Ite, Missa Est
In my last post, I wrote about the mission statement of Sacred Heart and the mission of the Church. Each of us is called and anointed to share in the life and mission of Jesus as Priest, Prophet, and King.
But the idea of mission – and being missionary disciples – is not a static and abstract noun. It is more properly a verb, an activity, a way of life that motivates our daily responses. The word “mission” comes from the Latin mittere, which literally means “to send.” Jesus told the Eleven after the Resurrection: “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you” (John 20:21). This is the origin, and the meaning down to this very day, of the mission of the Church.
There are other shades of meaning to the Latin word that also cast light on our tasks. Mittere can also mean “to let go” or “to release” or “to give up.” This is critical in being sent on a mission by another: what I am sent to convey is not my own possession, but something I simply carry for the sender. A delivery person who opened the box and took something out for themselves, or a waitperson who sampled your food on the way to the table, would be rightly rebuked. The same is true for our mission with the Gospel – it does not belong to us to decide who gets what or how much of the Good News. We are sent by the Lord.
The term was also applied to the release of prisoners. This is clearly reflected as Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah at the beginning of His ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2). This is fulfilled in various moments of His ministry, but ultimately in the Paschal mystery of the Cross and Resurrection.
For many years, the dismissal at Mass was the Latin phrase, Ite, missa est. It was often translated: “Go, the Mass is ended.” Literally, however, it means, “Go, it is sent.” Not you are sent, but it is sent, or perhaps even He is sent. The “it” in question is what we have shared – the love of Christ in Word and sacrament, the Gospel message we have received and been fed upon in both body and soul, also the Spirit Who has filled us. The very word “dismissal” contains this same idea … to be sent.
Thus, we never simply leave Mass. We are sent forth by Christ through the Church, carrying with us the love of God made flesh in Jesus. The current formulas for dismissal capture this idea well.
The first is simple: “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” Rather than simply going, we are going forth, with the connotation that we are going out from one place to somewhere specific, sent forth with a destination – not so much a place to go as a task to do.
The second is: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Again, a clear task is entrusted to us in this command.
The third is especially rich: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” This reminds us that our task is not simply a chore we can check off and then get to our own business; glorifying the Lord is our business.
Ite, missa est. Jesus chooses you, and sends you. To whom will you go today?