It will not be necessary, under this heading, to explain the Catholic doctrine regarding the Mass, for this book is devoted rather to practice than to doctrine. In this chapter we will confine ourselves to an explanation of the meaning of the name of the Mass, the past and present customs and rules as to the time of saying it, the applying of its fruits to souls, and the various kinds of Masses, that are celebrated at the present time.
The Name of the Mass. Why is the great Sacrifice of the Altar called the Mass? The English word is from the Latin “missa,” derived from the verb “mittere,” to send, and signifies “a dismissal.” But why is it used as the name of the Sacrifice? Because in the ancient liturgy of the Church there were two solemn dismissals; first, that of the catechumens , those partly instructed and not yet baptized, after the Gospel and the sermon; and secondly, that of the faithful at the end of the Mass — still preserved in our Masses by the announcement “Ite, missa est,” — “Go, it is the dismissal”— just before the blessing and the last Gospel . The word for dismissal gradually came to denote the service from which these persons were dismissed. The French form, “Messe,” was taken into England in Norman times, and was later modified into “Maesse,” “Masse,” and finally “Mass .”
In the early centuries of the Church it was known by various names — the Breaking of Bread, the Lord’s Supper, the Solemnity of the Lord, the Sacrifice, the Holy Liturgy, and the Eucharist, which means Thanksgiving.
The Frequency of Celebration. To us, who have Mass in our churches every day, and who know that priests usually offer the Holy Sacrifice daily, it may seem strange that it was not always thus. In the first centuries the bishops and priests celebrated together — one Mass, said by several. The only vestige of this practice that remains is in the Mass of Ordination, in which the newly ordained priests say Mass jointly with the bishop, though they do not partake of the same Host nor of the Precious Blood. In those early times, then, there was usually only one Mass each day in a church; and this is the custom at the present day among the Greek and Oriental schismatics. In many parts of the world , in the first centuries, Mass was only celebrated on Sundays and great feasts; but as far back as the time of St. Augustine it began to be common to have at least one daily Mass in each church .
At the present time Mass may be said in our churches every day except on Good Friday, on which day the priest merely receives Holy Communion, consuming the Host consecrated on Holy Thursday and reserved over night in the Repository.
Many centuries ago it was customary for the same celebrant to say more than one Mass if he wished to do so. Some priests said several daily. It is related that Pope Leo III, from a spirit of devotion, sometimes celebrated nine times in one day. But another Pope, Alexander II, restricted all priests to one Mass a day, although shortly afterwards it was tolerated to offer two Masses, one of the feast of the day and the other for the dead.
Others were led to devotion in quite an opposite direction. They said Mass very seldom, deeming themselves unworthy. St. Thomas of Canterbury, from a spirit of humility, did not celebrate daily. Even the seraphic St. Francis of Assisi had such a reverence for the Mass that he wished to have it celebrated only once each day in the monasteries of his Order; the other priests were to content themselves with hearing Mass.
By the present law priests are prohibited from saying Mass more than once on any day except Christmas and All Souls’ Day, on which three may be said. Bishops, however, may allow their priests to “duplicate” or celebrate twice on Sunday and holydays of obligation if a considerable number of people would otherwise be unable to hear Mass; and our priests possess faculties, renewed yearly to that effect.
When is a priest obliged to say Mass? He is not required by any law to celebrate daily. The great spiritual writers of recent centuries, such as St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis de Sales, strongly urge priests to say Mass every day, and this may be called a common custom among our priests, at least when they are at home. A parish priest must say Mass or have it said when ever the people are bound to hear it.
The Hour of Mass. At what time in the day may Mass be said? This was subject to no special regulation down to the middle of the fifth century, although it was usually said early in the morning. After a time, in monasteries, it was celebrated at nine o’clock. Later it became customary to have Mass at noon, and even at three o’clock in the afternoon . According to the present law, Mass must not be said before dawn nor after mid-day. Dawn is generally computed as five o’clock, although during a part of the year it comes later than that hour. These limits must not be transgressed unless by permission of the Holy See. Such permission is sometimes given, usually to monastic churches only, for a midnight Mass at Christmas, or to churches on the occasion of a Jubilee.
