Growing up in Nebraska, my brother and I waited eagerly for the benediction. It was to us less blessing than dismissal. In other words, it meant we could go home. However, that homecoming was forced to await the arcane ritual of orderliness that Germans love as much as beer and brats. Since we had three banks of pews with two "main" aisles, one of the two main aisles was chosen for priority as the usher let the pews out in orderly fashion, keeping just enough people in line to shake the Pastor's hand without crowding the line too much. They were supposed to switch off but it seemed our side hardly ever got to go first. So we were forced to wait until more than two thirds of the congregation was gone before an usher would give us the sacred nod to say, "you can go now."
It was a word received with relief -- you can go now! Finally the mass was ended (or the dry mass since the Sacrament was first quarterly and then monthly when I was growing up). We could go in peace. We did not know about loving and serving the Lord but we did know about getting out, running around a little bit, and then, finally, heading to the car and to breakfast (always after church and never did we eat before church). We were dismissed. Like the principal sending the errant school boy from the office... like the soldiers at strict attention who could now head off for a smoke or a cup-a- joe or whatever. We could go...
Sadly, we seem to have lost the sense that we are not dismissed but sent forth. It is not so much an army of witnesses to change the world but each sent forth from the House of the Lord to their baptismal callings, where they live out their faith in the place where they live and work. I am reminded of an old Luther story. It seems that Luther was once approached by a man who was happy to tell him that he had just become a Christian. With a great desire to serve the Lord, he asked the great Reformer:, "Now what should I do?" Thinking perhaps he would be told to study for the ministry or go to far off land as missionary or even monk, the man got a question in reply. Luther asked, "What is your work now?" "I'm a shoe maker," the man replied. With that the cobbler was surprised when Luther told him, "Go make a good shoe, and sell it for a fair price."
Ite, missa est. So ended the old mass. For as long as antiquity records. Ite, missa est. Now before you jump on this, the literal translation of the Latin is not nearly the fullness of its meaning. This was not mere permission to leave and go home. In its ancient meaning, missa might have meant simply ‘dismissal’ but its usage in the Church took on a different and deeper meaning. It meant a sending forth and not merely a going home. Go in peace was not permission to leave but the call to go in the peace of the Lord to love Him and serve Him and thus fulfill your baptismal vocation within the context of the world.
Recall the end of the movie credits in Ferris Bueller's Day Off? Ferris comes out and asks, "Why are you here? It is over. Go home." That is NOT what the end of the Divine Service means. It means that the liturgy of the Lord's House is complete but the liturgy of the Lord's people in the world has just begun. It is not that the mass is ended and we can go now peacefully but that we go forth in peace, to love and serve the Lord. This is the fruit of God's work in us and among us. Where God is at work among His people in His Word and Sacrament, there He sends forth His people to do His bidding, to proclaim His good news, to show forth His mercy, and to act at His behest in their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and shops.
Whether or not we use the ancient words of dismissal or simply the Aaronic benediction, we need to rediscover the sense of the people of God, who have received His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and who are then sent forth into the world as bearers of those gifts to those not yet of His kingdom and church.
The new Roman missal offers a couple of options.
None of them thoroughly embodies the sense of the original but for my choice I prefer #3. It comes closest to the sense of the original but I would prefer "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!" Indeed! Thanks be to God!1. Go forth, the Mass is ended.2. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.3. Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.4. Go in peace.
Sent forth by God's blessing,
our true faith confessing,
The people of God from his dwelling take leave.
God's sacrifice ended,
O now be extended.
The fruits of this Mass in all hearts who believe.
The seed of his teaching our inner souls reaching,
Shall blossom in action for God and for all.
His grace incite us, his love shall unite us
To further God's kingdom and answer his call.
With praise and thanks giving,
to God who is living,
The tasks of our ev'ryday life we embrace.
Our faith ever sharing,
in love ever caring,
We claim as our neighbour all those of each race.
One bread that has fed us,
one light that has led us
Unite us as one in his life that we share.
Then may all the living with praise and thanks giving
Give honor to Christ and his name that we bear.