Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dismissed or Sent

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.  
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.
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!

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.


Anonymous said...

The Roman Missal. Tweaking a few words here and there, changing "and also with you" to "and with your spirit" (the authentic meaning of which most Catholic people don't know anyway) ain't gonna change much of anything.

I have always loved that Lutherans use the Aaronic blessing and that we still use the Nunc Dimittis in our Service of the Sacrament.

I don't miss any of the Roman forms at all.


Anonymous said...

It is difficult to improve on the
Aaronic Benediction (Numbers 6:24-26

To receive the LORD'S Blessing is
a wonderful way to go from the
sanctuary into the work week. It
is significant that the last word
is PEACE. The Lord gives you peace
is not the same as "go in peace."

Pastor Peters said...

Have I missed it again? I read what I write and sometimes I am not sure why what I write is so unclear. To go in peace is NOT a different message than the peace the Lord gives you in the benediction but merely a reminder that we leave with this peace -- not to return home and hoard His blessing or to go back to our old ways of doubt, disobedience, and sin but to love and serve the Lord in all that we are and do. My point was simply that -- we are not dismissed but sent forth in the peace of the Lord (received through Word and Sacrament) to fulfill our baptismal calling...

Anonymous said...

Have you missed it again?

Insofar as you are -- again -- referring to Roman usage, with all due respect, yes.

There was an interesting column this morning on the web by a Roman Catholic bishop describing how disappointed he was when he attended a mass for the Transfiguration at a Catholic parish while he was vacationing. To say that the presiding priest played fast and loose with the rubrics is to put it mildly. I can relate, having experienced that myself as a former Catholic.

Another Catholic left this comment:

Here’s how we really feel and what we would like to tell every priest ‘off the book’: We have a right to know what to expect at mass. Don’t you dare change anything on purpose. How rude and ego driven to think you can improve on the mass. We are sick and tired of being ‘roaming’Catholics in our diocese looking for the best mass we can find.

Of course, we offer it up but we do ache when everything isn’t correct because we love the mass and our Lord’s celebration. It’s not about the priest’s personality or the joke of the day etc.,it’s about giving the best worship we can give to our God. If a priest sets a different tone and he is God’s special servant, how can we lay people hope to improve our spiritual life?

So, yes, I do find it incomprehensible when Lutherans are so enamored of Roman forms.


Bill S. said...

They aren't Roman forms, Christine!! We Lutherans share the same 1,000 years of history, theology and culture that the Romans, and the Greek Ortho's, the Coptics and the Episcopalians do! And then, we've had 500 years to take that base and craft our unique Lutheran identity which might outwardly look Roman, but the theology behind it is not. Your constant criticism and harpings get a bit tiresome.

'Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord' is how my congregation is sent. Along with, often, that beautiful hymn that begins:
'Go my children, with my blessing, never alone'.....

Anonymous said...

when Lutherans are so enamored of Roman forms?!?

What forms? Ite messa est was in existence long before it was Roman. Everytime liturgy or worship or something like it gets mentioned, some get their Roman finding lenses on and in their haste to point out romanisms miss the whole point.

Anonymous said...

Oh, we share the same theology as Rome?

Now I'm really chuckling.

When you've experienced what Rome is *really* like come back and tell me about it.

My mother's European Lutheran congregation only practiced Holy Communion quarterly, but it was with a love and reverence that many Catholics don't even come close to these days. I don't blame them, it's the poor catechesis they've received since Vatican II.

And the Episcopalians? Now I'm about to snort coffee up my nose. You mean, the Episcopalians who along with the ELCA Lutherans (who, presumbably also share that "common history") now have women "bishops"?? (even though Rome has declared their ordinations null and void).



Terry Maher said...

No, we don't across the board share a common 1000 year history with the Roman, Anglican, Orthodox and other churches.

What most in the Western liturgical churches share is a roughly half-century old tradition of a cafeteria made up of bits and pieces from tradition fashioned into new wholes replacing the various traditional ones.

Ite missa est exemplifies the point. That is traditional; option A, B, C or D for saying Ite missa est isn't.