Augsburg Confession – Article 24 – The Mass

Article 24 (misprinted as 23) of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 23, click here.)

Our churches are charged with supposedly having abolished the Mass,1 but unjustly so. For it is obvious – and we may say this without boasting – that we observe the Mass with greater devotion and seriousness than our opponents do. The people are also frequently instructed with the utmost diligence about why the Holy Sacrament was instituted and how it should be used, namely so that terrified consciences may be comforted with it. In this way the people are drawn to Communion and the Mass. Along with that, instruction against other incorrect teachings about the Sacrament is also given. Nor has any noticeable change been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in several places German songs are sung in addition to Latin singing, for the teaching and training of the people. After all, this is the chief purpose that all ceremonies should serve, that the people learn from them what it is necessary for them to know about Christ.2

But since in times past the Mass has been abused in a number of different ways (a fact as clear as day), so that it was turned into a retail fair where people were buying and selling them and the majority of masses in all the churches were said for the sake of money,such abuse has been rebuked by learned and pious people more than once, even before our time.3 Now when our preachers preached about this and the priests were reminded of that terrible threat, which really should stir up every Christian, that whoever uses the Sacrament in an unworthy manner is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of Christ,4 such masses for sale and private masses, which had hitherto been said out of compulsion for the sake of money and prebends,5 consequently fell out of use in our churches.6

In addition, we also rebuke the appalling error that has been taught, that our Lord Christ has only made satisfaction for inherited sin through his death and that the Mass was instituted as a sacrifice for the other sins, thus turning the Mass into a sacrifice offered for both the living and the dead that is used to take away sin and appease God. This has furthermore led to people disputing whether a Mass said for many people merits as much as if a special one were said for each individual. This has resulted in the countless multitude of masses, with people using this work to try to obtain everything they need from God, while at the same time faith in Christ and true worship have been forgotten.

Second page of Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Therefore instruction has been given about this, as necessity has unquestionably required, so that people may know the proper use of the Sacrament. We have taught them, first of all, that Scripture shows in many places that there is no other sacrifice for inherited sin and other sin besides the one and only death of Christ. For this is what stands written in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Christ has sacrificed himself once and has thereby made satisfaction for all sin.7 It is quite an unheard-of innovation in church doctrine that Christ’s death was meant to make satisfaction only for inherited sin and not also for other sin besides. It is therefore to be hoped that one and all will understand that such an error is not rebuked unjustly.

Secondly, St. Paul teaches that we obtain grace before God through faith and not through works.8 This abuse of the Mass is obviously contrary to this, if people are imagining that they can obtain grace through this work. For it is well known that the Mass has been used for that purpose, to pay for sin and to obtain grace and every blessing from God, not just the priest for himself, but also for the whole world and for others, both living and dead.

Thirdly, the Holy Sacrament was instituted not to set up a sacrifice for sin – for the sacrifice has been made already – but so that our faith might be awakened through it and that consciences might be comforted when they perceive through the Sacrament that grace and forgiveness of sin is promised to them by Christ.9 This sacrament therefore requires faith, and without faith it is used in vain.10

Now since the Mass is not a sacrifice for others, living or dead, to take away their sin, but is meant to be a communion where the priest and others receive the Sacrament for themselves, this is the way in which we observe it: We hold Mass on holy days and other days when communicants are present, and all those who desire it are communed. In this way we retain the Mass in its proper use, the way it used to be held in the church, as one can prove from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 and from the writings of many Fathers besides. For Chrysostom tells how the priest daily stands and summons some to Communion, while forbidding others to come forward.11 The ancient canons also indicate that one man officiated and communed the other priests and deacons. For this is how the words read in the Nicaean canon: The deacons should receive the Sacrament from the bishop or priest in an orderly way after the priests do.12

If then, in doing this, we have not undertaken any innovation that has not existed in the church of old, and if in the public ceremonies of the masses no noticeable change has been made except that the other unnecessary masses have fallen out of use, which were observed in addition to the parish Mass through an abuse somewhere along the line, it is therefore unjust that this way of holding Mass should be condemned as heretical and unchristian. For in the past, even in the large churches where there were many people, and even on the days where the people came together, Mass was not held every day. For Book 9 of the Tripartite History indicates that on Wednesday and Friday in Alexandria, Scripture was read and expounded and all other services were held without the Mass.13

(To continue to Article 25, click here.)

