Catholics can have a weird vocabulary sometimes. When a Catholic needs to look up times for church services on Sunday they will look up “Mass Times.” Parishes also list Daily Masses, and Masses for Holy Days of Obligation. Even Catholic weddings and funerals most often take place as part of a Mass. For the cradle Catholic, this will be a no-brainer, but for the outsider, the word “Mass” can seem like strange jargon.
What does Mass mean and why do Catholics use the word?
The English word “Mass” comes from the Latin word missa, which means to be “sent.” This Latin word has been used since the 6th or 7th century to describe the Catholic celebration of the Eucharist, our main liturgical service. The word is used during the conclusion of the celebration, when the priest or deacon says in Latin, Ite, missa est.
Pope Benedict XVI also expanded on these words in his encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis, but focused on a different spiritual meaning behind the phrase. He wrote, “In antiquity, missa simply meant ‘dismissal.’ However in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word ‘dismissal’ has come to imply a ‘mission.’ These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church. The People of God might be helped to understand more clearly this essential dimension of the Church’s life, taking the dismissal as a starting- point.”