Sunday, January 31, 2016


I found this brilliant description of what Ite Missa Est actually means on the internet:

The exact origin of this phrase puzzled even medieval liturgists. Some argued that there is a word missing, which would explain the awkward sentence structure (perhaps “Hostia” or “ecclesia,” as John O’Brien suggests in A History of the Mass and its Ceremonies in the Eastern and Western Church [New York: The Catholic Publication Society, 1881], 388). The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

It has been thought that a word is omitted: Ite, missa est finita; or est is taken absolutely, as meaning “exists,” is now an accomplished fact. The real explanation seems to lie rather in interpreting correctly the word missa. Before it became the technical name of the holy Liturgy in the Roman Rite, it meant simply “dismissal”. The form missa for missio is like that of collecta (for collectio), ascensa (ascensio), etc. So Ite missa est should be translated “Go it is the dismissal.” (See Florus the Deacon, “De expositione Missæ”, P.L., CIX, 72.)

This has allowed for a wide range of interpretations concerning this phrase. St. Thomas Aquinas said it meant the offering of the Mass had been sent to God.

And from this the mass derives its name [missa]; because the priest sends [mittit] his prayers up to God through the angel, as the people do through the priest. Or else because Christ is the victim sent [missa] to us: accordingly the deacon on festival days “dismisses” the people at the end of the mass, by saying: “Ite, missa est,” that is, the victim has been sent [missa est] to God through the angel, so that it may be accepted by God. (Summa Theologica, III. Q. 83, a. 4, reply to Obj. 9)

In his beautiful reflection of the seven last words of Christ, which he connects to seven parts of the Mass, Venerable Fulton J. Sheen compares the “Ite, missa est” with Christ’s words, “It is finished.”

In his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI discussed the development of missa from meaning “dismissed” to meaning one’s “mission.” “In antiquity,” the Holy Father writes, “missa simply meant ‘dismissal.’ However in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word ‘dismissal’ has come to imply a ‘mission.’ These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 51).

None of this really gets at the origin of the word. I asked a former professor of mine at Christendom College, and he suggested it might refer to an ancient practice in Rome, where a deacon carried some of the Blessed Sacrament from the papal Mass to other parishes in Rome, to show unity between these other churches and the pope (See Fr. Grosch’s historical summary of this ritual. 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 thus so should the people.

And now Pope Francis' remarks to the conclusion of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in the Philippines: 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet all of you gathered in Cebu for the Fifty-first International Eucharistic Congress. I thank Cardinal Bo, who is my representative among you, and I offer a special greeting to Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop Palma and the bishops, priests and faithful in Cebu. I also greet Cardinal Tagle and all the Catholics of the Philippines. I am particularly happy that this Congress has brought together so many people from the vast continent of Asia and from throughout the world.

Just one year ago, I visited the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda. I was able to witness at first hand the deep faith and resilience of its people. Under the protection of Santo Niño, the Filipino people received the Gospel of Jesus Christ some five hundred years ago. Ever since, they have given the world an example of fidelity and deep devotion to the Lord and his Church. They have also been a people of missionaries, speading the light of the Gospel in Asia and to the ends of the earth.

The theme of the Eucharistic Congress – Christ in You, Our Hope of Glory – is very timely. It reminds us that the risen Jesus is always alive and present in his Church, above all in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Christ’s presence among us is not only a consolation, but also a promise and a summons. It is a promise that everlasting joy and peace will one day be ours in the fullness of his Kingdom. But it is also a summons to go forth, as missionaries, to bring the message of the Father’s tenderness, forgiveness and mercy to every man, woman and child.

How much our world needs this message! When we think of the conflicts, the injustices and the urgent humanitarian crises which mark our time, we realize how important it is for every Christian to be a true missionary disciple, bringing the good news of Christ’s redemptive love to a world in such need of reconciliation, justice and peace.

So it is fitting that this Congress has been celebrated in the Year of Mercy, in which the whole Church is invited to concentrate on the heart of the Gospel: Mercy. We are called to bring the balm of God’s merciful love to the whole human family, binding up wounds, bringing hope where despair so often seems to have the upper hand.

As you now prepare to “go forth” at the end of this Eucharistic Congress, there are two gestures of Jesus at the Last Supper which I would ask you to reflect on. Both have to do with the missionary dimension of the Eucharist. They are table fellowship and the washing of feet.

We know how important it was for Jesus to share meals with his disciples, but also, and especially, with sinners and the outcast. Sitting at table, Jesus was able to listen to others, to hear their stories, to appreciate their hopes and aspirations, and to speak to them of the Father’s love. At each Eucharist, the table of the Lord’s Supper, we should be inspired to follow his example, by reaching out to others, in a spirit of respect and openness, in order to share with them the gift we ourselves have received.

