ROME, 30 APRIL 2010 (ZENIT)
In this article, Father Mauro
Gagliardi, a consultor of the Office for the Liturgical
Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and professor of theology at
the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum of Rome, explains
the role of the priest in the concluding rites of the Mass.
* * *
1. The Rites of Conclusion in the Two Forms of the Mass of
1.1 The Rites of Conclusion of the Holy Mass take place, in
both forms of the Roman rite
the ordinary and extraordinary
once the prayer is ended after Communion. For the ordinary form
(or of Paul VI), the "Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani" (IGMR)
in No. 90 is expressed in these terms: "The concluding rites
consist of 1) Brief announcements, if they are necessary; 2) The
priest's greeting and blessing, which on certain days and
occasions is enriched and expressed in the prayer over the
People or another more solemn formula; 3) The dismissal of the
people by the deacon or the priest, so that each may go out to
do good works, praising and blessing God; 4) The kissing of the
altar by the priest and the deacon, followed by a profound bow
to the altar by the priest, the deacon, and the other
Hence, the role of the priests consists in giving brief
notices to the faithful, in greeting them with the liturgical
formula "Dominus vobiscum" and in blessing them with a simple or
solemn formula. If there is no deacon, the priest also
pronounces the formula of dismissal "Ite, missa est." The
Rites end with the kissing of the altar and with a profound bow
before it, as at the beginning of the Mass.
1.2 We can compare this structure with that established by
the norms of the Missal of the extraordinary form (or of St.
Pius V, in the revision made by Blessed John XXIII). The
fundamental elements are common to the two forms of the rite,
but differences are also observed. Here the greeting "Ite, Missa
est" is placed before the blessing. The response "Deo gratias"
having been received, the priest goes again to the altar and,
bowing profoundly, with his hands joined and leaning on it, says
the prayer "Placeat," which St. Pius V had added in his missal
(1570). It is a beautiful prayer with which the ordained
minister asks the Trinity to accept the Eucharistic sacrifice in
his favor and of all those for whom the priest has offered it.
This is the text: "Placeat tibi, sancta Trinitas, obsequium
servitutis meae: et praesta, ut sacrificium quod oculis tuae
maiestatis indignus obtuli, tibi sit acceptabile; mihique et
omnibus pro quibus illud obtuli, sit, te miserante, propitiabile.
Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen."
Having recited this prayer with devotion, the priest kisses
the altar, raises his eyes to heaven while opening and closing
his arms raising them and returning them to his chest, bows his
head toward the cross and says: "Benedicat vos omnipotents
Deus." Then he turns to the people and blesses them with the
simple sign of the cross in the name of the Trinity (the same
gesture made in the ordinary form).
The Rites of Conclusion of the extraordinary form even
provide a biblical reading: After blessing the people the
priest, in fact, turns again to the altar, to the side of the
Gospel, and proclaims the Prologue of John's Gospel, introducing
the reading with the same formulas and the same gestures that
are used for the proclamation of the Gospel within the Liturgy
of the Word. On reading "Et Verbum caro factum est," he kneels.
The last Gospel is always John 1:1-14, which is omitted in some
celebrations. The Prologue of John's Gospel was already
appreciated since the 13th century as a formula of blessing, in
particular to obtain good weather, for which it was inserted by
St. Pius V in his missal. This reading, therefore, must be
understood as part of the blessing.
1.3 Let us note that the continuity of the Rites of
Conclusion between the extraordinary form and the ordinary form
of the Roman Rite is found in these elements: the blessing of
the people, the formula of dismissal, the kissing and veneration
of the altar. The differences between the two forms are observed
in the suppression in the passage from the "Vetus" to the Novus
Ordo and in an addition made to the latter. The Novus Ordo has
changed the structure of development of the Rites of Conclusion,
whether inverting the order between dismissal and blessing, or
eliminating the prayer "Placeat" and the last Gospel. The
addition that the latter makes consists instead in the
indication of the IGMR, No. 90a, which foresees the possibility
of giving brief notices at the beginning of the Rites of
Conclusion. Another addition (taken from the old practice) is
the possibility of using more solemn formulas of blessing.
