A Laymen’s Commentary on the Augsburg Confession: The Mass

This is part 25 of 30 in the series A Layman's Commentary on the Augsburg Confession

Article XXIV: Of the Mass.

1] Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among 2] us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added 3] to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned 4] be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. And not only has Paul commanded to use in the church a language understood by the people 1 Cor. 14:2-9, but it has also been so ordained by man’s law. 5] The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public 6] worship. For none are admitted 7] except they be first examined. The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. 8] [In this connection they are also instructed regarding other and false teachings on the Sacrament.] This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion 9] toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us.

 

The term Mass comes from the Latin word missa, meaning dismissal, which is used in the concluding statements of the Mass “Ite, missa est” (Go; it is the dismissal).  Colloquially Mass can be used interchangeably with the following: Divine Service, Eucharist, Sacrament of the Altar, and Lord’s Supper.  Eucharist deserves special note as it means thanksgiving, referring to Christ giving thanks when He establishes the Sacrament.  Finally properly speaking it is not a Divine Service if it is missing the Sacrament of the Altar.

During the Reformation, the Lutheran’s were accused of abolishing the Mass.  This is simply not true. Rather the Reformers reworked the Mass taking out the heretical parts.  The Reformers celebrated the Mass with all due reverence.  They also added hymns in German to teach, as vernacular hymns in the service was an ancient practice that had fallen out of use.  For the Lutherans, the entire liturgy and hymnody are designed to teach the faith to the congregation.

In our day the Divine Service is not done in Latin anymore, or even in German but in the language of the people.  This is because the Divine Service should be intelligible.  After all, faith comes from hearing and to hear one must understand the language.  This does not preclude singing in alternate languages during the service.  If this is done a translation should be provided for those who do not know the language (1 Corinthians 14:1-25).

The Reformers stress that no one is admitted to the Sacrament without examination, but all who are approved are permitted to attend.  The examination involves checking the consistency of doctrine, especially about the Sacrament as well as Confession of sins.  This practice of closed communion was in line with the historic church.

In the end, the Sacrament is used to comfort consciences.  This worship is edifying and strengthens consciences.  Thus the accusations against the Reformers is baseless (Colossians 1:1-14).

10] But it is evident that for a long time this also has been the public and most grievous complaint of all good men that Masses have been basely profaned and applied to purposes of lucre. 11] For it is not unknown how far this abuse obtains in all the churches by what manner of men Masses are said only for fees or stipends, and how many celebrate them contrary to the Canons. 12] But Paul severely threatens those who deal unworthily with the Eucharist when he says, 1 Cor. 11:27: Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 13] When, therefore our priests were admonished concerning this sin, Private Masses were discontinued among us, as scarcely any Private Masses were celebrated except for lucre’s sake.

14] Neither were the bishops ignorant of these abuses, and if they had corrected them in time, there would now be less dissension. Heretofore, 15] by their own connivance, they suffered many corruptions to creep into the Church. Now, when it is too late, they begin to complain 16] of the troubles of the Church, while this disturbance has been occasioned simply by those abuses which were so manifest that they could be borne no longer. There have been great 17] dissensions concerning the Mass, concerning the Sacrament. 18] Perhaps the world is being punished for such long-continued profanations of the Mass as have been tolerated in the churches for so many centuries by the very men who 19] were both able and in duty bound to correct them. For in the Ten Commandments it is written, Ex. 20:7: The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain. But since 20] the world began, nothing that God ever ordained seems to have been so abused for filthy lucre as the Mass.

The Mass as practiced by the Roman Catholics was anything but pure.  It had been long since polluted for the sake of wealth.  People would pay to have Masses done for them and for the dead in the hopes of getting people out of Purgatory early.  To use the Mass in this manner is to profane it and use it unworthily which St. Paul warns against.  These Masses were actually detrimental to those who did them. Once the Reformers understood this they stopped doing them.

The bishops should have stopped this heretical practice earlier before it spread.  Better to nip it in the bud early than have a much larger problem later.  Proper oversight is critical for the maintenance of pure doctrine.  Those in power should not be afraid to point out those in error or to execute judgment on them.  As the Lord warns in the Law, we are not to take His name in vain. He promises judgment on those who do.

