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History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.
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§ 92. The Mass.


Comp. vol. III. § 96–101 and the liturgical Lit. there quoted; also the works on Christian and Ecclesiastical Antiquities, e.g. Siegel III. 361–411.


The public worship centered in the celebration of the mass as an actual, though unbloody, repetition of the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world. In this respect the Eastern and Western churches are fully agreed to this day. They surround this ordinance with all the solemnity of a mysterious symbolism. They differ only in minor details.

Pope Gregory I. improved the Latin liturgy, and gave it that shape which it substantially retains in the Roman church.421421    See the Ordo Missae Romanae Gregorianus, compared with the Ordo Gelasianus, Ambrosianus, Gallicanus, Mozarabicus, etc., in Daniel’s Codex Liturg. vol. I. 3-168. He was filled with the idea that the eucharist embodies the reconciliation of heaven and earth, of eternity and time, and is fraught with spiritual benefit for the living and the pious dead in one unbroken communion. When the priest offers the unbloody sacrifice to God, the heavens are opened, the angel are present, and the visible and invisible worlds united.422422    Dialog. 1. IV. c. 58 (in Migne’s ed. III. 425 sq.): ”Quis fidelium habere dubium possit, in ipsa immolationis hora ad sacerdotis vocem coelis aperiri, in illo jesu Christi mysteria angelorum choros adesse, summis ima sociari, terrena coelestibus jungi, unumque ex visibilibus atque invisibilibus fieri?

Gregory introduced masses for the dead,423423    Misae pro Defunctis, Todtenmessen, Seelenmessen. Different from them are the Missae de Sanctis, celebrated on the anniversaries of the saints, and to their honor, though the sacrifice is always offered to God. in connection with the doctrine of purgatory which he developed and popularized. They were based upon the older custom of praying for the departed, and were intended to alleviate and abridge the penal sufferings of those who died in the Catholic faith, but in need of purification from remaining infirmities. Very few Catholics are supposed to be prepared for heaven; and hence such masses were often ordered beforehand by the dying, or provided by friends.424424    Even popes, though addressed by the title “Holiness,” while living, have to pass through purgatory, and need the prayers of the faithful. On the marble sarcophagus of Pius IX., who reigned longer than any of his predecessors, and proclaimed his own infallibility in the Vatican Council (1870), are the words: ”Orate pro eo.” Prayers and masses are said only for the dead in purgatory, not for the saints in heaven who do not need them, nor for the damned in hell who would not profit by them. They furnished a large income to priests. The Oriental church has no clearly defined doctrine of purgatory, but likewise holds that the departed are benefited by prayers of the living, “especially such as are offered in union with the oblation of the bloodless sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ, and by works of mercy done in faith for their memory.”425425    Quoted from the Longer Catechism of the Eastern Church (Schaff, Creeds II. 504). The Greeks have in their ritual special strophes or antiphones for the departed, called νεκρώσιμα. Mone, Lat. Hymnen des Mittel alters, II. 400, gives some specimens from John of Damascus and others. He says, that the Greeks have more hymns for the departed than the Latins, but that the Latins have older hymni pro defunctis, beginning with Prudentius.

The high estimate of the efficacy of the sacrament led also to the abuse of solitary masses, where the priest celebrates without attendants.426426    Missae solitariae or privatae. This destroys the original character of the institution as a feast of communion with the Redeemer and the redeemed. Several synods in the age of Charlemagne protested against the practice. The Synod of Mainz in 813 decreed: “No presbyter, as it seems to us, can sing masses alone rightly, for how will he say sursum corda! or Dominus vobiscum! when there is no one with him?” A reformatory Synod of Paris, 829, prohibits these masses, and calls them a “reprehensible practice,” which has crept in “partly through neglect, partly through avarice.”427427    Can. 48. Mansi XIV. 529 sqq. Hefele IV. 64.

The mysterious character of the eucharist was changed into the miraculous and even the magical with the spread of the belief in the doctrine of transubstantiation. But the doctrine was contested in two controversies before it triumphed in the eleventh century.428428    See the next chapter, on Theological Controversies.

The language of the mass was Greek in the Eastern, Latin in the Western church. The Latin was an unknown tongue to the barbarian races of Europe. It gradually went out of use among the descendants of the Romans, and gave place to the Romanic languages. But the papal church, sacrificing the interests of the people to the priesthood, and rational or spiritual worship429429    Comp. λογικὴ λατρεία, Rom. 12:1. to external unity, retained the Latin language in the celebration of the mass to this day, as the sacred language of the church. The Council of Trent went so far as to put even the uninspired Latin Vulgate practically on an equality with the inspired Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.430430    Sess. IV. (April 8, 1546):”Sacrosancta Synodus … statuit et declarat, ut haec ipsa vetus et vulgata editio, quiae longo tot saeculorum usu in ipsa ecclesia probata est, in publicis lectionibus, disputationibus, praedicationibus et expositionibus pro authentica habeatur;. et ut nemo illam rejicere quovis praetextu audeat vel praesumat!“ The Council made provision for an authoritative revision of the Vulgate (April 8, 1546); but when the edition of Pope Sixtus V. appeared in 1589 and was enjoined upon the church “by the fullness of apostolic power,” it was found to be so full of errors and blunders that it had to be cancelled, and a new edition prepared under Clement VIII. in 1592, which remains the Roman standard edition to this day.



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