Notes

1 The term “the Mass” was and is sometimes used to refer to an entire service with Communion, but it is especially used to refer specifically to the rite of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, as it is in this article. The term comes from the Latin word missa, which was allegedly one of the concluding words of the ancient rite of the Sacrament: “Ite, missa est. [Go, the assembly is dismissed.]”

Melanchthon is referring to Dr. Johann Eck’s 404 Articles, a publication that lumped Luther together with Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Carlstadt, Pirkheimer, Hubmaier, and Denck, and charged them with every conceivable heresy. This publication had a significant influence on the final form of the Augsburg Confession. Depending on the edition and the numbering, the articles in which Eck dealt with alleged errors about the Mass began with either 269 or 270. You can read the original Latin here, a German translation here, and an English translation here.

2 1 Corinthians 14:26. The content of this paragraph in Latin is ordered differently and expanded upon:

Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. For the Mass is retained among us and celebrated with the utmost reverence. And almost all of the usual ceremonies are preserved, except that here and there German songs are added to the Latin ones, which is done in order to teach the people. For that is what ceremonies are especially useful for—teaching the ignorant. Plus, Paul instructed that a language understood by the people should be used in church [1 Corinthians 14]. The people are accustomed to receiving the Sacrament together, as many as are fit for it; this also increases the reverence and piety of the public ceremonies. For none are admitted unless they have first been examined and heard. People are also reminded of the value and use of the Sacrament, how much comfort it affords to troubled consciences, in order that they may learn to trust in God and to expect and ask for everything good from God. This worship pleases God; using the Sacrament this way strengthens devotion to God. And so one cannot find masses among our adversaries that are conducted with greater piety than they are among us.

3 Such “learned and pious people” included Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361), Jean Charlier de Gerson (1363-1429), Nicolaus Cusanus (1401-1464), and Gabriel Biel (c. 1420-1495), among others; cf. Acts 8:20.

4 1 Corinthians 11:27

5 A prebend was the portion of the revenues of a cathedral formerly granted to a priest connected to a cathedral (serving under a bishop) as his stipend; cf. 1 Peter 5:2.

6 In the Latin version, a paragraph is added here:

Nor were the bishops ignorant of these abuses; if they had corrected them in time, there would be less dissension now. In the past, many vices were allowed to creep into the church through their negligence. Now, when it is too late, they are beginning to complain about the troubles in the church, even though this tumult had no source other than those very abuses, which were so obvious that they could not be tolerated any longer. Great dissensions have arisen over the Mass, over the Sacrament, perhaps as punishment for the way the world has been profaning masses for so long—a sacrilege that has been tolerated in the church for so many centuries by the very men who both could have and ought to have corrected it. For it is written in the Decalogue that the one who misuses the name of God will not go unpunished [Exodus 20:7]. And from the beginning of the world there does not seem to be any divine thing that has ever been exploited for gain the way the Mass has.

7 Hebrews 2:14-17; 7:27; 9:12,26,28; 10:12,14; see also 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2.

8 Romans 3:21-24; 4:4-8; Galatians 2:15,16; Ephesians 2:8,9

9 Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

10 The Latin version has a somewhat different train of thought here:

But Christ commands us to do this in memory of him. That is why the Mass was instituted, in order that faith in those who receive the Sacrament may recall the benefits it receives through Christ and may cheer up and console the troubled conscience. For to remember Christ means to remember his benefits and to sense that they are truly presented to us. Nor is it enough to recall the history, since the Jews and the impious are able to recall this too. This is therefore the purpose for which the Mass should be celebrated, that there the Sacrament might be distributed to those who are in need of consolation, just as Ambrose says, “Because I am always sinning, I should always be taking the medicine.”

Melanchthon is concisely paraphrasing paragraph 25 from De sacramentis, Book 5, Chapter 4 (original Latin in col. 452 here), the final two sentences of which read thus: “Whoever has a wound requires medicine. The wound is that we are subject to sin; the medicine is the heavenly and venerable Sacrament.” Ambrose’s authorship of this treatise continues to be debated.

