A Laymen’s Commentary on the Smalcald Articles: The Mass

This is part 4 of 7 in the series A Laymen's Commentary on the Smalcald Articles

Part II, Article II: Of the Mass.

1] That the Mass in the Papacy must be the greatest and most horrible abomination, as it directly and powerfully conflicts with this chief article, and yet above and before all other popish idolatries it has been the chief and most specious. For it has been held that this sacrifice or work of the Mass, even though it be rendered by a wicked [and abandoned] scoundrel, frees men from sins, both in this life and also in purgatory, while only the Lamb of God shall and must do this, as has been said above. Of this article nothing is to be surrendered or conceded, because the first article does not allow it.

The term Mass comes from the Latin word missa (dismissal) which is used in the concluding statements of the Mass “Ite, missa est” (Go; it is the dismissal).  In modern Lutheran parlance, the Mass is interchangeable with the terms Divine Service, Eucharist (thanksgiving), Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of the Altar.  However, in the Roman Catholic church, the Mass had turned into something quite abhorrent, as Luther goes on to describe.  It should be noted that when Luther says Mass he is not including the Sacrament of the Altar which is certainly commanded and instituted by God.  Rather he is speaking about the canon of the Mass and papist understanding of what the Mass is. This is why we should not use the term Mass for the Divine Service in our modern era as it makes reading the Book of Concord confusing. That said one can find it in common use in high liturgical circles due to the historic use of the term Mass in the church’s worship, as does the Augsburg Confession and the Reformers themselves in their writings on worship.  For the sake of clarity, we will use the term Mass to refer to the Roman Catholic abuse and the Sacrament of the Altar for the proper use.

For the Roman Catholics, the very act of the Mass was thought to give forgiveness of sins.  You did not actually need to partake of the Supper, but rather the Mass was efficacious in and of itself ex operae operato. Even worse you could say it for the dead, as Luther will describe later. Even worse than that the Mass was a re-sacrifice of Christ, and thought to give forgiveness because of that sacrifice.  All this was thought to be done by the priest himself, it was the action of the priests and monks who celebrated the Mass that saved, not God.

This is all apart from what clear Scripture confesses about who and what atones for our sins (John 1:29).  Justification is from Christ alone and was accomplished on the cross.  No further work need be done. Certainly no human work.  As such, since the Mass goes against the chief article on Justification, we must completely reject it.

2] If, perchance, there were reasonable Papists we might speak moderately and in a friendly way, thus: first, why they so rigidly uphold the Mass. For it is but a pure invention of men, and has not been commanded by God; and every invention of man we may [safely] discard, as Christ declares, Matt. 15:9: In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

3] Secondly. It is an unnecessary thing, which can be omitted without sin and danger.

4] Thirdly. The Sacrament can be received in a better and more blessed way [more acceptable to God], (yea, the only blessed way), according to the institution of Christ. Why, then, do they drive the world to woe and [extreme] misery on account of a fictitious, unnecessary matter, which can be well obtained in another and more blessed way?

5] Let [care be taken that] it be publicly preached to the people that the Mass as men’s twaddle [commentitious affair or human figment] can be omitted without sin, and that no one will be condemned who does not observe it, but that he can be saved in a better way without the Mass. I wager [Thus it will come to pass] that the Mass will then collapse of itself, not only among the insane [rude] common people, but also among all pious, Christian, reasonable, God-fearing hearts; and that the more, when they would hear that the Mass is a [very] dangerous thing, fabricated and invented without the will and Word of God.

6] Fourthly. Since such innumerable and unspeakable abuses have arisen in the whole world from the buying and selling of masses, the Mass should by right be relinquished, if for no other purpose than to prevent abuses, even though in itself it had something advantageous and good. How much more ought we to relinquish it, so as to prevent [escape] forever these horrible abuses, since it is altogether unnecessary, useless, and dangerous, and we can obtain everything by a more necessary, profitable, and certain way without the Mass.

