by Martin Luther, 1520
Source: Works of Martin Luther Vol 1 (Philadelphia edition) pp. 289-326
The Treatise on the New Testament, that is, on the Holy Mass was published in the year 1520. FC1 In the beginning of August of that year, Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation had appeared, in which he had touched upon the subject of the mass, FB2 but refused to express himself fully at that time, promising to take up this question later, a promise which he had already made in his Treatise on Good Works, of May, 1520. He must have begun the preparation of this Treatise on the New Testament while the Address to the Christian Nobility was still in press, because on August 3 it was already finished and ready for publication. FC4 The treatise, therefore, takes its place between Luther’s two famous writings, the Address to the Christian Nobility and the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, which appeared in October, 1520. Its tone is remarkably quiet, and its aim predominantly constructive. It is one of those devotional tracts which Luther issued from time to time between his larger publications, and which appear like roses among the thorns of his polemical writings.
The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was one of the most corrupt doctrines of the Roman Church, and it was, therefore, but natural that Luther should have written extensively on this subject, even at the beginning of the work of reformation. From this period, when the opposition of the Sacramentarians FC5 to the doctrine of the Real Presence had not yet arisen we have four writings of Luther in which he makes this sacrament a subject of special discussion. These are (1) his mild-toned sermon von dem hochwurdigen Sacrament, etc., of 1519; (2) the present Sermon von dem neuen Testament,etc., of August, 1520; (3) the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, of October, 1520; (4) the strongly polemical tract On the Abuse of the Mass, 1522. FC6 We shall have occasion to refer to some interesting points of comparison among these works.
This treatise is divided into sections, ending with number 40, but section is omitted, so that there are only 39 in all. Section 1 contains the introduction, section 40 the conclusion. Sections 2-15 are the positive, constructive part of the treatise, dealing with the question, What is the Lord’s Supper? In sections 16-54 the sacrificial theory of the Roman Church is rejected; sections 25-31 discuss (1) in how far we may speak of making an offering in the sacrament, and (2) what follows for the conception of a true priesthood in the Church, viz., the priesthood of all believers.
Sections 33-39 deal, among other things, with the abuses to which an unscriptural conception of the Lord’s Supper has led. Of special interest is section 12, in which Luther gives a summary of all that enters into the Sacrament of the Altar.
Knowing, as we do, that Luther developed his doctrine of the Lord’s Supper gradually FC7 and under stress of much opposition from all sides, it is interesting for us to note the stage of that development which this treatise represents. We may, therefore, inquire how he stood at this time on the question of the Real Presence. This question is answered under the fourth point of section 12. The true presence of the body and blood cannot be more clearly admitted than is done in sections 11 and 12 of this treatise.
We can safely say that there never was a time when Luther was uncertain on this point. The point of view from which he discusses the significance of the sacrament in the Sermon you dem hochwurdigen Sacrament (1519) has sometimes been cited to the contrary, but even in this Sermon, with its emphasis upon the spiritual body of Christ, of which even those may be partakers whom the pope might exclude from the external communion, he speaks of the bread and wine as being changed into the Lord’s “true, natural flesh” and into His “natural, true blood,” FC8 which shows that Luther at that time, nine months before the appearance of this Treatise on the New Testament, still held even to the conception of transubstantiation.
He cannot, therefore, have had doubts about the real Presence.
In view, however, of the rapid development of Luther’s doctrinal conceptions, we might further ask: Did Luther still retain his belief in transubstantiation at the time when he wrote the Treatise on the New Testament? At the beginning of October in this same year, in his Babylonian Captivity, Luther comes out for the first time with an attack on this Roman doctrine. He regards it as a mere human opinion, which one may accept or not accept, and clearly inclines to the belief that after consecration not only the form (Gestalt; species), but also the substance of bread and wine is still present. FC9 In the Sermon von dem hochwurdigen Sacrament he spoke of the “shape and form of the bread”; in the present treatise he chooses the expression: “His own true flesh and blood under the bread and wine” (sec. 12). This would seem to indicate that in this writing he already holds the opinion which he soon afterward expressed in the Babylonian Captivity. But while he believes in the real presence of Christ’s “own true flesh and blood,” this body of Christ he regards — at this time, when he has not yet had to meet the spiritualistic interpretation of the Sacramentarians — as a sign only, a thing signifying the blessing of the sacrament, which is forgiveness of sins and life eternal (sec. 10). Exactly the same view is expressed in the Sermon of 1519. FC10 “Luther does not yet speak of any value which this body, sacramentally imparted, is supposed to have in and of itself.” FC11 The question next arises: How does the recipient of the sign (body and blood under bread and wine) become partaker of that which is thereby signified? It is through faith, as the receiving organ (sec. 13). So, too, in the Sermon of 1519, where it is called the “third part of the sacrament,” “in which the power lies” (wo die Macht anliegt). At a later time Luther found it necessary to emphasize the fact that it is not through the faith of the recipient that the sacrament gains its power and efficacy, since this attaches to it simply by virtue of the Word; FC12 but that faith is the receiving organ for the blessing of the sacrament is a conviction which he never gave up.
The object of faith is the Gospel, i.e., the promise of the forgiveness of sins contained in the Words of Institution, which are a “testament,” a “new and eternal testament” (secs. 5-10). Hence the title of the work, Treatise on the New Testament. While the Sermon of 1519 speaks of the Gospel only in general, we have here a special emphasis on the words of institution as embracing “in a short summary” the whole Gospel (sec. 33). The words of institution are still further emphasized and interpreted in the work On the Abuse of the Mass, of 1522. Because of the importance of the Word in the sacrament, Luther declares that the words of institution should be spoken aloud, not whispered, as was and is done in the Roman churches, and in a language which is understood by the people (sec. 16).
An especially striking feature of this treatise is the repeated assertion that faith which leans on the Word, and is the “principal part of the mass,” does not absolutely need the sacrament. “I can daily enjoy the sacrament in the mass if only I keep before my eyes the testament, that is, the words and covenant of Christ, and feed and strengthen my faith thereby” (sec. 17).
FC13 He quotes Augustine: “Only believe, so hast thou already partaken of the sacrament.” In interpreting this passage we must remember that Luther was writing at a time when he was daily expecting to hear that the pope had excommunicated him from the Church. His comfort was that he and his followers could not be excluded by a papal dictum from the communion of true believers and saints, nor deprived of the spiritual feeding upon the true spiritual body of Christ.
In this treatise Luther also attacks for the first time the Roman doctrine of the mass as a bloodless repetition of the sacrifice once made on Calvary — a theory which forgets that the mass is a testament and sacrament, in which God promises and gives something to us, not we to Him (sec. 19). In much stronger language, and quoting Scripture more extensively, Luther exposes and rejects this error, so fundamental to the Roman system, in his work of 1522, On the Abuse of the Mass. In the Babylonian Captivity he remarks, “When I published my Sermon of the Supper, FC14 I was still caught in the prevailing conception, and was indifferent whether the pope was right or not.” FC15 In this treatise, then, we have the first clear statement of the reformer on this subject.
