This article is the final in a series the Denver Catholic staff created to help the faithful return to Mass in a deeper way than ever before after an extended absence from it due to the coronavirus pandemic. Click the links below to read the other parts.
Following Holy Communion, as you walk back to your pew after having received the most sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the only appropriate response is one of contemplation and awe. What a gift for the God of the Universe to allow us, his most precious creation, to partake in the sacred mystery of communion with him through the Eucharist.
Over the course of the celebration of the Mass, our minds have been fed, our souls have been nourished, and we have been physically united with Christ through the consumption of his flesh. As God’s chosen people, we are now prepared to go back out into the world, spiritually rejuvenated and refreshed, to share the Good News of the Gospel with those we encounter each day through our actions and through our words. But the Mass isn’t over quite yet.
Greeting and Blessing
Once more, and for the final time in the Mass, the priest greets the congregation: “The Lord be with you,” and once more recognizing the spirit of Christ in the priest, the congregation responds: “And with your spirit.” Following this, the priest offers a blessing to the congregation. Usually, it is a simple trinitarian blessing, but on special occasions, the priest may instruct the congregation to bow down to receive a longer blessing.
Priestly blessings can be found all throughout the Old Testament and are yet another tangible example of the connection the modern Church has to the early Church. Blessings are much more than simply some nice words; they invoke the spirit of God and are a powerful reminder of what we were created for: to love and be loved by God. As you make the Sign of the Cross while the priest says the blessing, remember who you belong to and how you came to belong to Him. It is through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and it alone that we experience full communion with the Lord.
After this final blessing, the congregation is dismissed. In the early Church, the Latin words used to send people forth were “Ite, missa est” (literally meaning “Go, she—meaning you, the Church—has been sent”). The word “Mass” takes its namesake from “Missa,” which is related to the word “Missio” – the English root of the word “mission.”
The Church, in her wisdom, has always recognized that its mission is not to sit in a fortified bunker protected from the world and its culture, but rather to go out and proclaim the Gospel. This command is reflected in the final proclamation of the Mass, which is always one of the following four phrases: “Go forth, the Mass is ended”; “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”; Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”; “Go in peace.” The common thread between these four phrases? GO.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the missionary nature of the Church and its relation to the Mass in Sacramentum Caritatis: “After the blessing, the deacon or the priest dismisses the people with the words: Ite, missa est. These words help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and the mission of Christians in the world. In antiquity, missa simply meant ‘dismissal.’ However in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word ‘dismissal’ has come to imply a ‘mission.’ These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church. The People of God might be helped to understand more clearly this essential dimension of the Church’s life, taking the dismissal as a starting- point.”
So, in heeding these final words, this final call, this holy command: Let us go forth and announce the Gospel of the Lord, glorifying the Lord by our lives.
Featured image by Daniel Petty|Denver Catholic