At the University of Wittenberg, Luther and Professor Carlstadt began to disagree about what should be changed in the church and what should remain the same. Carlstadt believed all the Roman Church’s teachings should be rejected that were not taught by the Bible. On the other hand, Luther taught that everything should be kept unless it was clearly spoken against in the Bible. One of the things they disagreed about was the mass.
What is the Mass?
The mass is a group of rituals that together make up the most important part of worship in the Roman Catholic Church. The four parts of the mass are:
- The Introductory Rite: The priest leads a procession, or parade, from the back of the church to the front. The priest makes the sign of the cross, says a short prayer, and gives some time of silence for the people to think about their lives and repent.
- Liturgy of the Word: Liturgy means “official work.” Scriptures are read and prayers are said.
- Liturgy of the Eucharist: In this part of the service the priest by his prayers is believed to transform the bread and wine into the real body and blood of Jesus. The host, the wafer bread, is lifted up for the people to worship and is “offered” as a “sacrifice” by the priest to God. The people come forward and take the host which they eat.
- Conclusion: The priest prays and dismisses the people.
Is the Mass the Same as the Lord’s Supper?
Carlstadt believed the mass was not the Lord’s Supper, as the Bible describes it. Carlstadt wanted to celebrate the Lord’s Supper the way Jesus had, so in October 1520, he gathered 12 friends in a private ceremony and shared the Lord’s Supper with them, following the example of Jesus.
The Sunday before Christmas, he announced in church that he would give the eucharist, the wafer host, and the wine to anyone who came to church on New Year’s Day. Until that time, only priests were allowed to drink the wine in the ceremony. The laity, all people who were not priests or church leaders, were told that the sacred wine was not shared with them to prevent it from being accidentally spilled. But some say that the reason the cup was not given to non-priests was to exalt the clergy over the laity. The clergy were seen to be privileged and holier.
The city council determined to stop this strange new style of communion. To avoid interruption of his plans, Carlstadt did not wait till New Year’s Day. He offered communion to everyone who attended church on Christmas Day. No one stopped him.
Differences Between the Mass and the Lord’s Supper
Not only that, but the usual requirement of individuals confessing their sins to a priest before taking part in communion was done away with. Most people simply took part in the public confession of sins. Carlstadt did not raise the host, the bread wafer, up to be worshipped by the church, as was usually done. He said it was idolatry to worship the host. And he celebrated communion in the German language so the people could understand what he was saying. Until that time, the priests conducted worship services in Latin, a language most people could not understand.
The Catholic Church taught, and still teaches, transubstantiation, that the priest’s prayer transforms the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Luther taught what he called consubstantiation, that the body and blood of Christ are present in union with the bread and wine. He explained that as iron turns fiery red when it’s put in a hot fire but is still iron, the bread and wine are united with Christ’s body and blood in the mass. Carlstadt rejected these teachings because they were not taught in the Bible. Instead, he taught that the bread and wine were used as symbols by Jesus and should be used as symbols only by the church because that’s what the Bible taught.
None of the Reformers was perfect. Perhaps Luther was jealous that Carlstadt continued to introduce changes while Luther was away in the Wartburg. Perhaps Luther still wanted to cling to Roman superstitions for his own comfort. Carlstadt also made mistakes. Sadly, the two could not get along and opposed each other so severely that Carlstadt decided to leave Germany. He moved to Switzerland where his teachings were better received.