7] Fifthly. But since the Mass is nothing else and can be nothing else (as the Canon and all books declare), than a work of men (even of wicked scoundrels), by which one attempts to reconcile himself and others to God, and to obtain and merit the remission of sins and grace (for thus the Mass is observed when it is observed at the very best; otherwise what purpose would it serve?), for this very reason it must and should [certainly] be condemned and rejected. For this directly conflicts with the chief article, which says that it is not a wicked or a godly hireling of the Mass with his own work, but the Lamb of God and the Son of God, that taketh away our sins.

Luther presents five reasons as to why the Mass can safely be abolished in favor of the Sacrament of the Altar.   First, it has not been commanded by God, but rather is purely a human invention.  Thus it can be safely set aside without sin (Matthew 15:1-9).

Second, the Mass itself is unnecessary.  Since it is not mandated by God and has no promise it does nothing. Thus can be omitted.

Third, the Sacrament of the Altar, which is hidden in the Mass, can be received in a better way.  Namely plainly in line with Christ’s institution (Matthew 26:26-29).  We do not need to add anything to it to make it more efficacious, as it would obscure the pure Gospel of the true Sacrament.

If just these three points were taught, the entire Mass would collapse because all the laity would realize its uselessness and dangerous properties. Luther does not stop there though. There is even more.

Fourth, the Mass is horribly abused by it being bought and sold.  As if grace and forgiveness of sins was something for sale. Even if the Mass had some good use, it should not be sold.  God’s grace is not for sale.

Fifth, it is purely a human work to try to reconcile us to God.  This is what the Mass is at its very best description, which is completely contrary to Scripture.  Christ alone justifies (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).

8] But if any one should advance the pretext that as an act of devotion he wishes to administer the Sacrament, or Communion, to himself, he is not in earnest [he would commit a great mistake, and would not be speaking seriously and sincerely]. For if he wishes to commune in sincerity, the surest and best way for him is in the Sacrament administered according to Christ’s institution. But that one administer communion to himself is a human notion, uncertain, unnecessary, yea, even prohibited. And he does not know what he is doing, because without the Word of God he obeys a false human opinion and invention. 9] So, too, it is not right (even though the matter were otherwise correct) for one to use the common Sacrament of [belonging to] the Church according to his own private devotion, and without God’s Word and apart from the communion of the Church to trifle therewith.

In addition in private Masses (which were the vast majority of Masses) the true Sacrament was only administered to the priest alone.  This is a horrible abuse of the Sacrament of the Altar. The Sacrament is given to the Church and is not for individual or private use.

This is not to say that the pastor cannot commune himself, but if Communion is celebrated it is to be done publicly and all Christians who would normally be permitted to the altar should be allowed to participate.  Holy Communion is a corporate act, for the good of the Body of Christ. It is Christ giving Himself to us and not anyone individual exclusively. Thus we firmly reject private Communion, Holy Communion is never a private event.

It should be noted that according to the Mass the priest communing just himself was thought to be efficacious for those who did not even partake of the Body and Blood but rather would be efficacious for whomever the Mass was said for.  This is also an abuse. The true Sacrament is only efficacious for those who actually partake of it. You can not have it by proxy.

10] This article concerning the Mass will be the whole business of the Council. [The Council will perspire most over, and be occupied with this article concerning the Mass.] For if it were [although it would be] possible for them to concede to us all the other articles, yet they could not concede this. As Campegius said at Augsburg that he would be torn to pieces before he would relinquish the Mass, so, by the help of God, I, too, would suffer myself to be reduced to ashes before I would allow a hireling of the Mass, be he good or bad, to be made equal to Christ Jesus, my Lord and Savior, or to be exalted above Him. Thus we are and remain eternally separated and opposed to one another. They feel well enough that when the Mass falls, the Papacy lies in ruins. Before they will permit this to occur, they will put us all to death if they can.