It shows, however, the beautifully conservative character of Luther that even here, where he is compelled to reject the Roman sacrificial theory, we see him laboring to detect at least an element of scriptural truth in the refuted doctrine. He says (secs. 56, 27) that in the Supper we use Christ as our Sacrifice and Mediator, by bringing our prayer and thanksgiving to the Father through Him. And this furnishes the basis on which he builds the evangelical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (sec. 28): alle Christenmanner Pfaffen, alle Weiber Pfaffinnen, es sei jung oder nit, etc.
This thought is still more strongly emphasized in the Abuse of the Mass, of 1522.
Two more points need to be mentioned, — the withholding of the cup from the laity and the number of the sacraments. In the Sermon of Luther attaches little importance to the communion in both kinds, though he thinks it would be well for the Church in a General Council to restore the two elements to all Christians. But in this treatise of 1520 he is already beginning to use stronger language. He would like to know who gave the power to withhold the cup (sec. 34). In the Babylonian Captivity and in the Abuse of the Mass he unsparingly condemns the Roman practice. On the number of the sacraments, Luther seems not yet to have been entirely in the clear when he wrote this work. In Section 24 he mentions, besides baptism and the Lord’s Supper, “confirmation, penance, extreme unction, etc.” In the Babylonian Captivity he definitely reduces the seven sacraments of the Roman Church to baptism, the Lord’s Supper and penance, but he had his doubts on this point before he wrote this present work, as we may conclude from a remark in the Sermon of 1519, in which he distinguishes “baptism and the bread” as the two “principal sacraments,” and also from a letter to Spalatin, FC16 in which he writes that no one need expect from him a publication on the other sacraments until he shall first have been taught by what passage of Scripture he may justify them. FC17 In conclusion, it may be said that this whole Treatise on the New Testament is a beautiful illustration of the constructive power of Luther’s work. In the work of tearing down he proceeds with the greatest care, ever mindful of his duty to replace the old with something which can stand the test of Scripture. J. L. NEVE. WITTENBERG THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, Springfield, Oregon A TREATISE ON THE NEW TESTAMENT THAT IS THE HOLY MASS JESUS 1. Experience, all chronicles, and the Holy Scriptures besides, teach us this truth: the less law, the more justice; the fewer commandments, the more good works. No well-regulated community ever existed long, if at all, where there were many laws. Therefore, before the ancient law of Moses, the Patriarchs of old had no prescribed law and order for the service of God other than the sacrifices; as we read of Adam, Abel, Noah and others.
Afterward, circumcision was enjoined upon Abraham and his household, until the time of Moses, through whom God gave the people of Israel divers laws, forms, and practices, for the sole purpose of teaching human nature how utterly useless many laws are to make people pious. For although the law leads and drives away from evil to good works, it is still impossible for man to do them willingly and gladly; but he has at all times an aversion for the law and would rather be free. Now where there is unwillingness, there can never be a good work. For what is not done willingly is not good, and only seems to be good. Consequently, all the laws cannot make one really pious without the grace of God, for they can produce only dissemblers, hypocrites, pretenders, and proud saints, such as have their reward here, and never please God. Thus He says to the Jews, Malachi 1:10 “I have no pleasure in you; for who is there among you that would even as much as shut a door for me, willingly and out of love?” 2. Another result of many laws is this, that many sects and divisions in the congregations [Gemeinden] arise from them. One adopts this way, another that, and there grows up in each man a false, secret love for his own sect, and a hatred, or at least a contempt for, and a disregard of the other sects, whereby brotherly, free, common love perishes, and selfish love prevails.
So Jeremiah and Hosea speak, yea, all the prophets lament that the people of Israel divided themselves into as many sects as there were cities in the land; each desiring to outdo the others. Thence also arose the Sadducees and Pharisees in the Gospel.
So we observe today, that through the Spiritual Law FC19 but little justice and piety have arisen in Christendom; the world has been filled with dissemblers and hypocrites and with so many sects, orders, and divisions of the one people of Christ, that almost every city is divided into ten parties or more. And they daily devise new ways and manners (as they think) of serving God, until it has come to this, that priests, monks, and laity have become more hostile toward each other than Turks and Christians. Yea, the priests and the monks are deadly enemies, wrangling about their selfconceived ways and methods like fools and madmen, not only to the hindrance, but to the very destruction of Christian love and unity. Each one clings to his sect and despises the others; and they regard the lay-men as though they were no Christians. This lamentable condition is only a result of the laws. 3. Christ, in order that He might prepare for Himself an acceptable and beloved people, which should be bound together in unity through love, abolished the whole law of Moses. And that He might not give further occasion for divisions, He did not again appoint more than one law or order for His entire people, and that the holy mass. For, although baptism is also an external ordinance, yet it takes place but once, and is not a practice of the entire life, like the mass. Therefore, after baptism there is to be no other external order for the service of God except the mass. And where the mass is used, there is a true service, even though there be no other form, with singing, playing, bell-ringing, vestments, ornaments and postures; for everything of this sort is an addition invented by men. When Christ Himself first instituted this sacrament and held the first mass, there were no patens, no chasuble, no singing, no pageantry, but only thanksgiving to God, and the use of the sacrament. After this same simplicity the Apostles and all Christians long time held mass, until the divers forms and additions arose, by which the Romans held mass one way, the Greeks another; and now it has finally come to this, that the chief thing in the mass has become unknown, and nothing is remembered except the additions of men. 4. The nearer, now, our masses are to the first mass of Christ, the better, without doubt, they are; and the farther from Christ’s mass, the more perilous. For that reason we may not boast of ourselves, against the Russians or Greeks, that we alone have a right to hold mass; as little as a priest who wears a real chasuble may boast against him who wears one of white or black. For such external additions and differences may by their dissimilarity make sects and dissensions, but they can never make the mass better. Although I neither wish nor am able to displace or discard all such additions, still, because such pompous forms are perilous, we must never permit ourselves to be led away by them from the simple institution by Christ and from the right use of the mass. And, indeed, the greatest and most useful art is to know what really and properly belongs to the mass, and what is added and foreign. For where there is no clear distinction, the eyes and the heart are easily misled by such shamming into a false impression and delusion; so that what men have invented is reckoned the mass, and what the mass is, is never experienced, to say nothing of deriving benefit from it. Thus, alas! it happens in our times; for, I fear, every day more than a thousand masses are said, of which perhaps not one is a real mass. O dear Christian, to have many masses is not to have the mass.
There is more to it than that. 5. If we desire to say mass rightly and understand it, then we must give up everything that the eyes and all the senses behold and suggest in this act, such as vestments, bells, songs, ornaments, prayers, processions, elevations, prostrations, or whatever happens in the mass, until we first lay hold of and consider well the words of Christ, by which He completed and instituted the mass and commanded us to observe it. For therein lies the whole mass, its nature, work, profit and benefit, and without them [i.e., the words] no benefit is derived from the mass. But these are the words: Take and eat, this is My body, which is given for you. Take and drink ye all of it, this is the cup of the new and eternal testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. These words every Christian must have before him in the mass and hold fast to them as the chief part of the mass, in which also the really good preparation for the mass and sacrament is taught; this we shall see. 6. If man is to deal with God and receive anything from Him, it must happen in this wise, not that man begin and lay the first stone, but that God alone, without any entreaty or desire of man, must first come and give him a promise. FC20 This word of God is the beginning, the foundation, the rock, upon which afterward all works, words and thoughts of man must build. This word man must gratefully accept, and faithfully believe the divine promise, and by no means doubt that it is and comes to pass just as He promises. This trust and faith is the beginning, middle, and end of all works and righteousness. For, because man does God the honor of regarding and confessing Him as true, He becomes to him a gracious God, Who in turn honors him and regards and confesses him as true. Thus it is not possible that man, of his own reason and strength, should by works ascend to heaven and anticipate God, moving Him to be gracious; but God must anticipate all works and thoughts, and make a promise clearly expressed in words, which man then takes and keeps with a good, firm faith. Then follows the Holy Spirit, Who is given him because of this same faith. 7. Such a promise was given to Adam after his fall; when God spake to the serpent: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between her seed and thy seed: she shall crush thy head; and thou shalt lie in wait for her foot.” FC21 In these words, however obscurely, God promises help to human nature, namely, that by a woman the devil shall again be overcome.
