Mess: Candlemas falls on 2nd February. The element ‘-mas(s)’ may be related to the word ‘mess’ which, like ‘mass’, derives from missio via missa (see last week’s entry). Missa developed two lines of meaning. As the antecedent form of ‘mass’ it came to be used, in former times, as a formula of dismissal at the end of the Latin Mass. As an antecedent form of ‘mess’, however, it developed the meaning ‘a sending out or around of a course of food’. This development is reflected in the word ‘mess’ as used in the armed forces, where it refers to the quarters where service people take their meals, as in ‘officers’ mess’. In the Inns of Court in London budding barristers ‘mess together’ at mess tables of four, where they eat their prescribed numbers of dinners. The phrase ‘a mess of pottage’ has become proverbial. It seems to have been first used in the heading to Genesis Chapter 25 in the Geneva Bible of 1560, the chapter where (vv 29-34) Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a ‘mess of pottage’ – i.e. a dish of lentil stew. It is possible that ‘mass’ as a title for the Eucharist is a variant form of ‘mess’ rather than a transference from the formula of dismissal, which is the usual explanation.
A Word in Season