21] There was also added the opinion which infinitely increased Private Masses, namely that Christ, by His passion, had made satisfaction for original sin, and instituted the Mass wherein an offering should be made for daily sins, 22] venial and mortal. From this has arisen the common opinion that the Mass 23] takes away the sins of the living and the dead by the outward act. Then they began to dispute whether one Mass said for many were worth as much as special Masses for individuals, and this brought forth that infinite multitude of Masses. [With this work men wished to obtain from God all that they needed, and in the mean time faith in Christ and the true worship were forgotten.]

24] Concerning these opinions our teachers have given warning that they depart from the Holy Scriptures and diminish the glory of the passion of Christ. For Christ’s passion 25] was an oblation and satisfaction, not for original guilt only, but also for all other sins, as it is written to the Hebrews 10:10: 26] We are sanctified through the offering of Jesus Christ once for all. Also, Hebrews 10:14: 27]By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. [It is an unheard-of innovation in the Church to teach that Christ by His death made satisfaction only for original sin and not likewise for all other sin. Accordingly it is hoped that everybody will understand that this error has not been reproved without due reason.]

28] Scripture also teaches that we are justified before God through faith in Christ, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. 29] Now if the Mass take away the sins of the living and the dead by the outward act justification comes of the work of Masses, and not of faith, which Scripture does not allow.

It was thought by the Roman Catholics that Christ died for Original Sin. The Mass was a re-sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of current sins.  It was also thought that it could reduce time in Purgatory. Even worse was thinking that just by doing the Mass, that is the mere act of consecration and the action of just the priest, was sufficient to bestow these blessings.  Thus people paid to have the Mass performed for all sorts of reasons and doubt was engendered about Christ’s sacrifice.

This all goes back to Justification.  Christ died once for all sin, both Original and Actual Sins.  It is blasphemous and steals glory from God to say that Christ only atoned for Original Sin.  It is blasphemous to say that the Mass justifies just by doing it (Hebrews 10:1-18).

30] But Christ commands us, Luke 22:19: This do in remembrance of Me; therefore the Mass was instituted that the faith of those who use the Sacrament should remember what benefits it receives through Christ, and cheer and comfort the anxious conscience. For to remember Christ is to remember His benefits, 31] and to realize that they are truly offered unto us. 32] Nor is it enough only to remember the history; for this also the Jews and the ungodly can remember. 33] Wherefore the Mass is to be used to this end, that there the Sacrament [Communion] may be administered to them that have need of consolation; as Ambrose says: Because I always sin, I am always bound to take the medicine. [Therefore this Sacrament requires faith, and is used in vain without faith.]

34] Now, forasmuch as the Mass is such a giving of the Sacrament, we hold one communion every holy-day, and, if any desire the Sacrament, also on other days, when it is given to such as ask for it. 35] And this custom is not new in the Church; for the Fathers before Gregory make no mention of any private Mass, but of the common Mass [the Communion] they speak very much. Chrysostom says 36] that the priest stands daily at the altar, inviting some 37] to the Communion and keeping back others. And it appears from the ancient Canons that some one celebrated the Mass from whom all the other presbyters and deacons received the body of he Lord; for thus 38] the words of the Nicene Canon say: Let the deacons, according to their order, receive the Holy Communion after the presbyters, from the bishop or from a presbyter. 39] And Paul, 1 Cor. 11:33, commands concerning the Communion: Tarry one for another, so that there may be a common participation.

40] Forasmuch, therefore, as the Mass with us has the example of the Church, taken from the Scripture and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved, especially since public ceremonies, for the most part like those hither to in use, are retained; only the number of Masses differs, which, because of very great and manifest abuses doubtless might be profitably reduced. 41] For in olden times, even in churches most frequented, the Mass was not celebrated every day, as the Tripartite History (Book 9, chap. 33) testifies: Again in Alexandria, every Wednesday and Friday the Scriptures are read, and the doctors expound them, and all things are done, except the solemn rite of Communion.