The Fruits of the Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Altar is a sacrifice of adoration, praise and thanksgiving. It is also a sacrifice of propitiation and of petition — a means of obtaining all graces and blessings from God. It is offered always for certain persons — for those present in the church or residing in the parish, for the relatives and friends of the celebrant, for the members of the Church in general, and for the souls in Purgatory. According to theologians and spiritual writers, there is a threefold fruit of the Holy Sacrifice; namely, the general fruit, in which all the faithful participate — the more special fruit, which belongs to those for whom the priest intends to offer the Mass — and the most special fruit, for the priest himself. In “saying Mass” for a person, then, the priest applies to him the “more special fruit” of the Sacrifice. The general fruit is given always to the whole Church, and the “most special fruit” is reserved to the priest himself.
Intentions for Masses. All bishops and priests having the care of souls are obliged to say Mass expressly for the benefit and intention of their people on Sundays and holydays of obligation, and on certain other days which are now merely feasts of devotion but which were once holydays. This obligation exists, however, only in regions in which “canonical parishes” have been instituted. In the greater part of our country these parishes do not exist; and therefore those in charge of our “missionary parishes” have no obligation from justice to do this, although charity makes it fitting that they do so.
Every priest who receives an alms or stipend for a Mass incurs a strict obligation to say it or to have it said. This offering is meant as an aid to the support of the priest. The amount is fixed by diocesan rule, and the priest may not ask more, though he may accept more. If he says two Masses in one day, he is allowed to receive an offering for one only. All priests are urged not to keep on hand too many stipends for Masses, because thereby the offering of the Holy Sacrifice for the intention of the giver would be too long delayed. When they accumulate too rapidly, it is customary to give them to other priests less fortunately situated.
The Kinds of Masses. There are several kinds of Masses. The “Solemn High Mass” (in Latin “Missa Solemnis”) is celebrated with incense, music and the assistance of a deacon and subdeacon; the celebrant chants several parts of the Mass, and the deacon and subdeacon intone the Gospel and the Epistle respectively. A “Pontifical Mass” is a Solemn Mass celebrated by a bishop , and a “Papal Mass” is that in which the Pope is the celebrant.
A “High Mass” (in Latin “Missa Cantata” or Chanted Mass) is one that is sung by a priest without deacon or subdeacon.
A “Low Mass” is one that is celebrated without music, the priest reading the words throughout. It was unknown in the early centuries of the Church, although now it is said more frequently than any other. It is sometimes called a “Private Mass,” although that name belongs more properly to a Mass said by a priest mostly for his own devotion and not for the benefit of a parish or congregation. For a low Mass it is necessary to have a server or acolyte, but in our country, being a “missionary land,” permission is given to priests to celebrate without such assistance when the services of an acolyte cannot be had.
A “Parochial Mass” is the principal Mass offered in a parish church on Sundays and great festivals. It is the “assembly of the faithful in which they offer public prayers and sacrifice by the ministry of their pastor.”
A “Capitular Mass” is the High Mass on Sundays and festivals in Catholic countries in churches that are served by a “chapter” or body of canons, whose principal duty is the recitation of the Divine Office. A “Conventual Mass” is not, as the name would seem to denote, a Mass said in a convent. It is the daily Mass for the chapter of canons, taking place at a fixed hour after the chanting of a part of the Office.
A “Votive Mass” is one which does not correspond to the office of the day, but is said at the choice of the priest, and is permitted only on certain days. For instance, on many days of minor importance in the Church’s calendar, the priest may omit the Mass of the day and say instead a Mass of the Holy Ghost, of the Sacred Heart, of the Blessed Virgin, or some other, according to his own devotion or the request of the giver of the offering for the Mass.
And lastly, a “Requiem Mass” is a Mass for the dead, said in black vestments. It may be a Solemn Mass, a High Mass or a Low Mass. It is called a Requiem Mass from the opening words of the Introit: “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine” — “Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord.”