‘Mass Has Ended; Go in Peace’



It is not always easy to understand and explain our Catholic faith, and the word Mass is one of the difficulties. The Mass is the center of our worship, but what does the word Mass mean?

The word is a shortened English form of the final Latin words of the Mass, “Ite, Missa Est,” which mean “It is ended; be dismissed” or “Mass is ended; go in peace.”

We also call Mass “The Lord’s Supper” or “The Eucharist,” or “the Holy Mysteries,” or the “Sacrifice of the Mass.” While all these names illuminate the different aspects of our worship, “Mass is ended; go in peace” offers a deep meaning once we consider the fullness of the phrase.

The dismissal, which is said by the deacon or priest (the Roman Missal gives several options), is a summary of the entire act of worship and provides a proper reminder of our priorities and tasks as faithful Catholics.


The conventional ending of a fairy tale, “And so they all lived happily ever after” winds things up in a satisfying way. The authors of novels, stories, screenplays, and dramas are all faced with the task of ending the storyline in the right way.

The same is true of the liturgy. We move majestically through the procession, the ministry of the Word, the offertory, and sacrifice of the Mass. We move forward to Communion with the Lord. Then what? The liturgy concludes very quickly with the closing prayer, the blessing, and dismissal.

The closing prayer summarizes the prayer intentions for that particular Mass. The blessing imparts a final gift of grace to empower us, and the dismissal sends us out into the world not only to live happily ever after, but to make sure others do, as well.

The simple words “Go in peace” not only indicate that we are to go out into the world ensconced in the peace of God, but that we are to go into the world to spread that peace to others. The peace of God is won through repentance and reconciliation, so it becomes our task to go “in peace” as agents of reconciliation in the world. It is almost as if we are incarnations of God’s peace sent out into a darkened world.


If you’ve ever watched a movie for a second time, you know that you see more in it on the second viewing. So it is with the Mass. Every time we go, if we pay close attention, the Holy Spirit helps us see new dimensions and meanings.

The words of dismissal that thrust us out into the world to do God’s work help us evaluate the proper relationship between our worship and our work in the world. It is a relationship that involves people and actions, and it is a relationship that is often misunderstood. Examining these relationships helps us realize just exactly what Mass is for and what it is not for.

Simply speaking, God’s people fall into two categories: clergy and laity. The clergy are ordained to administer the sacraments, teach the faith, and govern the Church. The laity are called to live out the faith in their homes, in their workplaces, and in the world. It is therefore quite wrong for laypeople to be overly involved in the worship and governance of the Church.They should, of course, bring their gifts to the aid the worship and administration of the Church, but this is not the laity’s primary calling. It is the role of the clergy.

Just as the clergy have a particular role, so the laity, on the other hand, can live out the Gospel and spread the Gospel in the world in ways impossible for the clergy. There is an awful lot of heartache, frustration, and wasted energy in the Catholic Church when these roles are confused.

Priests often spend too much of their time doing jobs the laity should do, and laity become frustrated because they are not “allowed” to do certain tasks that are reserved for the clergy. Too often power struggles emerge because either the laity or the clergy are clinging to power or seeking power that is not rightfully theirs.

Clericalism grows when clergy overly assert themselves and take control of every aspect of the Church’s life and ministry. While this is rightly criticized, there is also the opposite fault of “laicism,” in which the laity take control and begin to dominate roles that are rightly reserved for the clergy.

When the priest or deacon declares, “Mass is ended; go in peace,” we should all understand that this is also a way of saying, “Worship is over. The clergy have done their part, offered the sacrifice, and led the worship of God. Now everybody get going and do the jobs you are called to do so the body of Christ functions effectively in the world.”



I once heard a non-Catholic say jokingly about his Catholic brothers and sisters, “For Catholics, Mass is like french fries. It’s a side they have with everything.” What he meant was that, too often, if there is some sort of Catholic event, we think Mass is a requirement.

This is to misunderstand the central role and function of the Mass in Catholic life. While it is “the source and summit” of our life, it is not necessary every time we meet together. In addition to falling into the trap of having Mass “with everything,” we also try to fit everything into Mass.

Every group in the parish tries to get “airtime” at Mass, and often the priest feels he must use Mass to promote every aspect of parish and diocesan life. Mass is when he has a captive audience, so Mass becomes the venue for fundraising, fellowship, social activism, celebrating birthdays, recognizing anniversaries, children’s work, youth work, political rallying points, and more.

“Mass is ended; go in peace” should offer a clear demarcation. It’s a way of saying, “We have worshipped the Lord together and focused our lives on him. Now we should get busy with all that other stuff.”

This brings us to the core consideration: What is Mass really for? The Mass is not a pep rally where we sing songs and hear an inspiring talk about making the world a better place. The Mass is not a self-help meeting where we come together to encourage each other to be better, nicer people.

The Mass is not a happy time to sing songs and be entertained. The Mass is not an opportunity to hear politically correct lectures about some social issue. The Mass is not a fellowship time where we meet our friends and get support. While all these things might be the consequence of worship, they are not the reason for our worship.


The Mass is, first and foremost, our worship of God. Jesus says the first commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). We come to Mass to worship God and show our love for him. At Mass we put God first, above every other love.

It is a transaction: We show our love for God. He shows his love for us.

This is done through the proper celebration of Mass. The Eucharist is the re-presentation of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross for the salvation of souls. If you like, we come to Mass to “get saved.” We come to God with our sins and failures, and we receive his forgiveness. We come to God to receive his grace to assist us on the long adventure of becoming saints.

This is not only the primary reason for the Mass — it is the only reason for the Mass. While other aspects like fellowship, instruction, unity, and inspiration are part of the Mass, they are not the reason for Mass. They are side effects, if you like, of the action of the Mass.

All of this is gathered up in the brief summary at the end of the liturgy. In the words “Mass is ended; go in peace,” we understand once again the eternal purpose of our worship, and we receive the grace necessary to step away from that worship to do God’s work in the world.


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