This promise of God sustained Adam and Eve and all their children until the time of Noah; in this they believed, and by this faith they were saved; else they had despaired. In like manner, after the flood, He made a covenant with Noah and his children, until the time of Abraham ( Genesis 12:1), whom He summoned out of his fatherland, and promised that in his seed all nations should be blessed. This promise Abraham believed and obeyed, and thereby was justified and became the friend of God. In the same book this promise to Abraham is many times repeated, enlarged and made more definite, until Isaac is promised him, who was to be the seed from which Christ and every blessing should come.
In this faith upon the promise Abraham’s children were kept until the time of Christ, although in the mean time it was continually renewed and made more definite by David and many prophets. This promise the Lord in the Gospel calls “Abraham’s besom,” because in it were kept all who with a right faith clung thereto, and, with Abraham, waited for Christ. Then came Moses, who declared the same promise under many forms in the Law.
Through him God promised the people of Israel the land of Canaan, while they were still in Egypt; which promise they believed, and by it they were sustained and led into that land. 8. In the New Testament, likewise, Christ has made a promise or solemn vow, which we are to believe and thereby come to godliness and salvation.
This promise is the word in which Christ says: “This is the cup of the New Testament.” This we shall now examine.
Not every vow is called a testament, but only a last irrevocable will of one who is about to die, whereby he bequeaths his goods, allotted and assigned to be distributed to whom he will. Just as St. Paul says to the Hebrews that a testament must be made operative by death, and avails nothing while he still lives who made the testament. For other vows, made for this life, may be hindered or recalled, and hence are not called testaments. Therefore, wherever in Scripture God’s testament is referred to by the prophets, in that very word the prophets are taught that God would become man and die and rise again, to the end that His Word, in which He promised such a testament, might be fulfilled and confirmed. For if He is to make a testament as He promised, then He must die; if He is to die, He must be a man. And so that little word “testament” is a short summary of all God’s wonders and grace, fulfilled in Christ. 9. He also distinguishes this testament from others and says, “It is a new and everlasting testament, in His own blood, for the forgiveness of sins”; whereby He disannuls the old testament. For the little word “new” makes the testament of Moses old and ineffective, one that avails no more. The old testament was a promise made through Moses to the people of Israel, to whom was promised the land of Canaan. For this testament God did not die, but the paschal lamb had to die instead of Christ and as a type of Christ; and so it was a temporal testament in the blood of the paschal lamb, which was shed for the obtaining and possessing of that land of Canaan.
And as the paschal lamb, which died in the old testament for the land of Canaan, was a temporal and transitory thing, so too the old testament, together with that possession or land of Canaan allotted and promised therein, was temporal and transitory.
But Christ, the true Paschal Lamb, is an eternal divine Person, Who dies to establish the new testament; therefore the testament and the possessions therein bequeathed are eternal and abiding. And that is what He means when He contrasts this testament with that other, and says: A new testament — so that the other may become old and of none effect. An eternal testament, He says, not temporal like that other; not to dispose of temporal lands or possessions, but of eternal. In my blood, He says, not in the blood of a lamb. All this is to the end that the old should be altogether annulled and give place to the new alone. 10. What then is this testament, and what is bequeathed us therein by Christ? Forsooth, a great, eternal and unspeakable treasure, namely, the forgiveness of all sins, as the words plainly state, “This is the cup of a new eternal testament in My blood, that is shed for you and for many for the remission of sin.” As though He said: “Behold, man, in these words I promise and bequeath thee forgiveness of all thy sin and eternal life. And in order that thou mayest be certain and know that such promise remains irrevocably thine, I will die for it, and will give My body and blood for it, and will leave them both to thee as sign and seal, that by them thou mayest remember Me.” So He says: “As oft as ye do this, remember Me.” Even as a man who bequeathes something includes therein what shall be done for him afterward, as is the custom at present in the requiems and masses for the dead, so also Christ has ordained a requiem for Himself in this testament; not that He needs it, but because it is necessary and profitable for us to remember Him; whereby we are strengthened in faith, confirmed in hope and made ardent in love. For as long as we live on earth our lot is such that the evil spirit and all the world assail us with joy and sorrow, to extinguish our love for Christ, to blot out our faith, and to weaken our hope. Wherefore we sorely need this sacrament, in which we may gain new strength when we have grown weak, and may daily exercise ourselves unto the strengthening and uplifting of the spirit. 11. Furthermore, in all His promises God has usually given a sign in addition to the word, for the greater assurance and strengthening of our faith. Thus He gave Noah the sign of the rainbow. To Abraham He gave circumcision as a sign. To Gideon He gave the ram on the ground and on the fleece; and we constantly find in the Scriptures many of these signs, given along with the promises. For so also worldly testaments are made; not only are the words written down, but seals and notaries’ marks are affixed thereto, that they may always be binding and authentic. Thus Christ has done in this testament and has affixed to the words a powerful and most precious seal and sign; this is His own true body and blood under the bread and wine. For we poor men, since we live in our five senses, must always have, along with the words, at least one outward sign, on which we may lay hold, and around which we may gather; but in such wise that this sign may be a sacrament, that is, that it may be external and yet contain and express something spiritual, so that through the external we may be drawn into the spiritual, comprehending the external with the eyes of the body, the spiritual and inward with the eyes of the heart. 12. Now we see how many parts there are in this testament, or the mass.
There is, first, the testator who makes the testament, Christ. Second, the heirs to whom the testament is bequeathed, we Christians. Third, the testament in itself, the words of Christ when He says: “This is My body which is given for you. This is My blood which is shed for you, a new eternal testament, etc.” Fourth, the seal or token, the sacrament, bread and wine, and under them His true body and blood. For everything that is in this sacrament must live; therefore He did not put it in dead writ and seal, but in living words and signs which we use from day to day.
