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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Significance of the Mass
GA Unknown

17 March 1905, Cologne

If we wish to know the origin of the Catholic Mass, we must trace it back historically to the Mysteries. The Mysteries were sanctuaries where not only the higher wisdom was taught and acquired, but where the corresponding phenomena were practiced.

The Mysteries took on a special popular form in the stream of civilization that came from Persia and Egypt; and in these originated the Mass. Before the appearance of Christ anyone who wished to acquire knowledge of the higher worlds had to be received as a pupil into an occult school. He had first to learn how the world and man came into being; he had to learn concerning the origin of the world and the significance of man within it. He was instructed as to how the divine Cosmic Spirit everywhere took form, how it could be seen in minerals, plants and animals, etc. Man is a fusion of everything which is in the world. Paracelsus once said that all the beings in the world are letters of the alphabet, and MAN is the word in which all these letters are to be found. He is the Microcosm in the Macrocosm.

The pupils were taught how the Divine Being split up into many single ones and united again in Man. Further, the pupil was made to experience this division of the Divine Spirit and its return in man. Man brought into the world the lower desires and passions; the lower animal forms are decadent products of man. What is expressed in the savage passions of the animal was brought into the world by man. The original condition of the world was what we now see realized in the mineral world. The precious stones have no longings, no desires, no wishes; they are chaste and unassuming. If we think of beings with this chaste and unassuming nature we have the ideal of the occult pupil before us. He had to arouse within himself the following feeling: “Thou must again become like the pure, passionless creation which came in all its purity from the hand of the Creator.” He sacrificed all the lower within himself. That was Katharsis, the purification of desire and passion; and this corresponds with the Sacrifice in the Mass, the second part of the Mass. The first part is the Revelation or Gospel, when the Message of the outpouring of the Cosmic Spirit in nature is communicated, the reasonable understanding of how the world came into being. This is followed by the second part, the Sacrifice. The student had to have the will to undertake the return journey to the original chaste created form. When he was ready for this he was allowed to enter the actual Mysteries. In the Egyptian Mysteries he had to spend three days alone in an enclosed space, and was transported into a condition of consciousness in which he developed higher kinds of perception.

The Descent of God into the world, and the Divine Division, he then experienced in the soul world or astral world when he was ready to sacrifice himself in a similar way. First of all he experienced a picture which was made clear to him by the sure conviction: “This is what thou wast at the time when thou wast free from desires and passions, having as yet no wish of thine own.” He saw the picture of himself in our past, an image of man at the higher stage. Secondly he saw how this image of man brought forth a masculine human image whose countenance shone like the sun; this was Osiris. He saw the coming forth of Osiris from Archetypal Man surrounded by a shining aura. After it has separated off, a second being — Isis — the picture then developed into the present form, Horus, and the present man was born. The pupil was now an awakened soul. In present-day man, when asleep, there is first of all the physical man, then the etheric body, and further, the astral aura arising from the sleeper. Man then finds himself within his aura, having forsaken the physical body. In the depths of the Temple Mysteries the occult pupil experienced this consciously in his astral body. He was then a transformed and consecrated being. One who is transformed in this way can perceive the light bodies of the lower beings.

This transformation of man in his astral form was the third stage of the Mysteries. The pupil was then clearly aware of the following: “Even as thou hast now seen Osiris, so hast thou once thyself. Thou hast been astral and hast become physical. Thou must now resolve to be embodied a second time.” The soul must descend again into the physical body of its own free will. When the pupil came forth from the Mysteries he was to carry his physical body consciously, as part of himself.

He now received a new name which he felt he could bear for all time. Every one of us has such a name, which is ours through all our incarnations. This eternal name was given to the initiate. Of his own free will he incarnated in his body, and he could now say “I” to his own body; but the initiate knows that he is not the same as his body. He carries his body on his back; he is crucified on his body; he is crucified in matter. He then comes forth, being able to accomplish consciously all that he formerly did unconsciously. This union with the body was called “Communion,” the fourth event in the Mysteries. Only one who was transformed in this way and re-united with his body was a true initiate.

And now Christ appeared upon the Earth. His appearance exemplified what formerly took place within the Mysteries. This was now enacted before the world in physical space. Formerly single individuals were led through the Mysteries; now all that was experienced in the Mysteries became an historical event. A true historical event took place in the Sacrificial Death of Christ Jesus.

In memory of those Mysteries Christ Jesus instituted a memorial. Those who dedicated themselves to Christ were no longer required to “see,” which means to “see a Mystery.” Those who were to attain inner knowledge no longer required to see the Mystery; the outer sign was sufficient. This outer sign has a profound significance. The three higher principles of the human being are: Atma, Buddhi, Manas. Formerly in speaking of man one spoke of Atma, Buddhi, Manas; at that time everyone believed that each life was only one of a long series, that it was, as it were, “earned.” Man was quite permeated by this thought. At the same time he looked right beyond his personal life, and did not attach much importance to it.

Now the task of the first two thousand years after Christ was to educate man for the higher Ego through Kama Manas. The personal life was to be taken seriously and deeply. Two thousand years or thereabouts, brings man to Devachan. During this period the whole of humanity must pass through one such incarnation, in which value is attached to the personal life.

Christ went forth with Peter, James, and John up to the mountain (that is to say, into the Holy Place); that is, He led them to devachanic vision. There they saw Moses and Elias by the side of Jesus. Elias (El) means The Way. Moses means The Truth (ethical or moral truth). Jesus is The Life. Jesus says to His disciples: “Elias has reappeared.” John was Elias. He says to them further: “Do not speak of this until I come again.” They were not to speak of the doctrine of reincarnation until He came again in a new Cosmic Cycle. For two thousand years the world was to learn the value of personality. That which passes from one incarnation to another is the purer substance of man, the Water, the Spiritual. “The Spirit of God brooded over the waters” — the empty ocean of humanity.