2. The Two Columns That Sustain the Rites of Conclusion:
Blessing and Dismissal
2.1 Of what has been said, it turns out that the two columns
that sustain the Rites of Conclusion of the Mass are the
blessing and the dismissal. In sacred Scripture , the word
"to bless/blessing" has a very ample meaning. In the Hebrew of
the Old Testament, the root "brk" indicates the fortune of those
men for whom everything turns out well, but it also indicates
the fruitfulness, abundance, richness and also the humidity of
the clouds (true and genuine richness and blessing in the
desert!). In addition to these meanings, "brk" is used in the
literal sense of "doing homage," "praising," "glorifying,"
"expressing gratitude" and also "to speak well of someone."
Finally, just as in Israel any greeting was a wish of blessing,
"brk" also means simply "to greet." The closest meaning to our
way of understanding "blessing," is expressed in the texts that
treat wishes of blessing of parents to children, or of priests
to the participants in the worship, or also in regard to the
promises made by God in favor of men. Fixed liturgical formulas
are also found, for example Numbers 6:23-26.
In the Old Testament, the blessing, like the curse, has a
force that does what the words express. For example, "blessing"
is a force that is transmitted to someone through the imposition
of hands (cf.Genesis 48:14.17) or pronouncing a word over
someone (cf. Genesis 27:27-29; 49:1-28). Once received through
blessing, the force cannot be taken away from a man (cf. Genesis
27:33.35; Numbers 22:6). Even when God is not explicitly
mentioned, it is always understood that the force of the
blessing comes from him. In addition to blessing on the Chosen
People and on individuals, the Old Testament mentions a divine
blessing also on objects (cf. Exodus 23:25; Deuteronomy 7:13;
28:4-5; Jeremiah 31:23; Proverbs 3:33), even if a corresponding
liturgical rite is not presented.
Among the different personages who bless in the Old Testament
are also the priests that bless the persons who go to the Temple
(cf. 1 Samuel 2:20), the pilgrims (cf. Psalm 118:26) in addition
to the gathered people (cf. Leviticus 9:22). What is more, it is
said that, strictly speaking, JHWH has designated only the
priests and Levites to bless in his name (cf. Deuteronomy 21:5;
In the Temple of Jerusalem in Jesus' time, the priest, in
carrying out the morning liturgy, pronounced "Aaron's blessing,"
namely, the already quoted Numbers 6:23-26. The New Testament
makes its own the uses and conceptions of the Old Testament and
the Jewish blessing. The Letter to the Hebrews recalls
Melchizedek's blessing to Abraham and Isaac's to Jacob (cf.
Hebrews 7:1; 11:20). According to St. Paul, the divine blessing
to Abraham also reaches those who are not of his descent
carnally: But faith is necessary (cf. Galatians 3:8-09).
Another annotation in Hebrews is also interesting that,
beginning with Melchizedek's blessing, observes that "[i]t is
beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior"
(Hebrews 7:7): Therefore, the one who blesses has been
constituted by God in a superior position vis-à-vis the one
being blessed (xi). Jesus himself blessed the children through
the imposition of hands (cf. Mark 10:16) and the disciples (cf.
Luke 24:50). Rereading the life of Jesus after the Resurrection,
Saint Peter would say that God sent his Son to bless us (cf.
Acts 3:26) and St. Paul specified that it is an "eulogia
a spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). The Christian is called to
imitate Christ and to bless always: "bless those who curse you"
(Luke 6:28; cf. Romans 12:14).
2.2 From these biblical elements stems the Christian
liturgical use of blessing, which has the meaning of "asking God
for his gifts on his creatures, and of thanking him for the
gifts already received."  Prosper Guéranger held that the
blessing must go back in some way to the liturgical institutions
dictated by the Apostles themselves. At the ritual level,
this is carried out with the imposition of hands on persons or
also on assemblies, extending the arms and directing the palms
of the hands to those present. The Christian sign of blessing
par excellence is, however, the sign of the cross, and because
of it, in fact, the Roman Rite has the Eucharist begin and end
with this sign. "'You will be a blessing," God said to Abraham
at the beginning of the history of salvation (Genesis 12:2). In
Christ, son of Abraham, this word is fully realized. He is
blessing for the whole of creation and for all men. The cross,
which is his sign in heaven and on earth, should become,
therefore, Christians' true gesture of blessing."