The Reformer’s objections to the Mass would completely consume the entire council.  The papists cannot give up the Mass as it is at the core of everything they do. If the Mass goes away, the papacy falls apart.

11] In addition to all this, this dragon’s tail, [I mean] the Mass, has begotten a numerous vermin-brood of manifold idolatries.

12] First, purgatory. Here they carried their trade into purgatory by masses for souls, and vigils, and weekly, monthly, and yearly celebrations of obsequies, and finally by the Common Week and All Souls’ Day, by soul-baths so that the Mass is used almost alone for the dead, although Christ has instituted the Sacrament alone for the living. Therefore purgatory, and every solemnity, rite, and commerce connected with it, is to be regarded as nothing but a specter of the devil. For it conflicts with the chief article [which teaches] that only Christ, and not the works of men, are to help [set free] souls. Not to mention the fact that nothing has been [divinely] commanded or enjoined upon us concerning the dead. Therefore all this may be safely omitted, even if it were no error and idolatry.

13] The Papists quote here Augustine and some of the Fathers who are said to have written concerning purgatory, and they think that we do not understand for what purpose and to what end they spoke as they did. St. Augustine does not write that there is a purgatory, nor has he a testimony of Scripture to constrain him thereto, but he leaves it in doubt whether there is one, and says that his mother asked to be remembered at the altar or Sacrament. Now, all this is indeed nothing but the devotion of men, and that, too, of individuals, and does not establish an article of faith, which is the prerogative of God alone.

14] Our Papists, however, cite such statements [opinions] of men in order that men should believe in their horrible, blasphemous, and cursed traffic in masses for souls in purgatory [or in sacrifices for the dead and oblations], etc. But they will never prove these things from Augustine. Now, when they have abolished the traffic in masses for purgatory, of which Augustine never dreamt, we will then discuss with them whether the expressions of Augustine without Scripture [being without the warrant of the Word] are to be admitted, and whether the dead should be remembered at the Eucharist. 15] For it will not do to frame articles of faith from the works or words of the holy Fathers; otherwise their kind of fare, of garments, of house, etc., would have to become an article of faith, as was done with relics. [We have, however, another rule, namely] The rule is: The Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel

Beyond even this, the Mass and the theology behind it has spawned a multitude of other abuses (Revelation 12:1-6).  First and foremost is the idea of purgatory.  Both the concept of it and the idea that Masses could be sold for the dead to get people out of it is reprehensible.

In fact, by Luther’s day there were more Masses being said for the dead than even for living people.  This is in spite of the fact that the Sacrament of the Altar is established solely for those here on Earth.  It is Christ alone who aides souls (Galatians 5:15).  God has told us to do nothing for the dead in Scripture.

The papists quote Augustine and other church fathers to support the existence of purgatory.  However the church fathers do not establish doctrine, that is only established by Scripture alone (Galatians 1:1-10). The fathers can help illuminate Scripture, but they are not the rule and norm. The church fathers would have never dreamed or consented to the abuses that their writing supposedly supported.

16] Secondly. From this it has followed that evil spirits have perpetrated much knavery [exercised their malice] by appearing as the souls of the departed, and with unspeakable [horrible] lies and tricks demanded masses, vigils, pilgrimages, and other alms. 17] All of which we had to receive as articles of faith, and to live accordingly; and the Pope confirmed these things, as also the Mass and all other abominations. Here, too, there is no [cannot and must not be any] yielding or surrendering.

Secondly, evil spirits have real power and can deceive us by appearing as ghosts or spirits.  They have done this before and are doing so now, calling for these abominations.   It can rightly be said that all the abuses of the Mass come from Satan, especially these ones related visions of the dead pleading for relief (1 Samuel 28).