Water is the symbol of impersonal man. Wine is the symbol of personal man. Christ changed the water into wine; out of an impersonal religion He instituted the religion of personality. As water is related to wine, so is the impersonal nature of man to the personal. Whoever wishes to understand the doctrine of reincarnation and rise above the personality must refrain from wine, for one who enjoys wine will never attain an individual view of what is impersonal in man.

The lower body was to be ennobled and purified. Therefore for two thousand years Christianity was to live without the doctrine of reincarnation. Christ appeared to sanctify personality. As a sign that Christ took over the whole Sacrifice which was formerly accomplished in the Mysteries He instituted the Sacrifice of the Mass, in which the Act of the Mysteries was repeated in an outer symbol.

The external ceremony is as follows: The Celebrant with his servers advances to the Altar. First there is an Act of Preparation (Stafelgebet), Introit, and then the Kyrie Eleison. That is the outer ceremony. The inner Mass consists of four parts, the Gospel, the Oblation, the Transmutation, and the Communion. The Gospel consists in reading a part of one of the Gospels at the right of the Altar. The actual altar is so constructed that it is placed towards the East. The priest stands at the north side; here he reads the Message. This signifies that man in the first race, the Polarian, was in the north, and thence gradually descended into matter. The second part is the Oblation or Sacrifice. The priest sacrifices that which represents the higher man as formerly man sacrificed himself. The Chalice is the outer symbol of the human heart. What we have in our hearts represents something for the future; it is not much developed as yet, but it contains the spiritual.

When man no longer thinks in matter but in the spiritual, the heart will be the organ of thought. At the present time the heart is still personal. The wine in the Chalice represents the personal element. The Oblation signifies the brain. Bread and wine are now transmuted in the higher nature, Christ Himself. The Sacrifice brings about the transformation of man. This Act is spoken in low tones, so that no one can hear it but the priest himself. This is symbolical of the fact that the divine part in man is something which he only addresses within himself. Every man can only say “I” to himself. For this reason the Hebrew Secret Doctrine was very reluctant to allow the Name to be uttered — Jahve — which is the actual “I” in the inner being. Hence the words in the Offertory are half silent, half murmuring.

The third part in the Sacrifice of the Mass is the Transubstantiation. All this represents that there is something in external nature which is an image of the Godhead. The Godhead is represented in the coarser as well as in the finer substances — in bread and wine, body and blood. The moment that consciousness is awake to the fact that we are here concerned with transmuted substances we actually have at the altar — in the Host — substance such as we have in our brain; and in the Wine, substance such as we have in our heart (blood). The priest breaks the Host in a particular way into a particular number of pieces, nine pieces.










  1. Corporatio = Embodiment
  2. Natuitas = Birth
  3. Circumcisio = Circumcision
  4. Apparitio = Manifestation, Unveiling
  5. Mors = Death
  6. Passio = The Passion
  7. Ressurectio = The Resurrection
  8. Gloria = Glory
  9. Regnum = The Kingdom

These nine pieces represent the transmuted man who now shares in the Highest. They are the nine parts of man. One to seven are the principles which man experiences within his personality, while eight and nine extend beyond it. That is why they are laid aside. Thus does man unite himself with his sevenfold nature in the Communion and strives for the Glory and the Kingdom.

This is accompanied by the Paternoster. First comes the reference to the living God in Heaven; then “Thy Name,” — the Name of God, of the Logos Who had become Flesh in Christ; and then “Thy Kingdom.” The whole is a symbol for the existing Cosmos. Man must understand his communion with this world. Only the man who came forth from the Mysteries could understand the World that is expressed in the Paternoster.

At special festivals the Sanctissimus is added, the consecrated Monstrance which contains the Sacred Body. This is a sun-like circular vessel with rays, and rests in a crescent-shaped sheath.

Osiris and Isis are here represented; the union of Osiris and Isis stands as Sanctissimus above the Mass, a symbol for the condition when the Sun still enclosed the Moon.

No priest who is not initiated and entitled to wear the stole may read the Mass. The stole is a real priestly garment. The priest wears first of all an under-robe, then the alb, a surplice with a girdle (a symbolic garment), then the stole which is crossed over the breast, then the chasuble. The stole signifies the actual insignia of the priestly dignity. When he wears this he feels himself a servant of the Church. He may then have no opinion of his own; he preserves the opinion of the priests. He tells himself: “They may be wrong,” but he proclaims what has been believed for thousands of years.

In the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries the new age led everything spiritual into the material. Man learned to judge the world according to material circumstances. After Galileo and Copernicus all attention was drawn down to the physical plane. But everything was conditioned by karma.

Protestantism, as the later religion, had no understanding for the Sacrifice of the Mass. When we see and hear the celebration of the Mass with full understanding, we have before us the later reflection of the initiation as enacted in the old Egyptian Pyramids.

From the Sun-man Osiris the physical man came forth. To the Sun man he must again return. Unconsciously he descended from the Sun heights; he must re-ascend to them in full consciousness.

Those who follow their psychic path with as full security as the Sun circles in its course, are Sun heroes. They have attained the six grades of initiation.

These were the grades of initiation with the Persians:

  1. The Raven
  2. The Occultist
  3. The Warrior
  4. The Lion
  5. The Persian
  6. The Sun-runner
  7. The Father