A First Look at the Gnostic Mass
T Polyphilus, Ep. Gn.
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Attendance at a Mass of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.) is a unique experience. The Gnostic Mass is a ritual of power and beauty, which shadows forth age-old mysteries and affirms the dawning Law of Liberty. Members of the Church take great pleasure in sharing our rites with friends and seekers of wisdom. These notes and guidelines have been written in hope of providing such visitors with the foreknowledge that will make the experience both amicable and enlightening.
The canon of the Gnostic Mass is Liber XV. Liber XV (“Book 15”) is the text which delineates the ceremonial specifics of the Mass. This document is widely available, having been first published in The International. Two different editions were published in volume III, numbers 1 and 10 of The Equinox. The version which appears as an appendix to the current edition of Aleister Crowley's Magick (Book 4) is the most authoritative, having been given editorial treatment by the current Patriarch of E.G.C. Liber XV has also been published in Lon Milo DuQuette's The Magick of Aleister Crowley and in Mystery of Mystery by E.G.C. Bishops T Apiryon and Helena. Visitors to Mass will be well-served by a prior perusal of the text.
There are six component ceremonies in the Gnostic Mass. 1) The Ceremony of the Introit introduces the People and the officers to the temple. 2) The Ceremony of the Rending of the Veil establishes the presidency of the Priestess and Priest at the High Altar. 3) The Collects are a set of eleven prayers addressed to the Sun, Moon, Lord, Lady, Saints, Earth, Principles, Birth, Marriage, Death, and the End. 4) The Consecration of the Elements identifies and prepares the sacramental food and drink. 5) The Anthem celebrates the divine power informing the sacrament. 6) The Mystic Marriage and Consummation of the Elements includes the perfection and consumption of the sacrament.
The Gnostic Mass is a participatory ritual. There is no provision made for spectators in the drama of the Mass. The People (as the bulk of congregants are designated), both members and guests, are all expected to join in making the appropriate gestures and speaking the assigned words at various points in the ritual. There is no issue of ritual proficiency–instructions are provided to guests as needed–but everyone must make an effort to join the action in the fashion indicated.
Pariticipants recite the creed. In the beginning of the Mass, the People join in a confession of belief, or creed. Our creed does not require devotion to any living or historical leader (e.g. Jesus). Neither does it demand acceptance of miraculous events beyond the experience of any individual. But it does include some unusual language, particularly magick names of power. Guests should assure themselves beforehand that they will be willing to speak the creed with the congregation.
Communication is required. In Christian churches, consumption of the sacrament in the ceremony of the eucharist (“communion”) is often restricted to qualified members of the congregation, and visitors may not participate on that level. In the Gnostic Mass, it is a basic requirement of the ceremony that all present must intend to partake of the sacrament. The rare exceptions to this rule are for special Masses where only the Priest communicates, or where communion is limited to members being baptised, confirmed, or married on the occasion. The enactment of communion involves advancing to the High Altar to receive a Cake of Light and a glass of wine. The entire Cake is eaten and all the wine is drunk. The communicant then crosses his or her arms over the breast and declares aloud, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods!” Our Cakes are made to a special recipe that includes meal, honey, olive oil, cinnamon, galangal, myrrh, and wine leavings. Congregants sometimes prepare their own Cakes according to the traditional recipe, and there is an opportunity just prior to the Mass to include these personal Cakes with the others for consecration during the ceremony. Water or juice is available as an alternative to wine for congregants whose will precludes imbibing alcohol, but they must give notice of this preference before the beginning of the Mass.
There is no preaching or evangelizing. The Mass does not include a sermon or any ethical instructions beyond the summary of the Law of Thelema: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” and “Love is the law, love under will.” Similarly, though the ritual quotes from our sacred scripture The Book of the Law (also known as Liber Legis, AL, or CCXX), there is no reading from the book, which remains in the shrine from the beginning of the Mass onward.
The officers of the Mass are dramatic exemplars. Performance of the Mass requires a Priest, Priestess, Deacon, and acolytes (also called “Children”). There is no mechanism by which any of these officers occupy a position of mediation between the congregant and his or her god. Instead, the officers together illustrate the spiritual process by which congregants may come to their own direct knowledge (gnosis) of the divine. In the course of enacting this drama, the officers create a subtle environment in the temple which facilitates the congregants' apprehension of the absolute. Some of our officers are ordained in their offices, and thus function as official representatives of the Church hierarchy. Other officers are novices or lay practitioners, who are members of the community serving in these roles to develop their own appreciation of the Mass and to share their work with their brothers and sisters.
Ceremonial courtesy is expected. The Gnostic Mass is the central ceremony of our Church, and we consider it a sacred occasion. There is no particular mode of dress required of congregants, but members often wear their idiosyncratic “Sunday best,” whether that is a white robe (traditional) or beaded loincloth, starched shirt or tie-dye. Comment and conversation should be reserved until after the ceremony.
The Manifesto of E.G.C. states that our Church makes the sacraments of the New Aeon of the Crowned and Conquering Child available to those who are prepared to receive them. As we advance in adherence to the Law of Do What Thou Wilt, it is our hope and understanding that the Gnostic Mass will fulfill that which is written in the holy book Liber Stellae Rubae: “I will give thee another ceremony whereby many shall rejoice.”
Love is the law, love under will.
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