At the end of the Mass, the blessing can be carried out in
different ways: as a simple blessing, as a triple solemn
blessing, or as a prayer of blessing on the people.
The celebrant priest must have present the role of the
mediator that he carries out also on imparting the final
blessing of the Mass, which not only is a due act, or a way as
any other to conclude the celebration. In the final blessing (as
in every Mass) two dynamics intersect: One from below, by which
man thanks God, "speaks well" of God for the gifts already
received, and another from on High, by which God himself sheds
his goods on the faithful. The priest is precisely at the center
of this flow of prayer and grace.
2.3 From the theological nature of the conclusive blessing
derives also the very character of the greeting. Here, also, it
is not simply a greeting of courtesy to those present, but an
explanation of a mystery of grace. Benedict XVI reminds us that
in the greeting "Ite, missa est": "We are not allowed to
understand the relation between the celebrated Mass and the
Christian mission in the world. In ancient times 'missa' simply
meant 'dismissal.' Still, it has found in Christian use an ever
more profound meaning. In reality, the expression 'dismissal' is
transformed into 'mission.' This greeting expresses in summary
the missionary nature of the Church. Hence, it is good to help
the People of God to deepen this constitutive dimension of
ecclesial life, beginning from the liturgy."
The greeting by the priest constitutes, therefore, a last
admonition to live what has been celebrated. It is about
protecting the grace received in the sacrament, so that it will
bear fruits in the Christian life of every day. Because of this,
related with the theme of the greeting is also the great theme
of the relation between liturgy and ethics, understanding the
latter in the widest possible sense (moral life in charity,
witness, proclamation, mission, martyrdom). The fact that the
greeting is not alone, but is united to and stems from the
blessing, tells us that we are not alone in this commitment: the
Lord accompanies us and "works with us" (cf. Mark 16:20) and
because of this our life can be the "logical worship" agreeable
to God (cf. Romans 12:1-2; 1 Peter 2:5). "The greeting,
presidential act, declares the assembly dissolved. Just as it
gathers by divine convocation (Romans 8:30), so the president,
who acts in persona Christi, sends the faithful to the daily
actions of life, to carry them out in a new way, transforming
them into matter of salvation; because of this, the assembly
responds: 'Let us give thanks to God.'"
In a pamphlet in which he meditates on the meaning of the
Holy Mass in the rite of St. Pius V, Catholic historian Henri
Daniel-Rops summarizes the meaning of the final blessing and the
greeting thus: "Precisely when the Mass is about to end, and we
go to take up the work of every day between toil and dangers,
the Church reminds us that we must live under God's hand and
that under his hand we will be guided and protected. In this way
the whole essence of the Mass will be, in a certain sense,
incorporated with our being and continued in our life of each
"The 'Ite, Missa est,' of the formula of dismissal, can be
explained as a solemn announcement of the conclusion of the
function, but it also warns us that our personal service to God
has only just begun. With the 'Placeat' [...] we are led to
contemplate the omnipotence of God One and Triune, in whose name
is invoked on us the final blessing. With a most beautiful
liturgical gesture, the celebrant raises his hands on high
almost as to obtain from heaven the grace that will accompany us
to protect and guide us."
On the Orthodox side, it is echoed by hieromonk Gregory of
Mount Athos, who in a book in which he comments the divine
liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, he interprets the greeting thus:
"The divine liturgy is a journey. A journey whose objective,
whose end is the encounter with God, man's union with him. This
goal has already been reached. We have arrived at the end of our
journey. We have seen the true light. We have seen the Lord
transfigured on Tabor. We have approached his holy body and his
"And, while we dare to stammer to our illustrious visitor:
'It is well to be here' (Matthew 17:4), Mother Church reminds us
that the end of our liturgical journey must become the start of
our journey of witness: Let us go in peace! We must leave the
Mount of the Transfiguration to return to the world and follow
the way of martyrdom in our life. This way becomes the
believer's witness with regard to the Way and Life that he
receives in himself. In the Divine Liturgy we have received
Christ in ourselves. Now we are called to take him to the world.
