The feast of Christ the King speaks of Christ taking his place in heaven and thus, appears to be one of conclusion to our story of salvation. However, this feast always hints at continuation as it ushers in the first Sunday of Advent, a new cycle of a new church year. The Catholic Church is alive and a vibrant place of faith and nothing about us says “it’s over, the end.”
Perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves that in the concluding rites of every Mass we hear one of four prescribed formulas for dismissal, most often “Go forth. The Mass is ended.” That certainly sounds like the end of something, does it not? Yet, that simple sentence is a bridge in the cycle of liturgy. We are not being told, “OK, we are finally done here, please make your way to the parking lot in an orderly manner.” Rather we are being challenged to take the prayers we shared, the words of the Scriptures we heard, the very Eucharist we have received and move forth as the body of Christ to bring the blessings of this Mass to the world, or as the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) n. 90 states “… so that each may go back to doing good works, praising and blessing God.”
Our wording at the conclusion of the Mass has its roots in the Latin: Ite Missa Est. (According to the USCCB, this means, “Go, she — meaning you, the church — has been sent.”) In the earliest of times there was no set formula for the celebration of the Mass. Presiders of liturgy turned to Rome, saw how the pope prayed, and then imitated him. Such was the case with Ite, missa est being adapted into the liturgy.
I came across an article by Fr. Michael Grosch (Archdiocese of St. Louis) tying in the Ite Miss Est to an ancient practice in Rome, where a deacon carried the Eucharist from the papal Mass to other parishes in Rome, to show unity between these other churches and the pope. The declaration “Ite, missa est” would be the sign for the congregation to leave, because the Eucharist had been sent forth from the church and the people should follow. You may still see this symbolism in your parish today. Watch to see if, before the final dismissal, any extraordinary ministers of holy Communion are sent forth from the assembly to take holy Communion to the sick and homebound. What a beautiful imagery; we do not leave Jesus behind in reposition in the tabernacle, we also follow Christ to make him really present to one another, to our families, to our communities and to the world. That is what it means to be a eucharistic people.
A majority of people we come in contact with will never experience a Catholic liturgy or hear the words of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, people see and hear us. In our voice they should hear words of kindness and civility, words of love, words of hope for enduring world events as seen through Catholic eyes. People should see Christ reflected in our actions of charity, in our care for our world and its peoples, in our prayerful use of our time, talent and treasury, and in the love we bear one for another.
May our response this weekend to the concluding rite carry an energy drawn from the inestimable gift of Eucharist we have been given so we can go forth to draw the entire world into closer communion with our Lord. Jesus is our beginning, our end and our begining again … Thanks be to God!
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.