“Concord” is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers’ knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them “with one heart” to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.
The Mass, Part 1
The article on the Mass is an article on worship. Before getting to the teaching on the Mass, it’s necessary to define our terms. The Lutheran Confessions use the term “Mass” in two different ways. The first way is simply to refer to the distribution of the body and blood of Jesus. “…The Mass is such a giving of the Sacrament…” (Augsburg Confession XXIV.34). In other words, “the Mass” is simply the worship service of Holy Communion. The second way in which the word is used refers to the abuses of the medieval Church. Whenever the word is used in this way, it’s usually modified by another word, such as “the canon of the mass,” or, “the sacrifice of the mass.”
With the simple understanding of the Mass as a distribution of the body and blood of Christ, the confession begins:
“Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among 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 to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned 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. 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 worship. For none are admitted 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. [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 toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us” (Augsburg Confession XXIV.1-9).
Churches that confess the Augsburg Confession confess that the service of the Sacrament holds a central place in worship. Traditional ceremonies are kept where they do not conflict with the Gospel. Ceremonies are necessary for teaching. Those who come to the Sacrament are not admitted until they have been examined and absolved. These practices are not only for reverence, but so that consciences that are weighed down with sin would be consoled by the Gospel of forgiveness. This is the point of worship and the Sacrament, not to glorify our works, but to glorify God and the work He has done and continues to do in the Sacrament of the Altar.
You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.