To become the witnesses of his life in the world: the witnesses
of the new life. [...] After having approached the Eucharist we
must go out into the world as 'cristoforos' (Christ-bearers) and
'pneumatoforos' (Spirit bearers). Then we must struggle so that
the light received is not extinguished."
3. Conclusions and Perspectives
3.1 In the Rites of Conclusion of the Holy Mass the priest is
still carrying out a priestly task, namely, of mediation between
God and the faithful people. It is not only a question of
greeting one another and agreeing to meet the next time,
remembering the commitment perhaps during the week. The priest
here invokes on the people the divine blessing, while in the
name of the people he thanks God for the gifts already received
by his kindness. Here also he acts "in persona Christi." Because
of this, he does not say in the plural "may the omnipotent God
bless us," or "the Mass is ended, let us go in peace." He speaks
in the name of the Person of Christ and as minister of the
Church, because of this he imparts the blessing, while invoking
it, and he sends the faithful to the daily mission of life: "may
God bless you" and "Go in peace." Through him, Christ and the
Church charge the baptized with giving this daily witness of the
3.2 The revision of the Rites of Conclusion carried out in
the Missal of Paul VI marks some elements of progress: a) The
different modalities of blessing express more completely the
message of Scripture and of the liturgical Tradition; b) The
suppression of the last Gospel does not represent a grave harm,
given the character of blessing that it had in the "Vetus Ordo";
c) The inversion of the greeting and the blessing manifests that
only with the grace of God can we be faithful to the Lord each
On these points, we must not lament the changes made. One
could reflect on the opportunity to reintroduce the "Placeat."
However, one must recognize the theological and celebratory
impoverishment due to the insertion, in the Novus Ordo, of the
notices to the faithful as proper part, officially normalized,
of the Rites of Conclusion. Although the most recent one
underlines that these notices must be brief and that they must
be given only if they are necessary, this does not take away
from the fact that an element has been introduced officially
that is foreign in itself to the liturgy, which later, in fact,
has often become a real central element of the Rites of
Conclusion of the Mass.
Therefore, while it is suggested to priests to reduce to the
minimum, what is more, in so far as possible that this practice
be eliminated all together, it must be hoped that in a future
reform of the IGMR the present concession will be removed. There
is not doubt that the practice of notices has preceded the
normative; however it does not seem appropriate to recognize de
iure what before was done de facto, in order not to favor so
much the custom, but rather the extension of its practice. It is
clear that a Christian community, above all the parish
community, needs forms of internal communication, but
particularly in our days these are not lacking, which is a
reason why it does not seem necessary to insert them into the
* * *
 We quote the The English translation of the General
Instruction of the Roman Missal (Third Typical Edition) 2002,
International Committee on English in the Liturgy.
 Some alternative formulas have been inserted In the last
edition of the Missal of ordinary form: "Ite, ad Evangelium
Domini annuntiandum"; "Ite in pace, glorificando vits vestra
Dominum"; "Ite in pace" (cf. Missale Romanum, Third Typical
Edition, 2008, No. 144, p. 605).
 In the Mass of the Lord's Supper and in every Mass
followed by a procession, the "Ite" is replaced by the formula "Benedicamus
Domino"; replaced in the Masses for the dead is the "Ite con
Requiescant in pace." Finally, as also in the ordinary form,
during the Easter Octave, to the ordinary formula "Ite, missa
est," as also to the response "Deo gratias," the Alleluia is
 May the gift of my service be pleasing to you, O Holy
Trinity: and know that the sacrifice that I
though unworthy in the eyes of your divine Majesty
have offered, be accepted by you; and, by your mercy, be
propitious for me and for all those for whom I have offered it.
Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
 One blesses also in this way in solemn Masses. In the
Masses in which the "Ite, missa est" is replaced with other
formulas (cf. supra, note 3), the blessing is not given. If
"Requiescant in pace" has been said, one passes directly from
the "Placeat" prayer to the reading of the last Gospel. If
"Benedicamus Domino" has been said, the last Gospel is also
 The last Gospel is omitted: a) in the Masses in which the
"Ite" is replaced by the "Benedicamus Domino"; b) in the third
Mass of Christmas; c) in the Palm Sunday Mass; d) in the Mass of
the Easter Vigil; e) in the Masses of the dead followed by the
absolution to the coffin, to the burial mound or to the funeral
cloth; f) in some Masses celebrated on the occasion of
consecrations or blessings. The Palm Sunday Mass omits the last
Gospel if the blessing of the branches and palms has been
carried out. Otherwise, the last Gospel is read, but John's
Gospel is replaced by Matthew 21:1-9.
 Cf. M. Kunzler, "La Liturgia della Chiesa," Jaca Book,
Milan, 2003, p. 347.
 Cf. also IGMR (2008), No. 166. The IFMR (1969-1970) and
the IGMR (1975) do not speak of the possibility of giving
notices in No. 57 (corresponding to No. 90 of the present Third
Typical Edition), but they speak of it in No. 123 (corresponding
to the present No. 166).
 For what follows, cf. H. Guillet, Benediction, in X.
Leon-Dufour (ed.), Vocabulaire de Theologie Biblique, Cerf,
Paris, 1962, col. 91-98; J. Scharbert, Benedizione, in J. Bauer
(ed.), Dizionario di Teologia Biblica, Morcelliana, Brescia,
2969, pp. 178-189.
 It can be recalled that in Qumran also the blessing had
an important function, for example at the moment of being
admitted in the community (cf. 1QS II, 1-4).
 It is obvious that this applies to the blessing that God
sheds on a man through another man, chosen and raised by God to
a superior condition. It is not applied to cases in which the
biblical man "blesses God," where the term "bless" is used in
the sense of "speaking well," praising, honoring, thanking, etc.
 R. Berger, "Kleines liturgisches Lexikon," Herder,
Freiburg im Br. 1987: Here in the Italian edition Liturgia,
Piemme, Casale Monferrato (AL) 19973, p. 25.
 "The Liturgy established by the Apostles must have
necessarily contained all that was essential to the celebration
of the Christian sacrifice, to the administration of the
Sacraments (whether from the point of view of the essential
forms, or from the rites required for the dignity of the
mysteries), to the exercise of the power of Sanctification and
of Blessing that the Church obtains from Christ through the
Apostles themselves ...": P. Guéranger, "Institutions
liturgiques," Societe Generale de Librairie Catholique, Paris,
18782, I, 38 (our translation).
 J. Ratzinger, "Introduzione allo spirito della liturgia,"
San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo (MI), 2001, p. 180.
 This triple opportunity is more clearly manifested in
the new Missal, although the "Vetus Ordo" already provided the
triple blessing for Pontifical Masses and, at least in Lent,
presented a prayer on the people introduced with the formula
"humiliate capita vestra Deo."
 Benedict XVI, "Sacramentum Caritatis," Feb. 22, 2007,
No. 51. A. Nocent in the past criticized the semantic sliding of
"missa" of "dismissal" to "mission" and because of this lamented
the bad translations in national language of the "Ite, missa est":
cf. his "Storia della celebrazione dell'Eucaristia," in S.
Marsili (ed.), Anamnesis, 3/2; "La Liturgia, eucaristia:
teologia e storia della celebrazione," Marietti, Casale
Monferrato (AL), 1983, pp. 190-190; 269-270.
 A. Sorrentino, "L'Eucaristia: Rito e Vita," Dottrinari,
Pellezzano (SA), 2008, p. 138.
 H. Daniel-Rops, "Questa e la Messa: Riflessioni e
meditazioni sulla Messa di san Pio V," Casa Mariana Editrice,
Frigento (AV), 2009, pp. 150-151.
 G. Chatziemmanouil, "La Divina Liturgia: Ecco, io sono
con voi ... sino alla fine del mondo" (A. Ranzolin, ed., LEV,
Vatican City, 2002, pp. 247-248).
[Translation by ZENIT]