The very last thing we hear at Mass is by no means the least important. Before the assembly leaves they are given an invitation to “Go in peace.” This is called the dismissal and in fact the very origin of that word, “dismissal,” comes from the Catholic worship service we call “Mass.”
For centuries the dismissal used was, in Latin, “Ite, missa est,” the exact original meaning of which is now in dispute. It has the effect of, “go,” or, “it is sent” and the term “Mass” (missa) derives from this phrase. Since, in classical Latin, “missa” is the feminine form of the perfect passive participle of “mittere” (to send), “missa est” could be taken to mean: “It has been sent,” where the “it” refers to something grammatically feminine in Latin like “communio” (communion), “hostia” (sacrifi cial victim), “oblatio” (offering), or “Eucharistia” (Eucharist).
In the case that the “it” is any of these terms then it would have the meaning that the sacrificial victim, or Eucharist has been sent to heaven. In other words, the sacrifice of Christ has been offered anew.
Another theory is that “missa” is a noun, meaning “dismissal,” in a later form of Latin. It is a substantive of a late form for “missio.” If this is its origin then “it” does not mean an offering handed over to God, but the dismissal of the people, as in the versicle: “Ite missa est” (Go, the dismissal is made). In this sense it means that the assembly, having participated in the sacrifice of Christ, and indeed offered it in their own way, is now dismissed with the mission of carrying their faith into the world.
Both theories seem to be in line with the understanding of the present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who recently approved three new and distinct dismissals for the universal Church. “Go in peace,” “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life,” and “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” are now all approved forms of the dismissal. All of these declarations seem to have the sense that the sacred sacrifice has been offered to God, as when the first sacrifice was offered on the altar of the cross.
In return, just as God as given us the Body and Blood of His Son, so now we are to go forth in calm, completeness and wholesomeness — the real meaning of peace — having obeyed the command of the Lord and participated in the most perfect work of redemption initiated by the Christ Himself.
The two new dismissals seem to have the understanding that the purpose of the sacrifice is not only the glorification of God, but also the nourishment of the Christian disciple so that they can bear witness to their faith through their witness in the world.
The second Vatican Council reminded Catholics that there is a universal call to holiness for everyone. It equally reminded us that the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life. The dismissal, then, is no mere invitation to hurry home so that the next Mass can begin, but is rather a reminder that Christ and His sacrifice and His faithful people are the light of the world that must shine brightly in and outside of church.