Instead, the Divine Service is for the delivery of forgiveness for you.  It is Subjective Justification, namely the instrument to give the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to you.  It is for our comfort.

We should do Communion every holy day and especially give it to those who desire its comfort such as at the death bed.  We should be sure to do celebrate it in good order and not forbid anyone who has examined themselves and been examined by the pastor to come.  This is not just for priests but for the whole congregation. The Divine Service is never private, but public.  We do not need to do more Masses, but rather do it regularly, with reverence and faithfully.

The Confutation objects to this and repeats the accusation that the Reformers abolish the Mass.  The Apology responds thusly:

At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we 1] do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.

2] The adversaries have a long declamation concerning the use of the Latin language in the Mass, in which they absurdly trifle as to how it profits [what a great merit is achieved by] an unlearned hearer to hear in the faith of the Church a Mass which he does not understand. They evidently imagine that the mere work of hearing is a service, that it profits without being understood. 3] We are unwilling to malignantly pursue these things, but we leave them to the judgment of the reader. We mention them only for the purpose of stating, in passing, that also among us the Latin lessons and prayers are retained.

Since ceremonies, however, ought to be observed both to teach men Scripture, and that those admonished by the Word may conceive faith and fear [of God, and obtain comfort], and thus also may pray (for these are the designs of ceremonies), we retain the Latin language on account of those who are learning and understand Latin, and we mingle with it German hymns, in order that the people also may have something to learn, and by which faith and fear 4] may be called forth. This custom has always existed in the churches. For although some more frequently, and others more rarely, introduced German hymns, nevertheless the people almost everywhere sang something in their own 5] tongue. [Therefore, this is not such a new departure.] It has, however, nowhere been written or represented that the act of hearing lessons not understood profits men, or that ceremonies profit, not because they teach or admonish, but ex opere operato, because they are thus performed or are looked upon. Away with such pharisaic opinions! [Ye sophists ought to be heartily ashamed of such dreams!]

Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XXIV (XII) 1-5

Melancthon rehashes many of the arguments he made before.  He then discusses sacrifice.  Namely:

16] Socrates, in the Phaedrus of Plato, says that he is especially fond of divisions, because without these nothing can either be explained or understood in speaking, and if he discovers any one skilful in making divisions, he says that he attends and follows his footsteps as those of a god. And he instructs the one dividing to separate the members in their very joints, lest, like an unskilful cook, he break to pieces some member. But the adversaries wonderfully despise these precepts, and, according to Plato, are truly kakoi mavgeiroi (poor butchers), since they break the members of “sacrifice,” as can be understood when we have enumerated the species of sacrifice. 17] Theologians are rightly accustomed to distinguish between a Sacrament and a sacrifice. Therefore let the genus comprehending both of these be either 18] a ceremony or a sacred work. A Sacrament is a ceremony or work in which God presents to us that which the promise annexed to the ceremony offers; as, Baptism is a work, not which we offer to God, but in which God baptizes us, i.e., a minister in the place of God; and God here offers and presents the remission of sins, etc., according to the promise, Mark 16:16: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. A sacrifice, on the contrary, is a ceremony or work which we render God in order to afford Him honor.

19] Moreover, the proximate species of sacrifice are two, and there are no more. One is the propitiatory sacrifice, i.e., a work which makes satisfaction for guilt and punishment, i.e., one that reconciles God, or appeases God’s wrath, or which merits the remission of sins for others. The other species is the eucharistic sacrifice, which does not merit the remission of sins or reconciliation, but is rendered by those who have been reconciled, in order that we may give thanks or return gratitude for the remission of sins that has been received, or for other benefits received.

