Why Call It the Mass?
What the Word, Mass, Really Means
The name Mass comes from the Latin phrase that was said when people left the Sunday celebration: “Ite, missa est.” In this case, the word missio means “sending forth.” As is the case with a lot of things in the Catholic Church, the name of the thing doesn’t exactly capture everything about it: the Mass is about a lot more than just being sent forth, though the name is important because it shows that the Mass isn’t just about sitting in a room with Jesus and trusted friends. Like Christ, Catholics are challenged to use their experience of the “Last Supper” not as an escape from the world but as a “sending forth” right into it-even in the face of persecution-be it the crucifixion Christ suffered or the more immediate and considerably less significant problem of the traffic jam that shows up every Sunday in the Church parking lot.
What’s in a Name?
The Mass has a lot of names actually. It is referred to as the Eucharist. This is a Greek word which means “to give thanks.” Although it is common to refer to the entire Mass as “the Eucharist,” this is confusing to some people because the Mass actually contains two parts: the first is called the Liturgy of the Word and the second is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Both of these sections contain many different elements, which we discuss in “What’s Happening in the Mass.” What’s important to know now is that the central part of the entire Mass–where the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus–happens during the second half, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The first half is still important, though. In fact, it wouldn’t be the Mass without the Liturgy of the Word. Some people also call the Mass, “Liturgy,” which means “work of the people.” This name emphasizes that our worship is (a) an action, not a thing, and (b) something we all have an important role in, not just the priest. However, “liturgy” can also refer to any of the seven sacraments or other types of prayer in the Church, so this name also may be misleading at times. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is kind of a handy how-to guide for all things Catholic, uses a lot of other words to define the Mass, including “The Holy and Divine Liturgy,” “Holy Communion,” “Holy Sacrifice,” and “Breaking of Bread” (1328-1332). Each of these different names emphasizes a different aspect of the Mass. For more on this, check out “The Many Faces of the Mass”