Announcements can be made, especially on Sundays. Given that the Eucharist is the Risen Christ, the old maxim takes on a heightened significance, “You are what you eat.” Our spiritual food is transformative. Priest and congregants alike are to take the graces of this abiding presence into the world. There is a brief dialogue. The priest says, “The Lord be with you.” The people respond, “And with your spirit.” Just as Mass begins with the sign of the cross, it ends with the same sign. The priest blesses the assembled: May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, † and the Holy Spirit.” The people respond again, “Amen.” The admonition of Christ, “Take up your cross and follow me,” finds its realization here. Going out the church doors, we are all marked with the Cross. That which was once a curse and sign of dreadful foreboding is now extended as a blessing and sign of joyful hope.
As believers, we are aware of how the “many” come together at Mass and offer divine worship “as one” people united in Christ. This final blessing is an acknowledgment of how we have been touched by the “holy” and empowered to take what we have been given as a people on mission into the world outside the walls of the church building. Marked by the saving Cross and the blessed Trinity, everything that constitutes the Mass is directed toward our deliberate witness in proclaiming the Gospel and living out our faith in loving obedience. Given direction, strength and healing, the Church sends her children into the world as living “signs of contradiction” so that the world might be converted to Christ. This operation, like our worship, takes on a communal stance— those who do not know the Lord can encounter him in the people who share his likeness. The one who is the Light of the World is manifest and gives illumination through his chosen people. The truth in Matthew 5:14-16 is realized:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Sending the people on mission, the priest or deacon says:
[A] “Go forth, the Mass is ended.”
[B] “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
[C] “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
[D] “Go in peace.”
The people respond, “Thanks be to God.”
This final dialogue between the priest or deacon and the people is really a “sending forth.” There may be music at the end but it is not mandated.
The final blessing and dismissal should rightly be seen as a final unit. Only when another service of some sort follows would the dismissal be omitted, as with Eucharistic Adoration. The traditional form is [A] “Ite, missa est.” While often translated as “Go, the Mass is ended,” the word “missa” is where we get the words “missal” and “Mass.” It is also the same root word for “mission.” Every Mass has us sent on mission. It has sometimes been joked, although with more lament and criticism than mirth, that those who leave Mass early forfeit this “sending forth” and play the part of Judas who is also the first to depart from the table of the Lord at the Last Supper.
Do we really envision ourselves as salt for the world, to bring the seasoning of real meaning and genuine reconciliation to others? It may be that too many forget their mission and have compromised with the world. Jesus asks the question, “Who do they say I am?” It is in answering this question that we define who we are and to whom we truly belong. We answer the call of Christ in both coming together and in our departure. The summons is the same, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Back when I was a boy I was told a story from WWII about a cathedral damaged by bombing in France. A number of American servicemen assisted the faithful in making repairs, restoring the pews and much more. The church rose again from the ashes and rubble. Then they turned to a statue of the Sacred Heart that had been damaged. No matter how hard they tried, they could not fashion proper hands for those destroyed. So they left the statue standing without hands, placing an adjacent plaque with these words: “I have no hands but yours.” Over the years I have heard virtually the same story but from Germany and England and even the United States. The third variation is dated around 1980 with a statue damaged by vandals outside a church in California. The words are taken from a poem by St. Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.” To this very day, these statues lack restored hands.