The Southeast Alaska Catholic
At the end of every Mass the deacon (or in his absence, the priest) dismisses the faithful and sends them out into the world to put into practice the gospel of Christ. In our liturgical tradition it is the deacon, ordained for the ministry of charity for the poor and those in need, who sends forth the People of God to live out their baptism.
To highlight this missionary and ministerial dimension of the dismissal at the end of Mass, Pope Benedict himself added three new dismissal formulas to the Order of Mass: “Go forth, the Mass is ended;” “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” and “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” We will encounter them for the first time on November 27th when we begin using the new English translation of the Roman missal.
Along with everybody else, I’ll be using a card with the words and the chant tones for a while until I learn them. As I’ve reflected on these new dismissals this third dismissal in particular seems to me to be particularly suited for the month of November. During this month our Catholic tradition calls on us to pray for the dead and contemplate our own end. In yet another instance of grace building on nature, here in the northern hemisphere it is impossible to ignore that the days are getting darker and darker each day as autumn moves inexorably into winter. It’s as though nature itself invites us to reflect on the fact of our mortality and to acknowledge that our time here on earth is brief and limited.
In the same way, as the Church’s year of grace winds to an end and we approach the beginning of Advent at the end of November, we are invited to ponder the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. During each of the Sundays of November, the readings from sacred scripture draw our attention to four uncomfortable and challenging truths about our lives: we are all going to die; we will all have to account before God for our actions and choices; those who love God and love their neighbor will enter into eternal life, or heaven, with him while those who love only themselves and hate God and their neighbor will remain outside, or hell.
This year, on the solemnity of Christ the King, we will hear proclaimed the account of the Last Judgment in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus teaches us that when the Son of Man returns in glory he will welcome into his Kingdom those who ministered to him in the person of the least of his brothers and sisters saying: when I was hungry you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was a stranger you welcomed me, when I was sick and imprisoned you visited me.
That gospel speaks of Jesus’ return at the end of time, at the Parousia when “all will be one in Christ” and of the final judgment of all the nations, on a day and an hour known to no one but the Father. Similarly, each one of us will face our own particular judgment, also at a time and an hour that none of us can know in advance, when our lives end.
As I reflect on my own end, the words of the dismissal from Mass come to mind: “Go in peace and glorify the Lord by your life.” These words apply in the present moment, of course, challenging me to put the gospel into practice in my daily life. Yet it also anticipates that day sometime in the future when Christ will dismiss me from this life and require me to account for my deeds. Have I truly glorified the Lord by my life will be the question that will be asked of me.
For me, this present and future dismissal is the urgent spiritual question posed during the month of November. How have I glorified God or failed to glorify God in my thoughts, words and deeds? At this moment in my life am I glorifying God by praising, thanking, adoring, and petitioning him in personal prayer; by my full, conscious and active participation in the Mass; by seeking forgiveness, healing and conversion in the sacrament of reconciliation? Do I glorify God by learning more about my faith through regular study and reflection on sacred scripture, the writings of the saints and theology? Do I glorify God by living the beatitudes, and by practicing on a daily basis the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?
In the context of this month during which we as the Church reflect together on the four last things, does the conduct of my life, my choices and actions at this very minute and over a lifetime, serve to glorify God?
Whatever our age, none of us knows how long our lives will be. However, we do know that the day will come when the Lord will say: “Go in peace,” dismissing us from this life, and sending us forth into the next. I’m grateful that during this month of November our Catholic tradition encourages us to face our own mortality in a culture that largely shies away from death.
At the end of my life as I lay dying, my prayer is that Christ will dismiss me from this life and say to me: “Go in peace, for you have glorified me by your life.” As we prepare for the Lord’s coming may each of us seek to glorify the Lord by our lives.