Martin Luther: the First Mass (1507)

2017 marks the 500-year anniversary of the launch of the Reformation. Martin Luther is credited for being the leader of the movement that effectively created the Protestant sect of Christianity. This week, I will be posting blurbs on the life of Martin Luther. It is one of many special series I plan to share during 2017 to commemorate this fantastic series of events that led to separation from the Roman Catholic Church.

In April of 1507, Martin Luther was ordained as a priest, and about one month later, Luther was assigned his 1st Mass.

To the church at this time, the Mass was a focal point of the Church’s means of grace. The sacrifice of Calvary was re-enacted as Catholics believed in transubstantiation (which is the belief that the elements of bread and wine supernaturally transform into the actual body and blood of Christ).

luther-and-massMartin’s father had finally come to accept his son as a monk and was invited to attend. His father came, along with twenty companions, and was so enthused by the occasion-to-be that he made a rather large donation to the Erfurt Monastery, which was considered a highly pious act and one of the reasons monasteries were wealthy estates).

The occasion was anything but celebratory. It was a climactic moment in the life of Luther and his haunting of sin in his life.

As Luther approached the altar to begin the service, he became paralyzed with fear and historians record that he recited the following words, “We offer unto thee, the living, the true, the eternal God.”

He later wrote about this experience:

“At these words I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, ‘With what tongue shall I address such Majesty, seeing that all men ought to tremble in the presence of even an earthly prince? Who am I, that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? The angels surround Him. At his nod the earth trembles. And shall a miserable little pigmy say, ‘I want this, I ask for that’? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living eternal and the true God.”

It is an understatement to say Luther was uncomfortable moving forward with the Mass.

The key phrase in that quote is “For I am dust and ashes full of sin.” The word Luther used to describe that experience was Anfechtung, which means “inner turmoil” or “temptation.” Luther thought of this moment as a trial sent by God to test and assault him. Terrifying experiences like this gave Luther a new pursuit to becoming personally holy.

Then game his trip to Rome a few years later, which we will cover in tomorrow’s post.

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