This is the versicle
chanted in the Roman Rite by the deacon at the end of Mass, after the
Post-Communions. It is our formula of the old dismissal (apolysis)
still contained in all liturgies. It is undoubtedly one of the most
ancient Roman formulæ, as may be seen from its archaic and difficult
form. All the three oldest Roman Ordines contain it. "Ordo Rom. I"
says: "When the prayer [Post-Communion] is over, that one of the
deacons appointed by the archdeacon looks towards the pontiff to
receive a sign from him and then says to the people: Ite missa est.
They answer: Deo gratias (ed. Atchley, London, 1905, p. 144. See also
"Ordo Rom. II", 15; "Ordo Rom. III", 18). The medieval commentators
were much exercised to explain the meaning of the strange expression.
Durandus (Rationale, IV, 57) suggests several interpretations. It has
been thought that a word is omitted: Ite, missa est finita; or est is
taken absolutely, as meaning "exists", is now an accomplished fact".
The real explanation seems to lie rather in interpreting correctly the
word missa. Before it became the technical name of the holy Liturgy in
the Roman Rite, it meant simply "dismissal". The form missa for missio
is like that of collecta (for collectio), ascensa (ascensio), etc. So
Ite missa est should be translated "Go it is the dismissal." (See
Florus the Deacon, "De expositione Missæ", P.L., CIX, 72.) On certain
days which have the character of fasting or penance, this versicle is
replaced by the words Benedicamus Domino. The fact is noticed by
medieval liturgists (e.g., Durandus, IV, 57 -- cf. "Micrologus", xxxiv;
etc.) since about the eleventh century. The three Roman Ordines before
the tenth century know only the form Ite missa est. The explanation is
that originally the people were not dismissed on such days, but stayed
in church for further prayers after Mass, suitable to fasting days (so
Bona, "Rerum liturg. libri duo", II, xx, n.3). This is confirmed by a
now extinct medieval custom of singing Benedicamus Domino at the end of
midnight Mass at Christmas, because Lauds follow at once (Durandus, op.
cit., IV, 57, §7). So the idea obtained that Ite missa est implies a
festal Mass. Our present rule that it follows the Gloria in Excelsis
(and therefore the Te Deum in the Office) is noted in "Micrologus"
(xlvi). Either versicle was always answered by the obvious response Deo
gratias, implying thanks that the Sacrifice has been offered -- is now
complete. At Requiems (since they have no Gloria) Ite missa est is not
said. In this case the versicle is Requiescant in pace. The response is
Amen. John Beleth (twelfth century) says that this arose "only from a
general custom" ("Rat. div. offic." in P.L., CCII, 49). Till about the
twelfth century the Ite missa est really ended the liturgy, as its form
implies. In the First Roman Ordo, immediately after it the text
continues: "Then the seven candlesticks are carried before the pontiff
. . . to the sacristy" (ed. Atchley, p. 146). It was not till the
sixteenth century (Missal of Pius V) that the accretions to the Mass
that had gradually been introduced (Placeat, blessing, last Gospel --
all originally private prayers) were definitely recognised as part of
the liturgy to be said at the altar.
dismissals in the other Western rites are: at Milan, V. "Procedamus in
pace." R. "In nomine Christi"; Mozarabic, "Solemnia completa sunt in
nomine D. N. I. C: votum nostrum sit acceptum cum pace." R. "Deo
gratias" ("Missale Mixtum", P. L., LXXXV, 120). Of the Eastern rites
that of the "Apostolic Constitutions" dismisses the people with the
form: "Go in peace" (Brightman, "Eastern Liturgies", p. 27). The
Antiochene and Byzantine Liturgies end with the deacon's announcement:
"Let us go forth in peace." R. "In the name of the Lord"; and then a
short "prayer of dismissal" said by the celebrant (op. cit., 67, 397);
so also the Alexandrine Rite (ibid., 142): while the Nestorians have
only a prayer and blessing by the celebrant (ibid., 303).
At high Mass, as soon as
the last Post-Communion is ended, the celebrant and ministers go to the
middle of the altar and stand in line. The celebrant turning to the
people sings Dominus vobiscum (the usual introduction to any
announcement), and remains facing them. When the choir has answered,
the deacon turns round and, with hands joined, sings Ite missa est to
its proper tone, the choir answering Deo gratias to the same notes. In
the former Missal ten melodies were provided for various solemnities.
The idea is to sing this last versicle to the tone of the first Kyrie
eleison, so that Mass ends with the same chant as that with which it
began. To carry this out more completely the new Vatican Missal
provides nineteen tones, most of them very elaborate (for Ite missa est
and Benedicamus Domino), corresponding to the various masses in the
Kyriale". The tone of the first Kyrie should always be used. In figured
masses the Ite missa est should be sung to the tone of the plain-song
mass provided for the occasion. From Holy Saturday till White Saturday
(Sabbatum in albis), inclusively, two Alleluias are added to both
versicle and response; in this case they have a special melody (the
first in the Missal), which does not correspond to the Kyrie. At Masses
that have no Gloria in excelsis (therefore in the Office de tempore of
Advent and Lent, vigils, and ember-days, except Maundy Thursday and
Holy Saturday; at Votive Masses, except those of the B.V.M. when
celebrated on Saturday, Votive Masses of Angels, and, for a grave
cause, when violet vestments are not used in the Mass -- "Rubr. Gen."
of the Missal, viii, 4) the celebrant turns back to the altar after the
Dominus vobiscum, and the deacon, facing the altar, sings, Benedicamus
Domino, to the same tone (of the Kyrie); the answer is the same, Deo
gratias. At all Requiems in the same manner he sings, to the tone
provided in the Missal. Requiescant in pace (in the plural, even when
Mass is said for one person -- S. R. C., 22 Jan., 1678). R. Amen. As
soon as the deacon has finished his versicle the celebrant turns back
to the altar and waits; the deacon and subdeacon kneel on the
suppedaneum. When the answer of the choir is finished the celebrant
says the prayer Placeat and then gives the blessing. The celebrant
himself says Benedicamus Domino or Requiescant in pace in a low voice
while the deacon sings, because these are prayers. He does not say Ite
missa est, because this is an announcement to the people. At a sung
Mass the celebrant sings the deacon's part, at a low Mass he says it.
Otherwise there is no change.
Written by Adrian Fortescue. Transcribed by Tony de Melo.
The Catholic Encyclopedia,
Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil
Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John
Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
BERNOLD OF CONSTANCE in the
"Micrologus" in "P.L"., CLI, 973-1022, xlvi; JOHN BELETH, "Rationale
divinorum officiorum" in "P.L"., CII, 14-166, xlix; DURANDUS,
"Rationale", IV, 57, and all the medieval commentators: BONA, "Rerum
liturgicarum libri duo," xx; BENEDICT XIV, "De S. Missæ Sacrificio",
II, xxiv; GIHR, "Das heilige Messopfer" (Freiburg im Br., 1897),
714-17; DE HERDT, "Sacræ Liturgiæ praxis "(Louvain, 1894), I, 481-83.