20] These two species of sacrifice we ought especially to have in view and placed before the eyes in this controversy, as well as in many other discussions; and especial care must be taken lest they be confounded. But if the limits of this book would suffer it, we would add the reasons for this division. For it has many testimonies in the Epistle to the Hebrews and elsewhere. And 21] all Levitical sacrifices can be referred to these members as to their own homes [genera]. For in the Law certain sacrifices were named propitiatory on account of their signification or similitude; not because they merited the remission of sins before God, but because they merited the remission of sins according to the righteousness of the Law, in order that those for whom they were made might not be excluded from that commonwealth [from the people of Israel]. Therefore they were called sin-offerings and burnt offerings for a trespass. Whereas the eucharistic sacrifices were the oblation, the drink-offering, thank-offerings, first-fruits, tithes.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XXIV (XII) 16-21

So there are eucharistic and atoning sacrifices.  There has, in fact, only been one atoning sacrifice as Melancthon goes on to argue.  The rest were either at the command of the Law or eucharistic.

53] And although our belief has its chief testimonies in the Epistle to the Hebrews, nevertheless the adversaries distort against us mutilated passages from this Epistle, as in this very passage, where it is said that every high priest is ordained to offer sacrifices for sins. Scripture itself immediately adds that Christ is High Priest, Heb. 5:5-6,10. The preceding words speak of the Levitical priesthood, and signify that the Levitical priesthood was an image of the priesthood of Christ. For the Levitical sacrifices for sins did not merit the remission of sins before God; they were only an image of the sacrifice of Christ, which was to be the one propitiatory sacrifice, as we have said above. 54] Therefore the Epistle is occupied to a great extent with the topic that the ancient priesthood and the ancient sacrifices were instituted not for the purpose of meriting the remission of sins before God or reconciliation, but only to signify the future sacrifice of Christ alone. 55] For in the Old Testament it was necessary for saints to be justified by faith derived from the promise of the remission of sins that was to be granted for Christ’s sake, just as saints are also justified in the New Testament. From the beginning of the world it was necessary for all saints to believe that Christ would be the promised offering and satisfaction for sins, as Isaiah 53:10 teaches: When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin.

56] Since, therefore, in the Old Testament, sacrifices did not merit reconciliation, unless by a figure (for they merited civil reconciliation), but signified the coming sacrifice, it follows that Christ is the only sacrifice applied on behalf of the sins of others. Therefore, in the New Testament no sacrifice is left to be applied for the sins of others, except the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.

57] They altogether err who imagine that Levitical sacrifices merited the remission of sins before God, and, by this example in addition to the death of Christ, require in the New Testament sacrifices that are to be applied on behalf of others. This imagination absolutely destroys the merit of Christ’s passion and the righteousness of faith, and corrupts the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, and instead of Christ makes for us other mediators and propitiators out of the priests and sacrificers, who daily sell their work in the churches.

58] Therefore, if any one would thus infer that in the New Testament a priest is needed to make offering for sins, this must be conceded only of Christ. And the entire Epistle to the Hebrews confirms this explanation. And if, in addition to the death of Christ, we were to seek for any other satisfaction to be applied for the sins of others and to reconcile God, this would be nothing more than to make other mediators in addition to Christ. 59] Again, as the priesthood of the New Testament is the ministry of the Spirit, as Paul teaches 2 Cor. 3:6, it, accordingly, has but the one sacrifice of Christ, which is satisfactory and applied for the sins of others. Besides, it has no sacrifices like the Levitical, which could be applied ex opere operato on behalf of others; but it tenders to others the Gospel and the Sacraments, that by means of these they may conceive faith and the Holy Ghost, and be mortified and quickened, because the ministry of the Spirit conflicts with the application of an opus operatum. [For, unless there is personal faith and a life wrought by the Holy Spirit, the opus operatum of another cannot render me godly nor save me.] For the ministry of the Spirit is that through which the Holy Ghost is efficacious in hearts; and therefore this ministry is profitable to others, when it is efficacious in them, and regenerates and quickens them. This does not occur by the application ex opere operato of the work of another on behalf of others.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XXIV (XII) 53-59

The Levitical sacrifices merited nothing on their own but rather pointed forward to Christ.  The Mass is a sacrifice of thanksgiving as well as given for our comfort.  The Mass though is not a sacrifice of atonement.

68] Some clever men imagine that the Lord’s Supper was instituted for two reasons. First, that it might be a mark and testimony of profession, just as a particular shape of hood is the sign of a particular profession. Then they think that such a mark was especially pleasing to Christ, namely, a feast to signify mutual union and friendship among Christians, because banquets are signs of covenant and friendship. But this is a secular view; neither does it show the chief use of the things delivered by God; it speaks only of the exercise of love, which men, however profane and worldly, understand; it does not speak of faith, the nature of which few understand.