And this is what is meant when the priest elevates the host, FC22 by which act he addresses us rather than God, as though he said to us: Behold, this is the seal and sign of the testament in which Christ has bequeathed us remission of all sin and eternal life. With this agrees also that which is sung by the choir: “Blessed be He that cometh to us in the name of God”; FC23 so that we testify how we receive therein blessings from God, and do not sacrifice nor give to Him. Fifth, the bequeathed blessing which the words signify, namely, remission of sin and eternal life. Sixth, the obligation, remembrance or requiem which we should observe for Christ, to wit, that we preach this His love and grace, hear and meditate upon it, by it be incited and preserved unto love and hope in Him, as St. Paul explains it: “As oft as ye eat this bread and drink of this cup ye show the death of Christ.” And this is what an earthly testator does, who bequeaths something to his heirs, that he may leave behind him a good name, the good will of men and a blessed memory, that he be not forgotten. 13. From all this it is now easily seen what the mass is, how one should prepare himself for it, how observe and how use it, and how many are the abuses of it. For just as one would act if ten thousand gulden were bequeathed him by a good friend: so, and with far more reason, we ought to conduct ourselves toward the mass, which is nothing else than an exceeding rich and everlasting and good testament bequeathed us by Christ Himself, and bequeathed in such wise that He would have had no other reason to die except that He wished to make such a testament; so fervently desirous was He to pour out His eternal treasures, as He says: “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I die.” Hence, too, it comes that in spite of many masses we remain so blind and cold, for we do not know what the mass is, what we do in it, nor what we get from it.
Since then it is nothing else than a testament, the first and by far the best preparation for the mass is a hungry soul and a firm joyful faith of the heart accepting such a testament. Who would not go with great and joyful desire, hope and comfort, and demand a thousand gulden , if he knew that at a certain place they had been bequeathed him; especially if there were no other condition than that he remember, honor, and praise the testator? So, in this matter, you must above all else take heed to your heart, that you believe the words of Christ, and admit their truth, when He says to you and to all: “This is My blood, a new testament, by which I bequeath you forgiveness of all sins and eternal life.” How could you do Him greater dishonor and show greater disrespect to the holy mass than by not believing or by doubting? For He desired this to be so certain that He Himself even died for it. Surely such doubt would be naught else than denying and blaspheming Christ’s sufferings and death, and every blessing which He has thereby obtained. 14. For this reason, I have said, everything depends upon the words of this sacrament, which are the words of Christ, and which we verily should set in pure gold and precious stones, and keep nothing more diligently before the eyes of the heart, that faith be exercised thereby. Let another pray, fast, go to confession, prepare himself for mass and the sacrament as he will. Do thou the same, but know that all that is pure fool’s-work and selfdeception, if you do not set before you the words of the testament and arouse yourself to believe and desire them. A long time would you have to polish your shoes, pick the lint FC24 off your clothes, and deck yourself out to get an inheritance, if you had no letter and seal with which you could prove your right to it. But if you have letter and seal, and believe, desire, and seek it, it must be given you, even though you were scaly, scabby, stinking and most unclean.
So if you would receive this sacrament and testament worthily, see to it that you bring forward these living words of Christ, rely thereon with a strong faith, and desire what Christ has therein promised you: then it will be given you, then are you worthy and well prepared. This faith and confidence must and will make you joyful, and awaken a bold love for Christ, by means of which you will begin with joy to lead a really good life and with all your heart to flee from sin. For he who loves Christ will surely do what pleases Him, and leave undone what does not please Him. But who will love Him except he taste the riches of this testament which Christ, out of pure mercy, has freely bequeathed to poor sinners? This taste comes by the faith which believes and trusts the testament and promise. If Abraham had not believed the promise of God he would never have amounted to anything. Just as certainly, then, as Abraham, Noah, and David accepted and believed their promises: so certainly must we also accept and believe this testament and promise. 15. Now there are two temptations which never cease to assail you; the first, that you are entirely unworthy of so rich a testament, the second, that even were you worthy, the blessing is so great that human nature is terrified by the greatness of it; for what do not forgiveness of all sin and eternal life bring with them? If either of these temptations comes to you, you must, as I have said, esteem the words of Christ more than such thoughts. It will not be He that lies to you; your thoughts will be deceiving you.
Just as though a poor beggar, yea, a very knave, were bequeathed a thousand gulden: he would not demand them because of his merit or worthiness, nor fail to claim them because of the greatness of the sum; and if any one should cast up to him his unworthiness and the greatness of the sum, he would certainly not allow anything of that sort to frighten him, but would say: “What is that to you? I know full well that I am unworthy of the inheritance; I do not demand it on my merits, as though it had been due me, but on the favor and grace of the testator. If he did not think it too much to bequeath to me, why should I so despise myself and not claim and take it?” So also must a timid, dejected conscience insist, against its own thoughts, upon the testament of Christ, and be stubborn in firm faith, despite its own unworthiness and the greatness of the blessing. For this very reason that which brings to such unworthy ones so great a blessing is a divine testament, by which God desires above all things to awaken love to Him. So Christ comforted those dejected ones who thought the blessing too great and said: “Fainthearted little flock, fear not; it hath pleased your Father to give you the eternal Kingdom.” 16. But see now what they have made of the mass! In the first place, they have hidden these words of the testament, and have taught that they are not to be spoken to the laity, that they are secret words to be spoken in the mass only by the priest. Has not the devil here in a masterly way stolen from us the chief thing in the mass and put it to silence? For who has ever heard it preached that one should give heed in the mass to these words of the testament and insist upon them with a firm faith? And yet this should have been the chief thing. Thus they have been afraid, and have taught us to be afraid, where there is no cause for fear, nay, where all our comfort and safety lie.
How many miserable consciences, which perished from fear and sorrow, could have been comforted and rescued by these words! What devil has told them that the words which should be the most familiar, the most openly spoken among all Christians, priests and laity, men and women, young and old, are to be hidden in greatest secrecy? How should it be possible for us to know what the mass is, or how to use and observe it, if we are not to know the words in which the very mass consists? FC25 But would to God that we Germans could say mass in German, and sing these “most secret” words loudest of all! Why should not we Germans say mass in our own language, when the Latins, Greeks and many others observe mass in their language? Why should we not also keep secret the words of baptism: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen”? If every one may speak in German, and aloud, these words, which are no less the holy Word and promise of God, why should not every one also be permitted to hear and speak those words of the mass aloud and in German? 17. Let us learn, then, that in every covenant FC26 of God there are two things which one must consider; these are Word and Sign. In baptism these are the words of the baptizer and the dipping in water. FC27 In the mass they are the words and the bread and wine. The words are the divine covenant, promise and testament. The signs are sacraments, that is sacred signs. Now since the testament is far more important than the sacrament, so the words are much more important than the signs. For the signs might be lacking, if only one have the words, and thus one might be saved without sacrament, yet not without testament. For I can daily enjoy the sacrament in the mass, if I only keep before my eyes the testament, that is, the words and covenant of Christ, and feed and strengthen my faith thereby.
We see, then, that the best and greatest part of all sacraments and of the mass is the words and covenant of God, without which the sacraments are dead and are nothing at all; like a body without a soul, a cask without wine, a purse without gold, a type without fulfillment, a letter without spirit, a sheath without a knife, and the like; whence it is true that when we use, hear, or see the mass without the words or testament, and look only to the sacrament and sign, we do not even half keep the mass. For sacrament without testament is keeping the case without the jewel, quite an unequal separation and division. 18. I fear, therefore, that there is at present more idolatry in Christendom through the masses than ever occurred among the Jews. For we hear nowhere that the mass is directed toward the feeding and strengthening of faith, for which alone it was ordained by Christ, but is only used as a sacrament without the testament.
