spiritum Sanctum (And (I believe) in the Holy Spirit), Confiteor unum baptisma (I confess one baptism); (d) Sanctus (Holy), Hosanna in excelsis (Hosanna in the highest), Benedictus qui venit (Blessed is he that cometh); (e) Agnus Dei (O Lamb of God), Dona nobis pacem (Give us peace). See also Missa and Requiem.

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mass / mas/ • n. 1. a coherent, typically large body of matter with no definite shape: a mass of curly hair from here the trees were a dark mass. ∎  a large number of people or objects crowded together: a mass of cyclists. ∎  a large amount of material: a mass of conflicting evidence. ∎  (masses) inf. a large quantity or amount of something: we get masses of homework. ∎  any of the main portions in a painting or drawing that each have some unity in color, lighting, or some other quality: the masterly distribution of masses. 2. (the mass of) the majority of: the great mass of the population had little interest in the project. ∎  (the masses) the ordinary people. 3. Physics the quantity of matter that a body contains, as measured by its acceleration under a given force or by the force exerted on it by a gravitational field. ∎  (in general use) weight. • adj. relating to, done by, or affecting large numbers of people or things: the movie has mass appeal a mass exodus of refugees. • v. assemble or cause to assemble into a mass or as one body: [tr.] both countries began massing troops in the region | [intr.] clouds massed heavily on the horizon. PHRASES: be a mass of be completely covered with: his face was a mass of bruises. in the mass as a whole: her genuine affection for humanity in the mass.DERIVATIVES: mass·less adj.

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mass Measure of the quantity of matter in an object. The standard unit of mass is the kilogram (one kg = 1000 grams). Scientists recognize two types of mass. The gravitational mass of a body is determined by its mutual attraction to another reference body, such as the Earth, as expressed in Newton's law of gravitation. Spring balances and platform balances proved a measure of gravitational mass. The inertial mass of a body is determined by its resistance to a change in state of motion, as expressed in the second law of motion. Inertia balances provide a measure of inertial mass. According to Einstein's principle of equivalence, upon which his general theory of relativity is based, the inertial mass and the gravitational mass of a given body are equivalent. See also weight

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Mass the Christian Eucharist or Holy Communion, especially in the Roman Catholic Church. Mass was also formerly used for the feast day or festival of a specified saint; this usage now survives only as a suffix, as in Candlemas, Christmas, Lammas, and Michaelmas.

Recorded from Old English, the word comes from ecclesiastical Latin missa, from Latin miss- ‘dismissed’, from mittere, perhaps from the last words of the service, ‘Ite, missa est [Go, it is the dismissal]’.

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Mass / mas/ • n. the Christian Eucharist or Holy Communion, esp. in the Roman Catholic Church: we went to Mass the Latin Mass. ∎  a celebration of this: there was a Mass and the whole family was supposed to go. ∎  a musical setting of parts of the liturgy used in the Mass.

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mass Celebration of the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church and among some High Church Anglicans. The Catholic rite comprises the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which includes the Offertory, the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood under the guise of bread and wine. In the late 20th century, the mass underwent a number of changes following the Second Vatican Council (1962–65).

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Mass (Lat. missa, from the words Ite, missa est, ‘Go, you are dismissed’ at the end). In the Roman Catholic Church, and among Anglo-Catholics, the usual title for the eucharist. Outside Catholic circles, the word has come to be associated in theological contexts with the doctrine of the eucharistic sacrifice.

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massalas, Alsace, amass, ass, Bass, chasse, crass, crevasse, en masse, gas, Hamas, lass, mass, morass, sass, tarantass, tass, wrasse •Díaz • Phidias • palliasse •materfamilias, paterfamilias •Asturias • Aphrodisias • Trias •Donbas • Vargas • Ofgas • biogas •teargas • jackass • Hellas • Ulfilas •Stanislas • Candlemas • landmass •Martinmas • biomass • Childermas •Esdras • Mithras • hippocras •sassafras • demitasse • gravitas

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mass1 Eucharistic service. OE. mæsse, messe, corr. to OS. missa (Du. mis), OHG. messa, missa (G. messe), ON. messa — ecclL. missa (Rom. *messa). L. missa (IV) is a verbal sb. from pp. stem miss- of mittere send, send away (cf. MISSION); its application to a service perh. results from a transference of meaning in phr. such as Ite, missa est Depart, it is the dismissal (i.e. the service is at an end), Et missæ fiant And let the dismissals be made (at the end of an office).