When ministry is nourished in Latino places and spaces, it is not uncommon for Lutherans to accent their catholicity. Luther did not “throw the baby out with the bath water” in matters of liturgy. (How often this seems to surprise our first time visitors familiar with the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church: “You are so much alike!”) Indeed, the Augsburg Confession affirms the historic structure of the mass in Article XXIV:
…We do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it.
In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals…
We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons,
prayers, vestments, etc.
In Hispanic Lutheran congregations, images of the saints and that of the crucified Lord are especially cherished. The use of liturgical vestments, frequent communion and appreciation of the traditional order of gathering, word, meal and sending are readily apparent. Common speech refers to the eucharistic celebration as la misa.
Lutherans are generally aligned with the American mainline Protestant experience. That experience has filtered our reformation heritage and has nuanced our personal piety and approaches to corporate worship. This alignment, coupled with the incorrect assumption that “all Hispanics are Catholics.” This can bring about startled expressions from fellow Lutherans and American Protestants and outright hostility from Roman Catholics when Latino Lutheran communities refer to mass…or misa.
Sadly (particularly in light of our highly celebrated public covenants and mutual affirmations), Lutheran initiatives of Latino ministry are not infrequently met with suspicion and resentment by Roman Catholic clergy. I am troubled by this, but have finally come to accept it as “coming with the territory.” Certainly there are notable exceptions, such as the strong Lutheran and Roman Catholic ecumenicity and Hispanic community partnerships evident through the Humboldt Park Ministerial Association on Chicago’s North West side during the past fifteen years. (Can any colleagues help me make this list longer?) In contrast, Aurora, Cicero, Joliet provide illustrations of hostile Roman Catholic reactions to our presence — sometimes pronounces from the pulpits or published in parish newsletters.
If Lutherans are serious about reaching the growing Hispanic population and doing so with evangelical catholic integrity..whether from an existing parish or through a new mission start –it is best to be prepared for choppy waters.
More that a dozen Lutheran (as well as Episcopalian) Latino ministries have routinely used the term misa in the Chicagoland area alone–some since the 1970’s. (This is so in everyday speech as well as in publications and sinage.)
In our Joliet context, it became evident earlier this year that we needed to address this aspect of our catholicity as Lutherans. There was a need to defend our use of the term misa…to provide an “apology” in the classic sense of confessional Lutheranism, done in a popular style.
The result was a tri-fold tract, distributed in the congregation, community and among ecumenical colleagues and laity. The text of this tract follows. Copies (in English or Spanish) are available from the Bilingual Ministry Resource Center, Santa Cruz Parish House, 416 E. Benton Street, Joliet, IL 60432.
Gathered in hope
Nourished by word and meal
and Sent in peace to serve
reflections on the meaning of mass
It is Sunday. For many it is a day before going “back to the grind” of Monday through Friday. For some, it is time to load up on a full day of sports…whether viewed on the television screen or played out on the field or court. For still others, it is “prime time” for being with family and friends–taking in a backyard picnic or a family celebration.
For most Christians, Sunday may involve these things, but the day is above all else “The Lord’s Day.” The Spanish word for Sunday tips us of to this idea: domingo, reflects its Latin root–the word meaning Lord. It was on Sunday that the women went to the tomb to find that Jesus had risen.
Because of this, Christians appropriated the day as their sabbath, or day of rest and worship. Many forces in our modern society are at work today to break down the tradition of “keeping the Lord’s Day.” Among them are a preoccupation with sports and the explosion of 24 hour a day entertainment choices.
Gathered in Jesus’ Name
Christians gather on Sundays to give thanks and praise to God. In this way, they participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Whether in storefront churches or great cathedrals; in small, mission congregations or in great assemblies — the believers come together. They continue what the New Testament described in the Book of Acts.
they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.
Mass, Eucharist, Lord’s Supper
This gathering — while done in many settings and cultural contexts — is known by various names.
Mass is one of them. It is a word used by several Christian denominations for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Eucharist — whether celebrated on Sunday or any other designated day. The mass includes the reading of scripture, the meal (of Holy Communion) and a sending.
Go In Peace. Serve the Lord!
Interestingly, this historic name comes from an action which takes place at the end of this important ritual. The word mass (in Spanish, misa) comes from the Latin word mittere, meaning “to send.” In the Latin, the priest or pastor would dismiss the assembly or worshipers with the words ita misa est…rendered as the mass is ended in English. A “sending” more frequently heard today is in the words “go in peace, serve the Lord.”
The reformation of the 16th century brought many changes in worship patterns. Martin Luther, a German monk, introduced many of them, including:
- Preaching and liturgy in the language of the people, rather than in Latin alone.
- Congregational singing — in some cases, of hymns he himself wrote.
A Mighty Fortress is Our God is still sung by believers of many church bodies.
- Wider participation of the laity.
The Historic Mass is Kept by Luther
Some of the church reformers in Europe pressed for huge changes in worship life. They rejected religious art and images and felt that the historic pattern of the mass needed to be changed or abandoned.
The Lutheran Reformation upheld the ancient tradition of a millennium and a half. Holy Communion — the mass — was affirmed as the principal act of Christian worship on Sundays and festivals.
The World Book Encyclopedia indicates the ecumenical nature of the mass in a 1990 article on the subject.
(The) celebration is called the Mass by Roman Catholics, and by some Episcopal and Lutheran churches. The Eastern Orthodox service known as the Divine Liturgy is similar to the Mass. Other Christians celebrate it in similar rituals.
“Mass”, vol 13, pg. 269
Most North American Lutherans do not routinely use the term mass — due in part to varying practices as to the frequency of communion. (A growing number of Lutheran congregations are celebrating the sacrament each Sunday.) When it is celebrated, the Lutheran liturgy of Holy Communion, in fact, follows the structure of the mass. Musical settings for contemporary folk and jazz masses have been composed by Lutherans.
Of course, the popular name for the celebrations of Jesus’ nativity stems from the observance of a “Christ mass.” The Lutheran Book of Worship: Manual on the Liturgy instructs Lutheran pastors and lay leaders in the celebration of the Mass of the Angels (at midnight), the Mass of the Shepherds (at dawn), and the Mass of the People (Christmas Day). Pg 23, Augsburg Publishing House, 1979.
Increasingly, Latino Lutherans embrace the misa as an apt and common description of their Sunday liturgies of Word and Sacrament.
By whatever its name, the intent of the mass is to nourish the people of God, gathered in Jesus’ name and then sent out into the world to serve.
A popular Hispanic dismissal hymn, sung by Lutherans and Roman Catholics (among others) reflects the meaning of “mass” in an especially joyous way. This hymn
La miss ha terminado is an especially beloved “sending”…
The mass has now ended,
we go forth in peace.
We sing joyfully! Alleluia.
We go out…all united
by the love
of Christ Jesus.