Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Greg Burk wrote, “Had a friend up the other week, and we were discussing words with many varying meanings . . . and one that intrigued me was MASS:

1.) the scientific use of mass - physics, weight, bulk, etc.

2.) referring to a large number of people or things.

3.) celebration of a religious ceremony.

Seems to have a lot of diverse uses. Do you have any thoughts or wisdom related to this word’s origin and uses ?”

Here’s the core of the problem: there are 4 nouns spelled m-a-s-s. Two of them can be eliminated immediately: mass, from a Gaelic word for regard or respect, and mass, an extremely rare word (from the Dutch) meaning mask.

The remaining two are germane to your question.

(1) Mass as the name of the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist probably came from the prayer of dismissal at the end of the Eucharist.

Celebrant: Ite, missa est. [Go, it is ended.]

Congregation: Deo gatias. [Thanks be to God.]

(2) Mass as a dense aggregation, something signifying bulk or a large quantity, came from the Latin massa, lump, bulk, parcel of land, or dough. The scientific and population meanings, along with many others, derive from this source.

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