There’s not much I remember about serving the Latin Mass except how many rubrics there were to follow. The priest’s introduction of "Introibo ad altare Dei" gave way after the server’s "Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam" to lots of mumbling as the priest raced through the prayers at the foot of the altar. There was the Epistle side and the Gospel side, and the lifting of chasubles. And there was the art of not causing personal injury with the paten to a communicant at the communion rail.
The Mass ended with "Ite, missa est." We translate this as "Go forth, the Mass is ended." Another option is "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord," which captures better what is supposed to happen at the end of the celebration of the Eucharist. We are sent. Not sent away, but sent to live what we just celebrated; to be what we just received. We are sent to be Christ in our world.
Today’s two readings really work well together. The Gospel from John is part of the Bread of Life Discourse. "The bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world." The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles retells the story of Phillip being sent to explain the scriptures to the eunuch he meets along the way.
Our celebration of the Eucharist is meant to be effective. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist should be leading us to make Christ real in our world. By going to Mass, we encounter Jesus resurrected from the dead who then sends us out to be the Bread of Life for a world that is all too often poor, hungry, sad, and burdened. Like Phillip, whom the angel sends to proclaim the Gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, we are sent…Ite, missa est…to comfort the brokenhearted and grief-stricken, welcome those marginalized by society and left by the side of the road, feed those hungry in both body and soul, and reconcile those among our family and friends who are estranged and resentful.
Like Phillip and the rest of the disciples, we don’t have to look far and wide for where we are able live out the Eucharist. Those to whom we are sent are those with whom we live and work. We are going to encounter them along the road we each travel. We just need to remember that we have been sent…Ite, missa est. And to that the choirs of angels sing, "Deo gratias."
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and is the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.