In Asia, where the Church is committed to respectful dialogue with the followers of other religions, this prophetic witness most often takes place, as we know, through the dialogue of life. Through the testimony of lives transformed by God’s love, we best proclaim the Kingdom’s promise of reconciliation, justice and unity for the human family. Our example can open hearts to the grace of the Holy Spirit, who leads them to Christ the Savior.

The other image which the Lord offers us at the Last Supper is the washing of feet. On the eve of his passion, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of humble service, of the unconditional love with which he gave his life on the Cross for the salvation of the world. The Eucharist is a school of humble service. It teaches us readiness to be there for others. This too is at the heart of missionary discipleship.

Here I think of the aftermath of the typhoon. It brought immense devastation to the Philippines, yet it also brought in its wake an immense outpouring of solidarity, generosity and goodness. People set about rebuilding not just homes, but lives. The Eucharist speaks to us of that power, which flows from the Cross and constantly brings new life. It changes hearts. It enables us to be caring, to protect the poor and the vulnerable, and to be sensitive to the cry of our brothers and sisters in need. It teaches us to act with integrity and to reject the injustice and corruption which poison the roots of society.

Dear friends, may this Eucharistic Congress strengthen you in your love of Christ present in the Eucharist. May it enable you, as missionary disciples, to bring this great experience of ecclesial communion and missionary outreach to your families, your parishes and communities, and your local Churches. May it be a leaven of reconciliation and peace for the entire world.

Now, at the end of the Congress, I am happy to announce that the next International Eucharistic Congress will take place in 2020 in Budapest, Hungary. I ask all of you to join me in praying for its spiritual fruitfulness and for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all engaged in its preparation. As you return to your homes renewed in faith, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and your families as a pledge of abiding joy and peace in the Lord.

God Bless you: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

My comment: It could be the English translation of this speech but it is common mistake so many make. The Eucharist is referred to as "it." The Eucharist shows forth our Lord and thus is not an "it" but a Person, a Divine Person with two natures, human and divine.

When we objectify the Eucharist and point to "it" we become idolators. Rather the Eucharist points to the Crucified and Risen Lord in His Glorified Body than can taken on the characteristics of Bread to be palatable to the senses when receiving our Glorified Lord's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Christ makes us a part of His Glorified Body, now seen visibly as the Church, Head and Members. As Food and Drink, this is unique and a miracle of God as normally and by nature, food and drink become a part of us not we a part of it!

Thus as a part of Christ's Body, we are missioned to do what He teaches us to do in the world when we are dismissed from Mass. 


John Nolan said...

'Missa' according to Fortescue, is the late Latin form of 'missio', dismissal. I have heard that in Roman times the formula 'Ite, missa est' was used by the magistrate to conclude public business in the basilica: 'Go, it is the dismissal'. More fanciful explanations are unnecessary.

'Eucharist' is feminine in Latin and the Romance languages and would be referred to as 'she'. Likewise the word for Mass, which is also feminine in German (die Messe). English does not use masculine or feminine for nouns unless they are animate and explicitly male or female. So the neuter pronoun 'it' is the only grammatically correct way of referring to the Eucharist, the Mass, or for that matter the Blessed Sacrament.

Victor W said...

Indeed, we are sent forth. But one of the most clericalist changes to the Mass after Vatican II was to bless the people and then send them forth, almost as an after thought. The cart has been put before the horse. One receives a blessing because one is sent forth into the outside world; one is not sent forth because one has received a blessing. We are nourished by the Eucharist and go forth into the hostile world, for which the priest as father blesses his flock as he would his children. The post Vatican II liturgical fabricators did not seem to experience the oppression against Christianity in their comfy ivory towers.

Rood Screen said...

First of all, the Sacrifice certainly is sent to the Father, so this is the simplest and most obvious understanding of the phrase. After all, a "missionary" is not someone who has been "dismissed", in the modern English sense, but someone who has been sent forth for the apostolate. In the Holy Mass, there's a whole lot of sending going on: the Offering is sent, and then we are sent.

John Nolan said...

Victor W

Interesting idea, but the blessing and last Gospel were relatively late add-ons to the Mass, which traditionally ended with the Ite missa est. That explains why, in a sung Mass, these two items are not sung. When in 1967 the blessing was moved, it could then be sung.

Chrigid said...

Story told to me directly by priest who was there: Before the mass in English became official, all the priests in the Diocese of New York were gathered at St. Patrick's Cathedral for a run-through. All went well until the officiant turned and said in English, "Go, the Mass is ended," and the cathedral-ful of priests roared back in English, "Thanks be to God," and then collapsed into uncontrollable laughter.