Many have written of the fruits of the mass, and indeed have greatly exalted them; nor do I question the value of these fruits. But take heed that you regard them all, compared to this one thing, as the body compared to the soul. God has here prepared for our faith a pasture, table and feast; but faith is fed with nothing except the Word of God alone. Therefore you must take heed above all things to the words, exalt them, highly esteem them, and hold them fast; then you will have not simply the little drops of blessing FC28 that drip from the mass, but the very head-waters of faith, from which springs and flows all that is good, as the Lord says in John 7:38, “Whosoever believeth in Me, out of his belly shall flow streams of living water”; again: “Whosoever shall drink of the water which I give, he shall never thirst, and there shall be in him a spring of living water unto everlasting life.” We see, then, the first abuse of the mass is this — that we have lost the chief blessing, to wit, the testament and the faith. What consequences this has had we now shall see. 19. It follows of necessity, where faith and the Word or promise of God decline or are neglected, that there arise in their place works and a false, presumptuous trust in them. For where there is no promise of God there is no faith. Where there is no faith, there everyone presumptuously undertakes to better himself by means of works, and to make himself wellpleasing to God. When this happens, false security and presumption arise therefrom, as though man were well-pleasing to God because of his own works. When this does not happen, the conscience has no rest, and knows not what to do, that it may become well-pleasing to God.
So too I fear that many have made out of the mass a good work, whereby they thought to do a great service to Almighty God. Now, if we have rightly understood what has been said above, namely, that the mass is nothing else than a testament and sacrament, in which God pledges Himself to us and gives us grace and mercy, I think it is not fitting that we should make a good work or merit out of it. For a testament is not beneficium acceptum eddatum ; FC29 it does not derive benefit from us, but brings us benefit. Who has ever heard that he who receives an inheritance does a good work? He does derive benefit. Likewise in the mass we give Christ nothing, but only take from Him; unless they are willing to call this a good work, that a man be quiet and permit himself to be benefited, to be given food and drink, to be clothed and healed, helped and redeemed. Just as in baptism, in which there is also a divine testament and sacrament, no one gives God anything or does Him a service, but instead takes something; so too in all the other sacraments, and in the sermon. For if one sacrament cannot be a meritorious good work, then no other can be a work; because they are all of one kind, and it is the nature of a sacrament or testament that it is not a work, but only an exercise of faith. 20. It is true, indeed, that when we come together to the mass to receive the testament and sacrament, and to nourish and strengthen faith, we there offer our prayer with one accord, and this prayer, which arises out of faith, and is for the increase of faith, is truly a good work; and we also distribute alms among the poor; as was done aforetime when the Christians gathered food and other needful things, which after the mass were distributed among the needy, as we learn from St. Paul. But this work and prayer are quite another thing than the testament and sacrament, which no one can offer or give to God or to men, but every one takes and receives of it for himself only, in proportion as he believes and trusts. Now just as I cannot receive or give the sacrament of baptism, of penance, or of extreme unction in any one’s stead or for his benefit, but I take for myself alone the blessing therein offered by God, and there is here not officium, but beneficium, i.e., not work or service, but reception and benefit alone; so also, no one can say or hear mass for another, but each one for himself alone, for it is purely a taking and receiving.
This is all easily understood, if one only considers what the mass really is, namely, a testament and sacrament; that is, God’s Word and promise, together with a sacred sign, the bread and the wine, under which Christ’s body and blood are truly present. For by what process of reasoning could a man be said to do a good work for another when, like the others, he comes as one in need, and takes to himself the words and sign of God in which God promises and grants him grace and help? Surely, to receive God’s Word, sign, and grace is not the imparting of good, or the doing of a good work, but is simply a “taking to oneself.” 21. Now, since the whole world has made a sacrifice of the mass, wherein they bring an offering to God, which without doubt is the third and very worst abuse, we must clearly distinguish between what we offer and what we do not offer in the mass.
Beyond all doubt the word “offering” in the mass has arisen and has remained until now, because in the times of the Apostles, when some of the practices of the Old Testament were still observed, the Christians brought food, money and necessities, which were distributed in connection with mass among the needy, as I have said before. For so we still read in Acts 4:34, that the Christians sold all that they had, and brought it to the feet of the Apostles, who then had it distributed and gave of the common possessions to every one as he needed. Even so the Apostle Paul teaches, that all food and whatsoever we use shall be blessed with prayer and the Word of God, and thanks be given to God therefor; hence we say the Benedicite and Gratia FC31 at table. Thus it was the custom of the Old Testament, when men thanked God for gifts received, that they lifted them up in their hands to God; as is written in the law of Moses. Therefore, the apostles also lifted up the offerings in this way, thanked God, and blessed, with the Word of God, food and whatever the Christians gathered. And Christ Himself, as St. Luke writes, lifted up the cup, gave thanks to God, drank of it, and gave to the others, before He instituted the sacrament and testament. 22. Traces of this usage have survived in three customs. The first, that the first and last prayer of the mass are called “collects,” that is, “collections”; which indicates that these prayers were spoken as a blessing and thanksgiving over the food which had been collected, to bless it and give thanks to God, according to the teaching of St. Paul. The second, when the people after the Gospel proceed to the offering; from which the chant which is sung at that time is called “offertory,” that is, an offering. The third, that the priest elevates in the paten and offers to God the still unblessed host, at the same time that the offertory is being sung and the people are making their offering; by which is shown that the sacrament is not offered to God by us, but only these “collects” and offerings of food and gifts that have been gathered, in order that God may be thanked for them, and they may be blessed, to be distributed to the needy.
For afterward, when the priest, in the “low mass,” FC32 elevates the blessed host and cup, there is not a word said about the sacrifice, where he should most of all make mention of the sacrifice, if the mass were a sacrifice: but, as I have said above, he elevates it not toward God, but toward us, to remind us of the testament, and to incite us to faith in the same. In like manner, when he receives or administers the sacrament, he does not mention the sacrifice by a single word; which must and should be done were the sacrament a sacrifice. Therefore, the mass dare not and cannot be called or be a sacrifice because of the sacrament, but only because of the food which is gathered and the prayer with which God is thanked and with which it is blessed. 23. Now the custom of gathering food and money at the mass has fallen into disuse, and not more than a trace of it remains in the offering of the pfennig on the high festivals, and especially on Easter Day, when they still bring cakes, meat, eggs, etc., to church to be blessed. Now in place of such offerings and collections, endowed churches, monastic houses and hospitals have been erected, and should be maintained for the sole purpose that the needy in every city may be given all they need, that there be no beggar or needy one among the Christians, but that each and all may have from the mass enough for body and soul.