18] Thirdly. [Hence arose] the pilgrimages. Here, too, masses, the remission of sins and the grace of God were sought, for the Mass controlled everything. Now it is indeed certain that such pilgrimages, without the Word of God, have not been commanded us, neither are they necessary, since we can have these things [the soul can be cared for] in a better way, and can omit these pilgrimages without any sin and danger. Why therefore do they leave at home [desert] their own parish [their called ministers, their parishes], the Word of God, wives, children, etc., who are ordained and [attention to whom is necessary and has been] commanded, and run after these unnecessary, uncertain, pernicious will-o’-the-wisps of the devil [and errors]? 19] Unless the devil was riding [made insane] the Pope, causing him to praise and establish these practices, whereby the people again and again revolted from Christ to their own works, and became idolaters, which is worst of all; moreover, it is neither necessary nor commanded, but is senseless and doubtful, and besides harmful. Hence here, too, there can be no yielding or surrendering [to yield or concede anything here is not lawful], etc. 20] And let this be preached, that such pilgrimages are not necessary, but dangerous; and then see what will become of them. [For thus they will perish of their own accord.]

Third, are pilgrimages which were thought to grant remission of sins in the same way as the Mass does.  They were thought to be commanded by God, but God’s Word says nothing about them.  People would leave their rightly ordained vocation in order to go on these pilgrimages, which are clearly the work of Satan as well, trying to get us to put our trust in our works.  One can see this even today with the modern monasticism of evangelicals and their mission trips.  In odd ways, the modern evangelical has a similar theology to the Roman Catholics.  Pilgrimages are not commanded, unnecessary, and even worse harmful because of these thoughts.

21] Fourthly. Fraternities [or societies], in which cloisters, chapters, vicars have assigned and communicated (by a legal contract and sale) all masses and good works, etc., both for the living and the dead. This is not only altogether a human bauble, without the Word of God, entirely unnecessary and not commanded, but also contrary to the chief article, Of Redemption. Therefore it is in no way to be tolerated.

Fourth are monks, who were thought to uphold all of creation by their prayers and supplications.  Many Masses for the living and the dead were said by monks who did this nonstop for money.  In the meantime, the ignorant were lead astray to think that these Masses delivered from condemnation.

22] Fifthly. The relics, in which there are found so many falsehoods and tomfooleries concerning the bones of dogs and horses, that even the devil has laughed at such rascalities, ought long ago to have been condemned, even though there were some good in them; and so much the more because they are without the Word of God; being neither commanded nor counseled, they are an entirely unnecessary and useless thing. 23] But the worst is that [they have imagined that] these relics had to work indulgence and the forgiveness of sins [and have revered them] as a good work and service of God, like the Mass, etc.

Fifth are relics.  These were thought to also give forgiveness of sins by possessing them and seeing them.  Relics should have been condemned long ago as there was no ordinance in Scripture for them, and they are rife with abuse.

24] Sixthly. Here belong the precious indulgences granted (but only for money) both to the living and the dead, by which the miserable [sacrilegious and accursed] Judas, or Pope, has sold the merit of Christ, together with the superfluous merits of all saints and of the entire Church, etc. All these things [and every single one of them] are not to be borne, and are not only without the Word of God, without necessity, not commanded, but are against the chief article. For the merit of Christ is [apprehended and] obtained not by our works or pence, but from grace through faith, without money and merit; and is offered [and presented] not through the power of the Pope, but through the preaching of God’s Word.

Finally, we also have indulgences, which solely for money one could purchase salvation for the living and the dead.  These make a mockery of Christ’s atonement for our sins.  All of these are completely unacceptable and must be rejected because they go against Justification. Christ’s merit and atonement are freely given.  This comes not through the power of any man, but rather by God’s Word (1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Ephesians 2:1-10).

Of the Invocation of Saints.

25] The invocation of saints is also one of the abuses of Antichrist conflicting with the chief article, and destroys the knowledge of Christ. Neither is it commanded nor counseled, nor has it any example [or testimony] in Scripture, and even though it were a precious thing, as it is not [while, on the contrary, it is a most harmful thing], in Christ we have everything a thousandfold better [and surer, so that we are not in need of calling upon the saints].

