What is the Mass?

The Mass (L. Missa) or Holy Mass (Sancta Missa) is, in the words of the Baltimore Catechism, "the sacrifice of the New Law in which Christ, through the ministry of the priest, offers Himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine."[1]

This divine worship is the fulfilment of all the sacrifices of the Old Law, and is offered for the same ends: to adore God, to thank him for his benefits, to obtain his pardon and make satisfaction for sin, and to gain his blessings.[2] Thus God receives the perfect worship due his infinite Majesty, and man the grace he needs. Whereas the sacrifices of the Old Law were provisional and imperfect signs of what was to come, the sacrifice of Christ is pleasing to God in itself, everlasting, and infinite in value due to the excellence of the Victim. Since man is finite, however, the fruits of expiation and supplication which we receive from the sacrifice of the Mass are also limited. Thus we offer Mass for a given person more than once.[3]

In the Mass, bread and wine are miraculously changed into Christ's body and blood, while retaining the physical properties of food, so that men may partake of Christ's glorified humanity together with his divinity. This partaking is called Holy Communion, and it is the greatest of the seven sacraments, containing not only divine grace but Christ himself. This heavenly food nourishes and sustains the soul, cleanses what is impure, and prepares the Christian for Heavenly glory.[4]

In a stricter sense, "Mass" refers to the prayers and ceremonies which the Latin Church uses in offering this sacrifice. The Eastern Churches call their corresponding worship by other names. The Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch, for example, and other Eastern Churches using the Antiochene rite, call their Eucharist liturgy the "Holy Sacrifice" (W. Syr. Qurbono Qadisho). The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and other Ritual Churches using the Byzantine rite, call theirs the "Divine Liturgy" (Gr. Theia Leitourgia).

In the case of the "Mass of the Presanctified" on Good Friday, the word "Mass" is analogical, because the Holy Sacrifice is not then offered; rather, Communion hosts which were consecrated on Holy Thursday are distributed on Good Friday.

1. Baltimore Catechism (1941 ed.), P3, L27, Q357

2. Baltimore, Q361; cf. St. Alphonsus. "The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ" (1776) in The Holy Eucharist; Eugene Grimm, C.Ss.R., trans. and ed.; Baltimore 1889

3. Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Sacrifice of the Mass"

4. Roman Catechism, "The Sacrament of the Eucharist," in some English editions under the sub-heading "The Effects of the Eucharist."


Todd Aylard