But all this is reversed. Just as the mass is not rightly explained to men, but is understood as a sacrifice, not as a testament, so, on the other hand, that which is and ought to be the offering, namely, the possessions of the churches and monastic houses, is no longer offered and is not given, with the thanksgiving and blessing of God, to the needy to whom it ought to be given. Therefore God is provoked to anger, and now permits the possessions of the churches and monastic houses to become the occasion of war, of worldly pomp, and of such abuse that no other blessing is so shamefully and blasphemously managed and wasted. And since it does not serve the poor, for whom it was appointed, it is indeed meet and right that it should remain unworthy to serve for anything but sin and shame. 24. Now if you ask what is left in the mass to give it the name of a sacrifice, since so much is said in the Office about the sacrifice, I answer:
Nothing is left. For, to be brief and to the point, we must let the mass be a sacrament and testament, and this is not and cannot be a sacrifice any more than the other sacraments — baptism, confirmation, penance, extreme unction, etc. — are sacrifices. FC34 Otherwise we should lose the Gospel, Christ, the comfort of the sacrament and every grace of God. Therefore we must separate the mass clearly and distinctly from the prayers and ceremonies which have been added by the holy fathers, and keep the two as far apart as heaven and earth, that the mass may remain nothing else than the testament and sacrament comprehended in the words of Christ.
What there is over and beyond these words we are to regard, in comparison with the words of Christ, as we regard the monstrance FC35 and corporal FC36 in comparison with the host and the sacrament itself; and these we regard as nothing but additions for the reverent and seemly administration of the sacrament. Now just as we regard the monstrance, corporal and altar-cloths compared with the sacrament, so we are to look upon all added words, works and ceremonies of the mass compared with the words of Christ Himself, in which He gives and ordains this testament.
For if the mass or sacrament were a sacrifice, we would have to say that it is a mass and sacrifice when the sacrament is brought to the sick in their home, or when those in health receive it in the church, and that there are as many masses and sacrifices as the number of those who approach the sacrament. If in this case it is not a sacrifice, how is it a sacrifice in the hand of the priest, since it is still one and the same sacrament, one and the same use, one and the same benefit, and in all respects the same sacrament and testament with all of us? 25. We should, therefore, give careful heed to this word “sacrifice,” that we do not presume to give God something in the sacrament, when it is He who therein gives us all things. We should bring spiritual sacrifices, since the external sacrifices have ceased and have been changed into the gifts to churches, monastic houses and charitable institutions. What sacrifices then are we to offer? Ourselves, and all that we have, with constant prayer, as we say: “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.” Whereby we are to yield ourselves to the will of God, that He may do with us what He will, according to His own pleasure; in addition, we are to offer Him praise and thanksgiving with our whole heart, for His unspeakable, sweet grace and mercy, which He has promised and given us in this sacrament. And although such a sacrifice occurs apart from the mass, and should so occur, for it does not necessarily and essentially belong to the mass, as has been said, yet it is more precious, more seemly, more mighty and also more acceptable when it takes place with the multitude and in the assembly where men provoke, move and inflame one another to press close to God, and thereby attain without all doubt what they desire.
For so has Christ promised; where two are gathered together in His name there He is in the midst of them, and where two agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, all shall be clone that they ask. How much more shall they obtain what they ask, when a whole city comes together to praise God and to pray with one accord! We would not need many indulgence-letters if we proceeded aright in this matter. Souls also would easily be redeemed from purgatory and innumerable blessings would follow. But, alas! that is not the way it goes. Everything is reversed; what the mass is intended to do, we take upon us and want to do ourselves; what we ought to do we give over to the mass. All this is the work of unlearned, false preachers. 26. To be sure, this sacrifice of prayer, praise and thanksgiving, and of ourselves, we are not to present before God in our own person, but we are to lay it on Christ and let Him present it, as St. Paul teaches in Hebrews 13:15 “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of the lips which confess Him and praise Him,” and all this through Christ. For He is also a priest, as <19B004> Psalm 110:4 says: “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”; because He intercedes for us in heaven, receives our prayer and sacrifice, and through Himself, as a godly priest, makes them pleasing to God, as St. Paul says again in Hebrews 9:24 “He is ascended into Heaven to be a mediator in the presence of God for us”; and: “It is Christ Jesus that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, Who is even at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us.”
From these words we learn that we do not offer Christ as a sacrifice, but that Christ offers us. And in this way it is permissible, yea, profitable, to call the mass a sacrifice, not on its own account, but because we offer ourselves as a sacrifice along with Christ; that is, we lay ourselves on Christ by a firm faith in His testament, and appear before God with our prayer, praise and sacrifice only through Him and through His mediation; and we do not doubt that He is our priest and minister in heaven before God. Such faith, forsooth, brings it to pass that Christ takes up our cause, presents us, our prayer and praise, and also offers Himself for us in heaven.
If the mass were so understood and therefore called a sacrifice, it would be well. Not that we offer the sacrament, but that by our praise, prayer and sacrifice we move Him and give Him occasion to offer Himself for us in heaven, and ourselves with Him. As though I were to say, I had brought a king’s son to his father as an offering, when, indeed, I had done no more than induce that son to present my need and petition to the king, and made the son my mediator. 27. Few, however, understand the mass in this way. For they suppose that only the priest offers the mass as a sacrifice before God, although this is done and should be done by everyone who receives the sacrament, yea, also by those who are present at the mass and do not receive the sacrament. Furthermore, such offering of sacrifice every Christian may make, wherever he is and at all times, as St. Paul says: “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually through Him,” and <19B004> Psalm 110:4 “Thou art a priest forever.” If He is a priest forever, then He is at all times a priest and is offering sacrifices without ceasing before God. But we cannot be continually the same, and therefore the mass has been instituted that we may there come together and offer such sacrifice in common.
But let him who understands the mass otherwise or uses it otherwise than as a testament and sacrifice of this kind take heed how he understands it. I understand it, as has been said, to be really nothing else than this, that we receive the testament and at the same time admonish ourselves and be minded to strengthen our faith and not doubt that Christ is our priest in heaven, who offers Himself for us without ceasing and presents us and our prayer and praise, and makes them acceptable; just as though I were to offer the human priest as a sacrifice in the mass and appoint him to present my need and my praise of God, and he were to give me a token that he would do it. In this case I would be offering the priest as a sacrifice; and it is in this wise that I offer Christ, in that I desire and believe that He accepts me and my prayer and praise, and presents it to God in His own person, and to strengthen this faith, gives me a token that He will do it. This token is the sacrament of bread and wine. Thus it becomes clear that it is not the priest alone who offers the sacrifice of the mass, but every one’s faith, which is the true priestly office, through which Christ is offered as a sacrifice to God. This office the priest, with the outward ceremonies of the mass, simply represents. Each and all are, therefore equally spiritual priests before God. 28. From this you can see for yourself that there are many who rightly observe mass and make this sacrifice, who themselves know nothing about it, nay, who do not realize that they are priests and can observe mass.
Again, there are many who take great pains and apply themselves with all diligence, thinking that they are keeping the mass properly and offering a right sacrifice, and yet there is nothing right about it. For all those who have the faith that Christ is a priest for them in heaven before God, and who lay on Him their prayers and praise, their need and their whole selves, and present them through Him, not doubting that He does this very thing, and offers Himself for them, these take the sacrament and testament, outwardly or spiritually, as a sign of all this, and do not doubt that all sin is thereby forgiven, that God has become their gracious Father and that everlasting life is prepared for them.
All such, then, wherever they may be, are true priests, observe the mass aright and also obtain by it what they desire. For faith must do everything.
It alone is the true priestly office and permits no one else to take its place.
Therefore all Christians are priests; the men, priests, the women, priestesses, be they young or old, masters or servants, mistresses or maids, learned or unlearned. Here there is no difference, unless faith be unequal.
