The Mass Explained: Final blessing and dismissal

How does Mass end? What does the final dismissal mean?
At this point in the Mass, we have received the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion and have taken time to reflect in a period of silence that follows. We reflect upon the extraordinary gift that we have received in the Blessed Sacrament, the nature of communion with God himself, and also what all of this means for us in our daily lives. This last point of reflection is just as important as the rest because if we come to the liturgy and take nothing away that would nourish our faith and the way we live our lives, then we have missed an essential part of this mystery. This part of the Mass is so important that the name “Mass” is derived from this very notion within the liturgy.
In an action that mirrors the beginning of Mass and the Introductory Rites, the priest begins the Concluding Rites by standing and calling us to prayer with the words “Let us pray” (Oremus). A concluding prayer is recited, which focuses on thanksgiving for the holy sacrifice of the Mass and a recapitulation of the overall theme of the liturgy as expressed in the Collect. The priest then gives us a blessing by invoking the Sign of the Cross and finally, we come to the words, “Ite Missa est.” In the new translation, these words are rendered most literally as, “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” The Latin word “Missa” is the derivative of the English word “Mass,” and it carries the sense of mission.
 What is a blessing? Why are they longer sometimes?
As the Mass comes to a close, the priest gives a blessing to all the faithful gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. A blessing is a solemn act that calls upon and invokes the aid of God upon the person, asking that God grant him divine favor and sanctification. In the case of Mass, the blessing is called down upon the people for sanctification that they may go forth from the Mass renewed in zeal for their mission and strengthened to resist evil and grow in the spiritual life.
In certain celebrations and in certain liturgical seasons, the priest invokes God in a special manner with a longer prayer that usually begins with an invitation for us to bow our heads. Here, the church is tailoring the blessing upon the people to match the season or feast that we may more fully enter into the Christian mysteries and the church’s liturgical life.
What does the final dismissal mean?
The most succinct explanation of this phrase, “Ite Missa est,” comes from the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” which explains that “the liturgy in which the mystery of salvation is accomplished concludes with the sending forth (mission) of the faithful, so that they may fulfill God’s will in their daily lives” (CCC 1332). Here, we see that the holy sacrifice of the Mass not only renders worship to God and offers the most effective prayer to God for our salvation, but the Mass, by its very nature, enlightens our Christian vocation to share in the mission of Christ by bringing forth his message to the world. This does not need to be in extraordinary ways. Rather, this mission is more properly concerned with an authentic life lived in accord with the Gospel, striving for holiness and spiritual growth in prayer. This focus allows us to carry the Gospel message to our families, neighbors and world so that we, too, have an important role in the task of evangelization by the faithful witness of our lives. All of this is reflected in the new options added to the Roman Missal for the Dismissal: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”; “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”; or simply, “Go in peace.” Truly, at the end of the Mass, our Lord, through the priest, gives us this mission that demands a true witness of the Gospel. Will we deny his call?
   Some people stay after Mass to pray. Why, if they just prayed at Mass for an hour?
After the Mass has ended, many people enjoy an age-old practice of praying in church after Mass. These are traditionally known as prayers of thanksgiving and focus on thanking God for the great gift that we have received in the Eucharist and in the mystery of our redemption. While these prayers are not obligatory, they are perfectly acceptable and encouraging ways for us to keep in our mind the importance of the Blessed Sacrament and the Mass itself. As such, this spirit of prayer should be fostered and respected in the church even after Mass. The sacred space of the church should remain a place of quiet prayer at all times, even after Mass when we might be inclined to greet our neighbors. Certainly, after Mass is a great time to catch up with friends and build up our parish community, but we should also respect an atmosphere of prayer for those who wish to pray after Mass.
Perhaps the most fitting way to close would be with one of these traditional prayers of thanksgiving after Mass attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas:
Lord, Father all-powerful and ever-living God, I thank you, for even though I am a sinner, your unprofitable servant, not because of my worth but in the kindness of your mercy, you have fed me with the precious body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I pray that this Holy Communion may not bring me condemnation and punishment but forgiveness and salvation. May it be a helmet of faith and a shield of good will. May it purify me from evil ways and put an end to my evil passions. May it bring me charity and patience, humility and obedience, and growth in the power to do good. May it be my strong defense against all my enemies, visible and invisible, and the perfect calming of all my evil impulses, bodily and spiritual. May it unite me more closely to you, the one true God, and lead me safely through death to everlasting happiness with you.
And I pray that you will lead me, a sinner, to the banquet where you, with your Son and Holy Spirit, are true and perfect light, total fulfillment, everlasting joy, gladness without end, and perfect happiness to your saints. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Ian Bozant is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at ibozant@nds.edu.

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