This word means ‘festival’ or ‘feast’, and various feasts or festivals occur during the Christian year. Christmas is the best known: others include Candlemas on 2nd February, Lammas (elliptical form of ‘Loaf Mass’, when a loaf baked from newly harvested wheat would be brought into church to be blessed) on 1st August, Michaelmas on 29th September and Martinmas on 11th November. (When used as the final element of a word ‘mass’ loses an ‘s’). ‘Mass’ itself derives from missa, in turn derived from missio, both words being related to the Latin verb mittere, meaning ‘to send’. Missio gives us our English words ‘mission’ and ‘missionary’, the latter being someone ‘sent out’ to carry the Gospel to places where it is not known. In liturgical usage, the form missa appeared in the old formula of dismissal at the end of the Latin Mass. In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has restored the Latin Mass and with it the traditional formula of dismissal, Ite, missa est = ‘Go, it is the dismissal’. The ‘Mass’ is an alternative title for the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper and is especially associated with the Roman Catholic Church, although the word is also found in Anglican usage (cf ‘Midnight Mass’). There is some uncertainty as to how a word associated with a ‘sending out or away’ came to be used of the central rite of the Christian Church. Next week’s entry offers a possible explanation.
In today’s Epistle reading, speaking of the gifts of the Spirit, Paul refers (v 9) to the gift of healing. The word ‘heal’ is related to ‘whole’, a connection that is preserved in the KJ Bible when a person is said to be ‘made whole’, as in Matt 15:28. There are many contexts where the Greek word that is translated ‘heal’ could also be translated by the word ‘cure’. But there are also contexts where there is much less overlap between these two words. These are contexts where healing at a deeper level than the body is in view, as in Matt 13:15 and Luke 4:18. The distinction drawn here is well brought out by Ann Lewin in her book Seasons of Grace where, speaking of her father, who was dying of cancer, she says that although there was no curing of his cancer – despite her intense prayers – and he died, there was healing, both in him as he found the courage to face his pain and the death that would follow, and in Ann and her family as they were able to show their love for him and their support for one another. As she says, healing at this level does not take one back to where one was before but takes one on to a new stage in one’s inner life. Part of Ann’s healing was to recognise that in her father’s case, his fullest healing would come through death. No doubt Paul has both curing and healing in this deeper sense in view in the spiritual gift referred to in v 9.
A Word in Season