Again, all who do not have such faith, but presume to make much of the mass as a sacrifice, and perform this office before God, are figure-heads.
They observe mass outwardly and do not themselves know what they are doing, and cannot be well pleasing to God. For without true faith it is impossible to please Him, as St. Paul says in Hebrews 11:6, Now there are many who, hidden in their hearts, have such true faith, and themselves know not of it; many there are who do not have it, and of this, too, they are unaware. 29. It has become a widespread custom to found masses for the dead, and many books have been written about it. If we ask now, Of what benefit are the masses celebrated for the souls which are kept in purgatory? the answer is: What is custom! God’s Word must prevail and remain true, to wit, that the mass is nothing else than a testament and sacrament of God, and cannot be a good work or a sacrifice, although it may be taken to include sacrifice and good works, as was said above.
There is no doubt, therefore, that whoever observes mass without the faith aforementioned benefits neither himself nor any one else. For the sacrament in itself, without faith, does nothing; nay, God Himself, Who indeed doeth all things, does and can do good to no one unless he firmly believes Him; how much less can the sacrament. It is easy to say, a mass is effective whether it be performed by a pious or a wicked priest, that it is acceptable opere operati , not opere operantis . FC39 But to produce no other argument except that many say this, and it has become a custom, is poor proof that it is right. Many have praised pleasures and riches and have grown accustomed to them; that does not make them right; we should produce Scripture or reason for it. Therefore let us take heed lest we be made fools.
I cannot conceive that the institution of so many masses and requiems can be without abuse, especially since all this is done as a good work and sacrifice by which to pay God, whereas in the mass there is nothing else than the reception and enjoyment of divine grace, promised and given us in His testament and sacrament. 30. I will gladly agree that the faith which I have called the true priestly orifice, which makes of us all priests and priestesses, through which in connection with the sacrament we offer ourselves, our need, prayer, praise and thanksgiving in Christ and through Christ, and thereby offer Christ before God, that is, give Him cause and move Him to offer Himself for us and us with Himself — this faith, I say, is truly able to do all things in heaven, earth, hell and purgatory, and to this faith no one can ascribe too much. And as I have said above, if Christ promises to two persons the answers to all their prayers, how much more may so many obtain from Him what they desire!
I know full well that some will be very ready to call me a heretic in this.
But, dear fellow, you should also consider whether you can prove as easily as you slander. I have read all that, and I know the books on which you rely, so you need not think I do not know your art. But I say that your art has no foundation, and that you cannot defend it, and that out of a sacrament or testament of God you will never make a sacrifice or a work of satisfaction, and, indeed, satisfaction itself is more of a human than a divine law.
Therefore my advice is, let us hold fast to that which is sure FC43 and let the uncertain go; that is, if we would help these poor souls in purgatory or any one else, let us not take the risk of relying upon the mass as a sufficient work, but rather come together to mass, and with priestly faith present every besetting need, in Christ and with Christ, praying for the souls [of the departed], and not doubting that we will be heard. Thus we may be sure that the soul is redeemed. For the faith which rests on the promise of Christ never deceives nor fails. 31. So we read that St. Monica, St. Augustine’s mother, on her death-bed, desired to be remembered in the mass. FC45 If the mass were sufficient of itself to help everyone, what need would there be for faith and prayer? But you might say, if this is true, anyone might observe mass and offer such a sacrifice, even in the open fields. For every one may indeed have such a faith in Christ in the open fields, and offer and commit to Him his prayer, praise, need and cause, to bring it before God in heaven, and besides he may also think of the sacrament and testament, heartily desire it, and in this way spiritually receive it. For he who desires it and believes, receives it spiritually, as St. Augustine teaches. FC46 What need is there then to observe mass in the churches? I answer: It is true, such faith is enough, and truly accomplishes everything, but how could you think of this faith, sacrifice, sacrament and testament if it were not visibly administered in certain designated places and churches? The same is true in the case of baptism and absolution, although faith is sufficient without them, where no more can be done; still if there were no place for their administration, who could think of them and believe in them, or who could know or say anything of them? Moreover, since God has so ordered this sacrament, we must not despise it, but receive it with great reverence, praise and gratitude. For if there were no other reason why we should observe mass outwardly and not be satisfied with inward faith alone, yet were this sufficient, that God so orders and wills it. And His will ought to please us above all things and be sufficient reason to do or omit anything.
There is also this advantage: since we are still living in the flesh and are not all perfect enough to rule ourselves in spirit, we need to come together to enkindle such a faith in one another by example, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, as I have said above, and through the outward seeing and receiving of the sacrament and testament to move each other to the increase of this faith. There are many saints, who like St. Paul the Hermit, FC48 remained for years in the desert without mass, and yet were never without mass. But such a high spiritual example cannot be imitated by everyone or by the whole Church. 33. FC49 But the chief reason for outwardly holding mass is the Word of God, which no one can do without, and which must daily be used and studied. Not only because every day Christians are born, baptized and trained, but because we live in the midst of the world, the flesh and the devil, who do not cease to tempt us and drive us into sin, against which the most powerful weapon is the holy Word of God, as St. Paul also calls it, “a spiritual sword,” which is powerful against all sin. This the Lord indicated when He instituted the mass and said: “This do in remembrance of Me”; as though He said, “As often as you use this sacrament and testament you shall preach of Me.” As also St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:26, “As oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye shall preach and proclaim the death of the Lord until He come”; and <19A221> Psalm 102:21, “They shall declare the glory of the Lord in Zion and His praise in Jerusalem, as often as the kings (that is, the bishops and rulers) and the people come together to serve the Lord”; and <19B104> Psalm 111:4, “He hath instituted a memorial of His wonders in that He has given meat to all who fear Him.”
In these passages you see how the mass was instituted to preach and praise Christ, to glorify His sufferings and all His grace and goodness, that we may be moved to love Him, hope and believe in Him, and thus, in addition to this Word or sermon, receive an outward sign, that is, the sacrament, to the end that our faith, provided with and confirmed by divine words and signs, may become strong against all sin, suffering, death and hell and everything that is against us. And but for the preaching of the Word He would nevermore have instituted the mass. He is more concerned about the Word than about the sign. For the preaching ought to be nothing but an explanation of the words of Christ when He institutes the mass and says: “This is My body, This is My blood, etc.” What is the whole Gospel but an explanation of this testament? Christ has comprehended the whole Gospel in a short summary with the words of this testament or sacrament. For the whole Gospel is nothing but a proclamation of God’s grace and of the forgiveness of all sins, granted us through the sufferings of Christ, as St.
Paul proves in Romans 10:9, and Christ in Luke 24:46, This same thing the words of this testament contain, as we have seen. 34. From this we may see what a pity and perversion it is that so many masses are said, and yet the Gospel is kept altogether silent. They stand and preach, and give to poor souls chaff for wheat, yea, death for life, intending afterward to make up for it with many masses. What sort of baptism would that be, if the water were poured upon the child and not a word were said? I fear that the holy words of the testament are read so secretly, and kept hidden from the laity, because God in His wrath is testifying thereby that the whole Gospel is no longer publicly reached to the people, that even as the summary of the Gospel is hidden, so also its public explanation has ceased. Next, they took entirely from us the one element, the wine, although that does not matter much, for the Word is more important than the sign. Still, I should like to know who gave them the power to do such a thing. In the same way they might take from us the other element and give us the empty monstrance to kiss as a relic, and at last abolish everything that Christ has instituted. I fear it is a figure and type that augurs nothing good in these perilous, perverted latter days. It is said that the pope has the power to do it; I say that is all fiction, he does not have a hair’s breadth of power to change what Christ has made; and whatever of these things he changes, that he does as a tyrant and Antichrist. I should like to hear how they will prove it.
