Saturday, June 16, 2018

Liturgy of the Traditional Mass, Part 11: The postcommunions and the end of the Mass

Dóminus vobíscum.
Et cum spíritu tuo.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.

Every time these words are sung, the priest goes to the middle of the altar to kiss the relics of saints. Once again, the Mass involves, not just the priest and those physically present, but the whole Church. By this kiss, he extends the greeting to the Church Triumphant. The choir responds, “Et cum spiritu tuo,” the way St. Paul ended some of his epistles (Galatians 6:18, Philippians 4:23, 2 Timothy 4:22). The priest returns to the Epistle side of the altar and invites them to pray, singing, “Oremus.”

In each of the three major actions of the Mass, the Church has prayers proper to the occasions being observed and to her other intentions. Toward the beginning of the Mass, when we were preparing to offer the sacrifice, the collects were sung. At the Offertory, when we were making our initial offering to God and entering into the true sacrifice, the secrets were said. Now that we have received Communion, the priest sings the postcommunions to give thanks to God for all he has given us in the Mass and to ask for his grace as we go back out to the world. Postcommunions follow the same format as collects and secrets, concluding with a short doxology and mention of the Trinity. Then, the missal is closed. Like the veiling of the chalice, our exit from the solemn liturgy is marked by closing and covering things, in reverse of when we entered.

The priest once again returns to the center, kisses the altar, and greets the people. In all this, the three ministers move together, with the priest at the top of the steps, the deacon in the middle, and the subdeacon on the ground. How they are standing shows precedence. The priest is superior to the deacon, who is superior to the subdeacon. The way they move together also represents the Trinity and its three equal persons. Though unequal, the ministers are in a category separate from others present. After the priest has greeted the people, the deacon turns and sings the dismissal. It is usually sung to an elaborate melody.

Dóminus vobíscum.
Et cum spíritu tuo.
Ite, Missa est.
Deo gratias.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Go, the Mass is ended.
Thanks be to God.

This is one of the most difficult texts in the Mass to translate and interpret. Often, it is simply rendered, “Go, the Mass is ended,” but there is far more meaning than that. There is also considerable debate as to the origins and meaning of this phrase. It has its earliest origins in the dismissals of meetings of the Roman Forum and has been part of the Mass from the earliest centuries. It literally means, “Go, it is the dismissal.” The Latin word “missa,” here meaning “dismissal,” is also the word for “Mass,” and some believe that the word for “Mass” originates from the phrase, “Ite Missa est.” There is a popular theory that the word “missa” came to imply a mission. After devoutly assisting in the Mass, the faithful are sent forth into the world to carry on Christ's mission (Mark 16:15-20). Although this probably is not the actual historical origin of this phrase, it is still a good reminder of what we are sent to do as we are dismissed from the Mass. Illustrated below are the priest, deacon, and subdeacon in a semicircle. The priest and deacon are both turned to the people while the deacon sings, “Ite Missa est.” The subdeacon remains facing the altar. A server holds the book containing the chant melody for the deacon.

Image credit: Lumen roma

Until 1962, whenever the Gloria was not sung, such as in Advent and Lent, “Ite Missa est” was not sung. During these times, we do not wish to be dismissed, but rather to remain keeping watch with Christ. The Church desires, then, not a grand sending forth, but rather a more subdued dismissal, which the deacon sings facing the altar.

Benedicamus Domino.
Deo gratias.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

We ought to bless the Lord always in our lives, but Holy Mother Church sings this because she wishes to remain with her spouse, the Lord, and keep watch until all is accomplished at Christmas or at Easter, when “Ite Missa est” is sung again. This beautiful tradition was discontinued in the 1962 Missal, which directed that “Ite Missa est” always be used unless some other liturgy immediately follows the Mass.

Whether the deacon sings “Ite Missa est” or the lesser “Benedicamus Domino,” the choir responds to the same melody, “Deo gratias.” Indeed, thanks be to God for all he has done for us, for the immeasurable grace given us in the Mass! What other remark could we make at the thought of exiting the Mass, after the amazing things that have just happened? Thanks be to God for the perfect sacrifice that we have offered and the most Blessed Sacrament that we have consumed. As we go out, we will still give thanks to God with our lives, doing his will. At Easter, the most glorious feast of the year, the Church further exclaims her jubilation by adding “alleluia, alleluia” to both the dismissal and its response.

At Masses for the Dead, neither “Ite Missa est” nor “Benedicamus Domino” are sung. In their place, the Church makes one final prayer for her suffering members. Thus the deacon sings to a simple tone.

Requiescant in pace.
May they rest in peace.

This is the origin of the acronym “R.I.P.” and is always sung in the plural, for just as every Mass involves the whole Church, a Mass for the Dead always remembers all the Church Suffering, perhaps with special emphasis on a particular person. Because it is a sorrowful prayer, the response is not, “Deo gratias,” but rather, “Amen.”

