A Verb for the Gnostic Mass

By Dionysos Thriambos

What is the verb that best denotes the execution of the ritual of our Gnostic Mass? That is, which transitive verb can take “the Gnostic Mass” as its object, and the ritualists as its subject? Here are some suggestions about the more conspicuous lexical options:

To perform – Some people find this verb troubling because of its modern association with theatrical and musical entertainment. And it is indeed worth pointing out that the Mass is not a “performance” in that sense. Attendees at the Mass are participants, and not mere spectators. But the general denotations of performance, including the application of a skill and work according to a plan, are all pertinent to the Gnostic Mass.

Nor is the idea of theatrical performance completely alien to our work as Mass ritualists. While no level of theatrical technique will by itself consummate a work of Eucharistic Magick, it is still the case that a certain amount of theatrical skill is needed in order to make the dramatic ritual of the Gnostic Mass effective. Also, the denigration earned by some contemporary shows should not obscure the ancient traditions of sacred theater, which emerged from the cult of Dionysos, and in turn contributed to the mystery religions of late antiquity. If we can be said to “perform the Gnostic Mass” with the enthusiasm and ecstasy reported for performances of these ancient religious rites, then we are fulfilling our Church and ourselves.

What is more, we have the highest relevant sanction for this usage, in Liber Legis II:35, “Let the rituals be rightly performed with joy and beauty!”

To celebrate – This verb is sometimes offered as a general-purpose substitute for the previous option, using “celebration” to displace “performance.” While the English word has many merits in this context, it suffers from a constraint imposed by its use in Liber XV, where Baphomet XI° writes: “The exceptions to this part of the ceremony are when it is of the nature of a celebration, in which case none but the PRIEST communicate….” Thus, a “celebratory” Mass is one at which there is no popular communion. This usage is a technical one peculiar to the Gnostic Mass.

To say – This usage follows a longstanding custom in Roman Catholicism, where Priests “say” Mass routinely. It exhibits two difficulties. First, it implies the Roman Catholic theory of sacramental efficacy, in which practically incompetent ritualists are considered to be effective merely by virtue of their institutional status and having “come to the altar intending to do what the Church does.” (De Defectibus 26) In contrast, “the Gnostic Mass is a magical rite, depending for its efficacy on the knowledge, power and talent of the celebrants. The effectiveness of the rite is directly proportional to the magical skill of the officers.” (Sabazius, “The Role and Function of Thelemic Clergy in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica”) Second, “to say the Mass” prioritizes the verbal over the gestural, the word over the deed. In the Faust of E.G.C. Saint Wolfgang von Goethe, the magician protagonist declares: “The spirit speaks! And lo the way is freed, / I calmly write: ‘In the beginning was the Deed!’” (I, ll. 1236-7) In this same spirit, I and other Gnostic Mass participants often colloquially refer to “doing Mass.” However, the best formulation is that of Liber XXX (v. 13): “True ritual is as much action as word; it is Will.”

To enact – This verb shares the virtues and shortcomings of “to do,” but it is less informal.

To practice – I prefer “practice” to “rehearsal” when referencing enactments of the Mass. The difference in connotation is that “rehearsal” is merely preparatory, while “practice” has a larger sense: the one indicated in “medical practice” or “Magick in Theory and Practice.” The idea of “rehearsal” suggests an attempt to execute the ritual without a resulting effect on attendees. But the effect on attendees is not the sole or even principal purpose of the Gnostic Mass, from the perspective of a practicing officer—whether attendees are present or not.

To work – This verb has a rich magical heritage, and evokes the idea of the Gnostic Mass as a magical “working.” It does, however, suffer from the ill connotations associated with backlash from the Protestant work ethic. All work and no “play” (performance?) might represent the Mass as a pious chore rather than the holy exuberance suggested by “to celebrate.”

In summary, then, all of these verbs have features to recommend them, but each has its own deficiencies and hazards. There seems to be no “foolproof” term to express the activity of the Gnostic Mass. But then neither is the ceremony itself guaranteed without the application of care, judgment, reflection, and inspiration!

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