Not that I wish to cause a turmoil about it, for I regard the Word as mightier than the sign, but I cannot permit the outrage when they not only do us wrong, but wish to have a right thereto, and force us not only to permit such a wrong, but also to praise it as right and good. Let them do what they will, so long as we are not obliged to acknowledge wrong as right. It is enough that we permit ourselves, with Christ, to be smitten on the cheek, but it is not for us to praise it, as though they had done well therein and earned God’s reward. 35. But what of those poor priests and laymen who have departed so far from the true meaning of the mass and of faith that they have even made of it a sort of magic? Some men have masses said that they may become rich and prosper in their business, others because they think if they hear mass in the morning they will be safe during the day from all danger and want; some, again, on account of sickness; others for still more foolish, yea, even sinful reasons, and yet they find priests perverted enough to take their money and do their bidding.
Furthermore, they have now made one mass better than another; one is valued as useful for this, another for that. Thus they have made seven “Golden Masses.” FC50 The “Mass of the Holy Cross” has come to have a different virtue from the “Mass of Our Lady.” In this matter every one is silent and permits the people to go on for the sake of the cursed, filthy pfennigs , which through these various titles and virtues of the mass come piling in. So must faith, like Christ, be sold by its Judas, that is, by covetousness and the thirst for money.
Some are to be found also who have mass said privately, for this and for that; in short, the mass must do all kinds of things, except its own peculiar work — faith, which no one regards. They now are the best men on earth who have many masses said, as though they thought thereby to lay up many good works. All of this is the work of ignorance, which does not separate the hymns and prayers, which have been added, from the true, original mass. For one mass is like another and there is no difference, except in the faith. For the mass is best to him who believes most, and it serves only to increase faith, and for nothing else. True, indeed, the added prayers do serve, one this purpose, another that, according to the meaning of their words, but they are not the mass or the sacrament. 36. I would advise then, that where the masses are not directed toward such faith, they be abolished, and that there be fewer masses endowed for the souls of the dead. Truly we provoke God to anger with them more than we conciliate Him. To what purpose are the priests in the chapter houses and cloisters so strictly bound to observe the yearly FC51 masses, since they are not only without such faith, but also are often of necessity unfit. Christ Himself did not desire to bind anyone thereto and left us wholly free when He said: “This do ye, as oft as ye do it, in remembrance of Me.” And we men bind ourselves so fast and drive ourselves on against our own conscience. I see too that such an institution often has no good reason, but a secret greed is at the bottom of the obligation and that we burden ourselves with many masses in order that we may have sufficient income in temporal things; afterward we say that we do it for God’s sake. I fear few would be found who gratuitously and for God’s sake would thus burden themselves. But if all these masses are observed in the faith above mentioned, which I scarcely expect, they are to be tolerated. But if not, then it would be best that there be only one mass a day in a city, and that it be held in a proper manner in the presence of the assembled people. If at any time, however, we desire to have more, the people should be divided into as many parts as there are masses, and each part should be made to attend its own mass, there to exercise their faith and to offer their prayer, praise and need in Christ, as was said above. 37. If, then, the mass is a testament and sacrament in which the forgiveness of sins and every grace of God are promised and sealed with a sign, it follows of itself, what is the best preparation for it. Without doubt, it is given to them that need it and desire it. But who needs forgiveness of sins and God’s grace more than just these poor miserable consciences that are driven and tormented by their sins, are afraid of God’s anger and judgment, of death and of hell, that would be glad to have a gracious God and desire nothing more greatly? These are truly they who are well-prepared for mass.
For them these words have force and meaning, when Christ says: “Take and drink, this is My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins.” Where such a soul believes these words, as it ought, it receives from the mass all the fruits of the mass, that is, peace and joy, and is thus well and richly fed by it in spirit. But where there is no faith, there no prayer helps, nor the hearing of many masses; things can only become worse. As Psalm 23 says: “Thou preparest a table before me against all my enemies.”
Is this not a clear passage? What greater enemies are there than sin and an evil conscience which at all times fears God’s anger and never has rest?
Again, Psalm 111 says: “He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered and hath given meat to them that fear Him.” It is certain then that for bold, confident spirits, whose sin does not prick them, the mass is of no value, for they have as yet no hunger for this food, but are still too full. The mass demands and must have a hungry soul, which longs for forgiveness of sins and divine favor. 38. But because this despair and unrest of conscience are nothing but an infirmity of faith, the severest malady which man can have in body and soul, and which cannot at once or speedily be cured, it is useful and necessary that the more restless a man’s conscience, the more should he approach the sacrament or hear mass, provided that he picture to himself therein the Word of God, and feed and strengthen his faith by it, and ever see to it that he do not make a work or sacrifice of it, but let it remain a testament and sacrament, out of which he shall take and enjoy a benefit freely and of grace, by which his heart may become sweet toward God and obtain a comforting confidence toward Him. For so sings the Psalter, Psalm 104, “The bread strengtheneth man’s heart, and the wine maketh glad the heart of man.” 39. Some have asked whether the sacrament is to be offered also to the deaf and dumb. Some think it a kindness to practice a pious fraud upon them, and think they should be given unblessed wafers. This mockery is not right, and will not please God, Who has made them Christians as well as us; and the same things are due to them as to us. Therefore, if they have sound understanding and can show by indubitable signs that they desire it in true Christian devotion, as I have often seen, we should leave to the Holy Spirit what is His work and not refuse Him what He demands. It may be that inwardly they have a better understanding and faith than we, and this no one should presumptuously oppose. Do we not read of St. Cyprian, FC53 the holy martyr, that in Carthage, where he was bishop, he gave both elements to the children, although that has now ceased, for good reasons?
Christ permitted the children to come to Him, and would not suffer any one to forbid them. And in like manner He has withheld His blessings neither from dumb or blind, nor from the lame; why should not His sacrament also be for those who heartily and in a Christian spirit desire it? 40. Thus we see with how very few laws and works Christ has weighed down His holy Church, and with how many promises He has lifted it up to faith; although now, alas! all is turned about, and we are driven by many long and burdensome laws and works to become pious; and nothing comes of it. But Christ’s burden is light and soon produces an abundant piety, which consists in faith and trust, and fulfils what Isaiah says: “A little perfection shall bring a flood full of all piety.” That burden is faith, which is a little thing, to which belong neither laws nor works, nay it cuts off all laws and works and fulfils all laws and works. Therefore there flows from it nothing but righteousness. For so perfect is faith, that without any other labor and law, it makes everything that man does acceptable and wellpleasing to God. As I have further said of it in my little book “Of Good Works.”
Therefore, let us beware of sins, but much more of laws and good works, and only give heed to the divine promise and to faith; then good works will come of themselves. To this may God help us. Amen.