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.
A Word in Season