69] The Sacraments are signs of God’s will toward us, and not merely signs of men among each other; and they are right in defining that Sacraments in the New Testament are signs of grace. And because in a sacrament there are two things, a sign and the Word, the Word, in the New Testament, is the promise of grace added. The promise of the New Testament is the promise of the remission of sins, as the text, Luke 22:19, says: This is My body, which is given for you. This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 70] Therefore the Word offers the remission of sins. And a ceremony is, as it were, a picture or seal, as Paul, Rom. 4:11, calls it, of the Word, making known the promise. Therefore, just as the promise is useless unless it is received by faith, so a ceremony is useless unless such faith is added as is truly confident that the remission of sins is here offered. And this faith encourages contrite minds. And just as the Word has been given in order to excite this faith, so the Sacrament has been instituted in order that the outward appearance meeting the eyes might move the heart to believe [and strengthen faith]. For through these, namely, through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Ghost works.

71] And such use of the Sacrament, in which faith quickens terrified hearts, is a service of the New Testament, because the New Testament requires spiritual dispositions, mortification and quickening. [For according to the New Testament the highest service of God is rendered inwardly in the heart.] And for this use Christ instituted it, since He commanded them thus to do in remembrance of Him. 72] For to remember Christ is not the idle celebration of a show [not something that is accomplished only by some gestures and actions], or one instituted for the sake of example, as the memory of Hercules or Ulysses is celebrated in tragedies, but it is to remember the benefits of Christ and receive them by faith, so as to be quickened by them. Psalm 111:4-5 accordingly says: He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He hath given meat unto them that fear Him. For it signifies that the will and mercy of God should be discerned in the 73] ceremony. But that faith which apprehends mercy quickens. And this is the principal use of the Sacrament, in which it is apparent who are fit for the Sacrament, namely, terrified consciences, and how they ought to use it.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XXIV (XII) 68-73

The main point of the Mass is always the Justification and comfort of the conscience.  It is not for the dead or for other people but for the one receiving it.  The Divine Service is for you.  Melancthon goes on throughout the Apology to thoroughly destroy any conception of opus operatum, ex operae operatum, and the concept of the Mass as an atoning sacrifice.

1 Lord Jesus Christ, You have prepared
This feast for our salvation;
It is Your body and Your blood,
And at Your invitation
As weary souls, with sin oppressed,
We come to You for needed rest,
For comfort, and for pardon.

2 Although You did to Heav’n ascend,
Where angel hosts are dwelling,
And in Your presence they behold
Your glory, all excelling,
And though Your people shall not see
Your glory and Your majesty
Till dawns the judgment morning.

3 Yet, Savior, You are not confined
To any habitation;
But You are present even now
Here with Your congregation.
Firm as a rock this truth shall stand,
Unmoved by any daring hand
Or subtle craft and cunning.

4 We eat this bread and drink this cup,
Your precious Word believing
That Your true body and Your blood
Our lips are here receiving.
This word remains forever true,
All things are possible with You,
For You are Lord Almighty.

5 Though reason cannot understand,
Yet faith this truth embraces;
Your body, Lord, is even now
At once in many places.
I leave to You how this can be;
Your Word alone suffices me;
I trust its truth unfailing.

6 Lord, I believe what You have said;
Help me when doubts assail me.
Remember that I am but dust,
And let my faith not fail me.
Your Supper in this vale of tears
Refreshes me and stills my fears
And is my priceless treasure.

7 Grant that we worthily receive
Your Supper, Lord, our Savior,
And, truly grieving o’er our sins,
May prove by our behavior
That we are thankful for Your grace
And day by day may run our race,
In holiness increasing.

8 For Your consoling supper, Lord,
Be praised throughout all ages!
Preserve it, for in ev’ry place
The world against it rages.
Grant that this sacrament may be
A blessèd comfort unto me
When living and when dying.

(LSB 622)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

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