Even when we are dismissed with “Ite Missa est,” the Mass does not end quite yet. The following ceremonies appeared as private devotions during the Middle Ages and were not prescribed in the missal until 1570. The priest turns back to the altar and bows down to whisper one final prayer.

Pláceat tibi, sancta Trínitas, obséquium servitútis meæ: et præsta; ut sacrifícium, quod óculis tuæ maiestátis indígnus óbtuli, tibi sit acceptábile, mihíque et ómnibus, pro quibus illud óbtuli, sit, te miseránte, propitiábile. Per Christum, Dóminum nostrum. Amen.
May the performance of my homage be pleasing to thee, O holy Trinity: and grant that the sacrifice which I, though unworthy, have offered up in the sight of thy majesty, may be acceptable to thee, and through thy mercy, be a propitiation for me, and for all those for whom I have offered it. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Just as the Mass began with an invocation of the Trinity, so it ends in this prayer addressing the whole Trinity together. Here, the priest makes his last supplication for acceptance of his worship and sacrifice. Once again, he prays for reception of the graces attached to Holy Communion. Nothing new is introduced in this prayer; it a sort of epitome to close the Mass. As with every prayer, it ends, “Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.”

As the faithful are sent out, the priest blesses them on their journey. A blessing is the dedication of something or someone to a sacred purpose. When confered on a person, it has the effect of assisting personal devotion and giving actual graces. God blessed the human race at the beginning of time, and he did the same with Noah and Abraham (Genesis 1:22, 9:1, 12:1-2). Priests of the Old Covenant blessed the Israelites (Numbers 6:23-27). In the New Covenant, one of the purposes for which priests are ordained is to give blessings.

Benedícat vos omnípotens Deus, Pater, et Fílius, ☩ et Spíritus Sanctus.
May almighty God bless you, Father, Son, ☩ and Holy Ghost.

The priest first raises his eyes to God, whose blessing is being given, and says the first part, “Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus.” The priest then turns to the people and blesses them with the Sign of the Cross, saying, “Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus.” Thus, we are blessed in the name of the whole Trinity.

Because a bishop has the fullness of the Holy Orders and full apostolic authority, he gives a more solemn blessing than a simple priest. A bishop sings the blessing, whereas a simple priest says it aloud. In addition, a bishop makes three Signs of the Cross.

Finally, throughout the Middle Ages and earlier, the faithful had great devotion to the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John, which beautifully describes the Nativity and the Incarnation of Jesus as the Word made flesh. Often times, as a private devotion, priests would bless people with this passage from the Gospel. It also became part of the private prayers said by the priests after Mass: a fact still seen in a Pontifical Mass, when it is recited as the bishop leaves the altar. From this devotion grew the custom of reading this Gospel passage at the end of Mass as the “Last Gospel.” The origins of the Last Gospel as a private devotion are evident in the lack of any real ceremony to it. It is said, not sung, and no incense is used.

Dominus vobiscum.
Et cum spiritu tuo.
Initium ✠ sancti Evangélii secúndum Ioánnem.
Gloria tibi, Domine.

In princípio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum. Hoc erat in princípio apud Deum. Omnia per ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est: in ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hóminum: et lux in ténebris lucet, et ténebræ eam non comprehendérunt.

Fuit homo missus a Deo, cui nomen erat Ioánnes. Hic venit in testimónium, ut testimónium perhibéret de lúmine, ut omnes créderent per illum. Non erat ille lux, sed ut testimónium perhibéret de lúmine.

Erat lux vera, quæ illúminat omnem hóminem veniéntem in hunc mundum. In mundo erat, et mundus per ipsum factus est, et mundus eum non cognóvit. In própria venit, et sui eum non recepérunt. Quotquot autem recepérunt eum, dedit eis potestátem fílios Dei fíeri, his, qui credunt in nómine eius: qui non ex sanguínibus, neque ex voluntáte carnis, neque ex voluntáte viri, sed ex Deo nati sunt.

Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitávit in nobis: et vídimus glóriam eius, glóriam quasi Unigéniti a Patre, plenum grátiæ et veritatis.
Deo gratias.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
The beginning ✠ of the holy Gospel according to John.
Glory be to Thee, O Lord.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was made nothing that was made: in him was life, and the life was the light of men; and the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to testify concerning the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he was to testify concerning the light.

That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man, that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become sons of God, to them that believe in his name, who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us: and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Thanks be to God.

All genuflect at the words, “Et Verbum caro factum est,” when the Incarnation is mentioned, just as all genuflect at the words, “Et homo factus est,” in the Credo. The Last Gospel being completed, Holy Mother Church's greatest act of worship to God, the Holy Mass, is now finished. The sacred minsters descend the steps of the altar, cover their heads with the birettas, and exit with the servers.

New terms
  • postcommunion – A prayer proper to the day sung after Communion, related to the collect and secret.
  • Last Gospel – A passage from the Gospel, nearly always the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John, read as the final act of the Mass.

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