One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A mass celebrated without a congregation, as in a private oratory. Formerly also derogatory (in early Protestant use): †a mass at which the congregation, though present, is not allowed to take communion (obsolete).
Mid 16th century; earliest use found in Richard Taverner (?1505–1575), translator and evangelical reformer. From private + mass, after post-classical Latin missa privata.
private mass/ˌprʌɪvɪt ˈmas/
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