11 Melanchthon is combining portions from two of Chrysostom’s homilies. In Homily 3 on Ephesians (delivered prior to 392 AD), Chrysostom says, “In vain is the daily sacrifice [θυσία], in vain do we stand at the altar; there is no one to partake” (original Greek in col. 29 here). In Homily 17 on Hebrews (many scholars think he delivered these in Constantinople, thus between 398 and 404), he says, “This is also why the priest calls out when it is time, summoning the holy, and through this call inspecting everyone for blemishes, in order to prevent anyone unprepared from approaching. … [W]ith a loud voice, with an awful cry, just like some herald raising his hand into the air, standing aloft, having been made visible to everyone, and after that awful silence shouting out his important message, the priest invites some, but wards off others, not doing this with his hand, but with his tongue more distinctly than with his hand” (original Greek in cols. 132,133 here). In both sermons – worthy of reading in their entirety – Chrysostom rebukes some of his members for sporadic Communion attendance, adding in the Ephesians sermon that many only come to Communion on Epiphany and during Lent. This is eerily similar to the present-day phenomenon of so-called Christmas and Easter Christians. He also rebukes his members who merely come out of “custom and form than [out of] consideration and understanding.”

12 Canon 18 of the First Council of Nicaea. The Latin version adds: “And Paul commands about Communion that some should wait for the others, so that there may be common participation.”

13 The Tripartite History of Cassiodorus (c. 485-c. 585) was his compilation of the church histories of Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Theodoret. Melanchthon’s reference can be viewed on folio 79b here. However, the original chapter on which it is based (Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 22) says that the Wednesday and Friday in question were only those of Holy Week. However, earlier in the same chapter Socrates also says that “almost all churches throughout the world” celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Saturday, but the churches in Alexandria and Rome had ceased to do so. (Presumably they still did so the following day.)

It is indisputable that the Lutheran Church in the United States and elsewhere today celebrates the Lord’s Supper less often than the Christians in earlier times did. This is due to primarily two factors. The first is the influence of Pietism. Pietism was a movement that both affected and infected Lutheranism beginning in the late 1600s, in response to what it perceived as a lifeless Christianity. To try to correct the error, Pietism created errors of its own. Instead of turning people outside of themselves to the means of grace, it turned people inside themselves to search and fix their own minds, hearts, and motives. Examining oneself before Communion ballooned from an important biblical requirement to an exacting and exhausting ritual. Regular communing was seen as a lifeless habit. It was better, the Pietists thought, to commune only a few times a year with the proper heart (which often ended up being a self-righteous heart) than it was to receive it every Sunday in a habitual way (a false dichotomy). Thus, the practice of every-Sunday Communion was in many cases virtually extinguished in favor of communing a handful of times a year. Pietism continued to have an influence on Lutheranism in America. However, especially in the last century or so, as Lutheran leaders and teachers in the United States have studied and taught the need for Communion, the blessings of Communion, and the Communion practice of the ancient Christians and Lutherans, this has had a trickle-down effect, so that the regularity of Communion has gone from a handful of times a year, to once a month, to twice a month (still a common practice in many American Lutheran churches), to the receiving of Communion on all Sundays and church festivals in some churches, as described by Melanchthon in this article.

The second factor is a more nuanced purpose of worship. In the past, worship was very rarely considered as a venue for evangelism, if at all. Evangelism almost always took place outside of worship. However, Lutherans have in many cases done their best to make their regular services another viable option for acquainting people with the gospel, without ignoring the fact that worship is primarily intended for believers (Matthew 18:19,20; Ephesians 5:19,20; Colossians 3:15,16; Hebrews 10:19-25). Where congregations make worship one of the avenues for evangelism, it makes sense that Communion would not be offered in every main service, in order to have some services that pose less stumbling blocks for visitors, since the Scriptures commend the practice of close Communion, i.e. Communion only for those united in the same faith (1 Corinthians 11:17-32; 1:10; 10:16-22; Romans 16:17).

Confessional Lutherans continue to wrestle with this tension—wanting to derive and receive all the benefits from corporate worship that Jesus wants them to have, while at the same time wanting also to attract others to those benefits, in a gentle and loving way.

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About redbrickparsonage
Red Brick Parsonage is operated by a confessional Lutheran pastor serving in the South of the U.S.A.

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