The Mass Part 7: The Closing Rites

This is the last in a seven-part series on the Mass.

The Communion procession is over, the remaining Eucharist is reserved in the tabernacle, the vessels are put away and the Communion music is finished.

What next?

Let’s not allow this precious moment to pass too swiftly. And for God’s sake, don’t head for the parking lot early!

After receiving holy Communion the General Instruction of the Roman Missal invites us to observe “sacred silence.”

Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the same: “The precious time of thanksgiving after Communion should not be neglected: besides the singing of an appropriate hymn, it can also be most helpful to remain recollected in silence.”

I once attended a Chamber Orchestra concert directed by Bobby McFerrin, and he quipped that between movements of great symphonies, when the audience was not supposed to applaud, people were uncomfortable with the silence, so they invented the cough.

Nowadays, everyone rushes from one intense activity to another. Visual and audible noise fills every empty space: TVs drone in the background at our homes, radios in cars, iPods when we exercise and cell phones when we scamper between meetings.

It’s as though everything conspires to drown out the still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12).

We priests also get bombarded with a hundred thoughts: Have I preached well? Have the other ministers served admirably? What must I remember at announcements? Whom must I be sure to catch after Mass?

Even if all the prayers, gestures and symbols have been done well — the bread and wine, the prayers and songs, the processions and head bows — only one thing matters: Have we encountered the Beloved? He has given himself to us, and how have we responded? Has it changed us? Are we ready to bring him to others?

As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Nemo dat quod non habet” — “No one gives what she or he does not have.”

This is the point of the closing rites: Because we’ve been changed, we are sent to bring Christ to the world.

After the silence, the priest prays that the Communion we have received will make a difference in our lives. Even in Mass, the silence does not last forever: Our parish is very much a part of the world. So we make announcements — how can our eucharistic faith be lived in our parish, our community, our world?

That’s why the priest finally calls down God’s blessing: to help us accomplish God’s will in the world. Thus we are dismissed.

“The Mass never ends; it must be lived.” If you recognize this phrase, you have been to a LifeTeen Mass. This movement has done a marvelous job of getting young people involved in their faith, and their energetic Masses used to say those words at the end of Eucharist.

But a few years ago the U.S. bishops, at the Vatican’s request, told LifeTeen not to use unapproved words, but instead to use only the standard formulas. What’s the big deal?

On one hand, LifeTeen gets it right: the Eucharist must be lived, and the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ does not end when Mass ends.

But, on the other hand, no celebration of the Eucharist should isolate one group of Christians from another. Greater uniformity in how we celebrate Mass is not ecclesial interference but safeguards the church’s common vision. We’re all in this together: young and old, rich and poor.

Further, the Latin words for the dismissal — “Ite, missa est” — literally mean not “The Mass is ended,” but “Go, you are sent.”

The dismissal is not so much a signal that something is ending (as the English might suggest), but something is beginning: our mission in the world. If we rush out of the church doors, it should not be because we want to beat other cars out of the parking lot, but because we can’t wait to tell others about Jesus.

When the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) finally recognized Jesus in the burning Word of God and the breaking of the bread, they ran seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the others how Jesus had changed them. The closing rites are short, so we can get to evangelizing right away. We’ve got work to do.

But not on Sunday — this is the Lord’s Day. The whole day should be a kind of divine afterglow: We spend it in holy leisure to give ample time for the Eucharist to change our families and our parish.

Even for those who have to work on Sunday, making room for Saturday evening or Sunday Mass reminds them that their lives don’t revolve around work, but work must make room for God.

And thus, this series of articles ends where it began: bringing Jesus to the world.

The purpose of Mass is to call us out of our busy worlds for an hour or so every Sunday to worship the Father through Christ in the Spirit, so that this Spirit empowers us to bring people back to the Father through Jesus Christ, whom we have encountered in the Eucharist.

“Ite, missa est.”

Father Tom Margevicius is instructor of liturgical theology at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.

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