‘Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord’: The Concluding Rites

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.

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Introductory Rites

Part 3: Liturgy of the Word
Part 4: The Liturgy of the Eucharist

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. 

Dismissal 

After this final blessing, the congregation is dismissed. In the early Church, the Latin words used to send people forth were “Itemissa 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: Itemissa 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

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.