26] And although the angels in heaven pray for us (as Christ Himself also does), as also do the saints on earth, and perhaps also in heaven, yet it does not follow thence that we should invoke and adore the angels and saints, and fast, hold festivals, celebrate Mass in their honor, make offerings, and establish churches, altars, divine worship, and in still other ways serve them, and regard them as helpers in need [as patrons and intercessors], and divide among them all kinds of help, and ascribe to each one a particular form of assistance, as the Papists teach and do. For this is idolatry, and such honor belongs alone to God. 27] For as a Christian and saint upon earth you can pray for me, not only in one, but in many necessities. But for this reason I am not obliged to adore and invoke you, and celebrate festivals, fast, make oblations, hold masses for your honor [and worship], and put my faith in you for my salvation. I can in other ways indeed honor, love, and thank you in Christ. 28] If now such idolatrous honor were withdrawn from angels and departed saints, the remaining honor would be without harm and would quickly be forgotten. For when advantage and assistance, both bodily and spiritual, are no more to be expected, the saints will not be troubled [the worship of the saints will soon vanish], neither in their graves nor in heaven. For without a reward or out of pure love no one will much remember, or esteem, or honor them [bestow on them divine honor].

29] In short, the Mass itself and anything that proceeds from it, and anything that is attached to it, we cannot tolerate, but must condemn, in order that we may retain the holy Sacrament pure and certain, according to the institution of Christ, employed and received through faith.

We have one more abuse to talk about, the Invocation of the Saints.  This also conflicts with Justification.  It should be noted that here is where the pope is called the anti-Christ for the first time in the Smalcald Articles.  We will leave the discussion of the pope as anti-Christ for a later article. Suffice it to say that the pope is rightly called the anti-Christ because he sets himself up against Christ and against the Gospel, obfuscating the true knowledge of God (Philippians 3:1-11).

Meanwhile, the Invocation of Saints has no ordinance, command or promise from Scripture regarding prayers to the saints.  Even more so we have Christ, so what need have we to pray to the saints (Romans 8:31-39).  We also have the saints on earth praying for us, and perhaps those in heaven (Revelation 6).  However, even if the saints and angels in heaven do pray for us, it doesn’t follow that we should invoke them or adore them. We should give all glory to God alone and not to saints or angels (Revelation 22:6-21).  Just as we do not adore or invoke the living saints on earth, we should not for those in heaven.

Our salvation is from Christ alone, He is our sole mediator.  What more do we need or want? To desire more is to confess that Christ is not your God, but that these saints or other sources are in fact your god.

Thus we cannot tolerate the Mass or anything the proceeds or is attached to this idolatry.  It sets up a new god, which is not Christ. We must condemn the Mass and keep the Sacrament of the Altar pure and certain according to Christ’s institution.

1 By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless;
My soul, believe and doubt it not.
Why stagger at this word of promise?
Has Scripture ever falsehood taught?
No! Then this word must true remain;
By grace you too will life obtain.

2 By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone.

3 By grace God’s Son, our only Savior,
Came down to earth to bear our sin.
Was it because of your own merit
That Jesus died your soul to win?
No, it was grace, and grace alone,
That brought Him from His heav’nly throne.

4 By grace! This ground of faith is certain;
So long as God is true, it stands.
What saints have penned by inspiration,
What in His Word our God commands,
Our faith in what our God has done
Depends on grace–grace through His Son.

5 By grace to timid hearts that tremble,
In tribulation’s furnace tried,
By grace, in spite of fear and trouble,
The Father’s heart is open wide.
Where could I help and strength secure
If grace were not my anchor sure?

6 By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying;
In Jesus’ promise I rejoice;
For though I know my heart’s condition,
I also know my Savior’s voice.
My heart is glad, all grief has flown
Since I am saved by grace alone.

(LSB 566)

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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