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Ask the Register: "service" or "Mass"?

Q. I’ve been told not to say “service” instead of “Mass” because “service” is a “Protestant” thing, not Catholic. I don’t understand – don’t the words mean the same thing?

A. The word Mass comes from the Latin word missa meaning, “sent.” If a Mass were to be celebrated in the Latin, the words of dismissal are “Ite, Missa est,” which is translated literally as “Go, it is sent.”

In the 13th Century, St. Thomas Aquinas commented on these words of dismissal saying, “And from this the Mass derives its name … the deacon on festival days ‘dismisses’ the people at the end of the Mass, by saying: ‘Ite, missa est,’ that is, the victim [Jesus] has been sent to God through the angel, so that it may be accepted by God.”

St. Thomas describes the heart of what the Mass is all about: the re-presentation of Christ’s offering of himself to the Heavenly Father. And then this gift of Christ to the Father pours forth to the Church in the reception of Holy Communion. Christ offers himself as a sacrifice to the Father, and in doing so he also offers himself to the Church in giving us his very body and blood.

Thus, the dismissal at the end of Mass is not an ending but a beginning. Catholics who attend Mass have asked for forgiveness of their sins, listened to the Word of God, reflected upon its impact on their lives through the homily, entered into the redemptive work of Jesus, and received him in the Eucharist. Actively participating in the mystery of the Mass changes the hearts of Catholics. It necessarily moves us into mission.

So, the dismissal at Mass is not just a declaration that it’s over and it’s time to go home, but a call to take the fruits of this Mass to be missionary disciples. One of the dismissals in our English translations expresses this well: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with calling the Mass a “service” but the word fails to express the depths of what is taking place in the Mass. There can be prayer services, graveside services, and even Communion services. These are all good things, but the Mass is truly unique, for there is nothing like it. The Mass is the greatest event in the history of the world re-presented before our eyes through sacramental signs, and it is meant to send us into mission.

Moreover, it is a good habit to speak of the Mass with reverence and love—and to actually call it “Mass.” Instead of saying, “I went to church on Sunday,” get in the habit of saying, “I went to Mass” on Sunday. There is nothing wrong with calling Mass a “service” or “church,” but it doesn’t express the fullness of what is taking place in the Mass, and what it does for our souls.

Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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