The Concluding Rites of the Mass
Perhaps you have noticed that, on most occasions, Mass ends abruptly after Holy Communion. Once in a while, the concluding rites of Mass are prolonged by announcements or some special presentation. Usually, however, once the Prayer after Communion has been offered, Mass quickly concludes. But let's not be misled. In spite of their brevity, the concluding rites of the Mass are important and we should stay to take part in them instead of heading for the parking lot as soon as we have received Holy Communion.
First, let's deal with the question of announcements. In many parishes, announcements take place before Mass begins. From time to time, it might be necessary after Communion to address some important issue or offer a special word of thanks. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, however, urges that such announcements be brief and truly necessary. A long interlude here interrupts the flow of the Eucharist: the intimate connection between receiving our Lord in Holy Communion and going forth into the world to bear witness to Christ should not be lost.
The greeting and blessing follow. When the priest gives a simple blessing, he greets the people in the usual way: "The Lord be with you." The congregation answers (for reasons previously discussed) "And with your spirit." Then the priest says, "May Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit," as he extends his right hand, tracing the form of the Cross. We respond by making the Sign of the Cross and by saying, "Amen!" The blessing of the priest reminds us that we have just shared in the mystery of the Lord's Cross by which we are redeemed and enter into the inner life of the Most Holy Trinity. And, like every blessing, it sanctifies us, sets us apart, for mission of bearing witness to the Gospel once Mass is ended. The blessing is like a final word of love from the Lord before He sends us forth.
Sometimes a solemn blessing is given. The deacon will say, "Bow your head and pray for God's blessing!" And then, the priest will pronounce a one or threepart blessing to which the congregation, as appropriate, replies, "Amen!" The priest concludes with the Trinitarian blessing, as per usual, and again, the people say, "Amen!"
When a bishop presides, he may bless the people using the following formula:
Bishop: Blessed be the name of the Lord.
People: Now and forever.
Bishop: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
People: Who made heaven and earth.
Bishop: "May Almighty God bless you,
in the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
And then, the priest or deacon says:
"Go forth, the Mass is ended" or "Go announce the
Gospel of the Lord" or
"Go in peace glorifying God with your life."
The congregation then replies, "Thanks be to God!" –a phrase which reminds us that the Eucharist itself is one protracted act of thanksgiving made possible by the love of the Triune God poured out for us through Christ in the Holy Spirit.
These dismissal formulas give us a clue about the real significance of these brief concluding rites of the Mass. We are being sent on mission. In fact, the word "Mass" takes its cue from the word Latin word to send: "Ite, missa est"—Go, the Mass is ended. We are sent out into the world, to our homes, our places of work, our circle of friends, our spheres of influence—to bear witness to the Gospel.
The Second Vatican Council refers to the Eucharist as the "source and summit" of the Church's life. In listening to the Word of God and savoring the Body and Blood of Christ, we have tasted the source of the Church's mission. Now we are to go out and to accomplish that mission–to take responsibility for bringing the Gospel to bear upon our own lives and that of our families, for helping lapsed Catholics to find their way back home to the Lord and to the Church, for helping those with no faith or very little faith to discover the Lord and his love, for helping creating a society that is peaceful and just. While the Eucharist offers us deep personal consolation and peace, we share in it not only for our own personal needs but, indeed, so that we might be equipped to become convincing proponents of the Gospel by living our vocations in a fast-paced and highly secular culture, which often excludes God and the things of God. And once we have been at this for the better part of a week, we need to return to the Lord to be refreshed in his love. We need to return to the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday.
After the dismissal, the priest and deacon kiss the altar and often there will be a recessional hymn during which they depart. Even after they have done so, it is good to linger in church to offer a private prayer of thanksgiving before returning to the rough and tumble of daily life. It is also good to renew the fruits of the Eucharist in our hearts daily by pausing to give thanks. It is even better when we can take part in Mass during the week.
And so, at long last, we come to the end of our study of the Mass. Let us recall why we began it in the first place: to seize the introduction of the newly translated Roman Missal as an occasion to deepen our understanding of the Mass. For some, my monthly columns may have been too elementary and for others, a revelation. Perhaps some of you are planning to read the whole series someday—or not. But here is something to keep in mind: Jesus instituted the Eucharist on the night before He died. It is at the heart of our relationship with Christ. It is at the very heart of the Church's life. It has been continuously celebrated for two millennia and there is more to it than meets the eye. To be faithful to our baptismal calling, we need to study, reflect on, give thanks for and participate in the Eucharist each and every Sunday. I'll see you in church!