The word appears to derive from the Latin missa.
Let’s first dismiss some theories about the origin and meaning of “Mass” that have little to no scholarly support. These include a Hebrew origin (missah Deuteronomy 16:10 מִסַּת “Then you shall keep the festival of weeks to the Lord your God, with a tribute of a freewill-offering in proportion to the blessing that you have received from the Lord your God.”); and a Greek origin (μνήσις mnesis, remember).
Ite, missa est are (not counting the twelfth to sixteenth century accretions of prayers, further gospel reading,…) the deacon’s or presider’s final words in the service with bread and wine in the Roman Rite (and continued in the Lutheran Divine Service).
missa is the feminine form of the perfect passive participle of mittere (to send).
There are also interpretations of the Latin that have little to no scholarly support. These include Ite, missa est means Go, it is sent [to God]; where it is communio (communion), hostia (sacrificial victim), oblatio (offering), Eucharistia(Eucharist). Another interpretation is that a particle of the wafer has been sent with a deacon to each of the stational churches from the bishop’s service. This was then dropped in the chalice at other services, linking every service with the bishop’s. These interpretations, I stress, are not accepted by the majority scholarly positions.
Having dealt with the interpretations of Ite, missa est that are not generally accepted by scholars, we come to the accepted understanding that the “it” being dismissed is the gathered Christian community. Go – it is the dismissal. Missa (Mass) is obviously connected to “mission” and “missional”. That the catechumens and penitents had an earlier dismissal (after the Gospel or sermon) is well known. The faithful remained for the prayers, the peace, and communion – after which they too were dismissed. The naming of the whole service by this (second) dismissal is already taken for granted by the time of St Ambrose (died 397AD).
Tied into this one little word, then, is the image of God sending Christ, Christ sending us, and we sending to God. The two dismissals are serious and solemn. And we are not to go out into the world without so being sent.
The new Roman Catholic Mass translation has abandoned “The Mass is ended, go in peace,” and “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Instead, there are the following options:
Go forth, the Mass is ended. (Rather unusually, by the above understanding; this is: Go forth, the dismissal is ended)
Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. (cf. Mark 16:15)
Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life. (composed by Pope Benedict XVI)
Go in peace. (From the earliest liturgical records, and echoing Christ’s words)
In the pre-Christian use of the words, Ite, missa est, it was only a formula to say: “The assembly is over, it has ended”. The Roman liturgy has chosen these words to say: “Our assembly is now ended”. Little by little, however, this has taken on a deeper significance. In ancient Rome, it only meant: “It is finished”. “Missa” meant “dismissal”. Today, it is no longer “dismissal” but is “mission”, since this assembly is not a technical, bureaucratic one, but is a being together with the Lord who touches our hearts and gives us a new life. …I return once more to the “Ite, Missa est”. Many modern translations have added to this sober phrase of the Roman rite the closing phrase of the Byzantine rite: “Go in peace”. … We are aware that this peace of Christ is not a static one, a kind of “rest”; rather, it is a dynamic peace that wishes to transform the world so that it is a world of peace enlivened by the presence of the Creator and Redeemer. (Pope Benedict XVI, October 22, 2005)
Further north than the Roman origin, the dismissal was “Benedicamus Domino – Deo gratias.” Let us bless the Lord – Thanks be to God.
The dismissal, obviously is the last thing we do. It is weird to dismiss and then stay in the same place! If that is what you are doing, the Roman Missal is clear that the dismissal is omitted. I suggest one concludes with
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Previous titles in this series
Are there any other titles I need to reflect on?
Thanks to Jeffrey Pinyan for pointing me to resources for this post.
- Deacon at The Peace
- Keep it simple
- The New Zealand solution to Missal translation
- A Mass by any other name 2
- The Sign of Peace