Here is the last of the series of sermons on the Mass - preached by Fr Joseph Welch on Sunday 20th November, the feast of Christ the King.
"Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
And so we come to the last in our series of twelve sermons on the Mass, and indeed to the last part of the Mass: the blessing and the dismissal.
The Mass, of course, begins with the Sign of the Cross, a gesture we make so often that we become, perhaps, somewhat blasé about it, making the sign hurriedly without thought or devotion, forgetting that the Sign of the Cross is not merely a perfunctory gesture to introduce and conclude other prayers; it is a prayer in itself and a very profound one at that.
Firstly, when we make the Sign of the Cross, we are acknowledging that we believe that there is but One God, yet three Persons in this One God; three Persons who share the same divine nature, and between whom there is no essential difference, only the distinction of their relationship one to another. It was in the name of this One God, these three Persons, that we were baptized. By being baptized we came to share the very life of that One God; and that share of God's life, given to us in the form of sanctifying grace, is the fundamental principle, the very basis and the moving force, of our entire life as Christians. God's grace was infused into our souls, and at the same time we entered into His life.
Secondly, when we make the Sign of the Cross, we are acknowledging the Cross on which the second Person of that Trinity died. Our Lord offered Himself to the Father, on our behalf, and within the bond of the love of the Holy Spirit. The Cross is the deepest and most admirable expression of what Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, has done for us. It is the very means by which our sins are forgiven, by which we are redeemed from the consequences of those sins, and by which we are saved from the grasp of the devil whose disorder and deceit is conquered, and whose power, in the shape of death, is overcome. With the Cross a new order was established, the Kingdom of God, and with it the universal kingship of Christ, a kingdom for the coming of which we pray every time we say the Our Father. Because God created the world in which we live, He and He alone has the right to hold sway over the nations; His laws, and His alone, may rightfully govern the societies in which we live. Any law passed by man that contradicts the Law of the Creator is offensive to God and serves to interrupt the coming of God's Kingdom here on earth.
Thirdly, each time we trace the Sign of the Cross on ourselves, we place ourselves very firmly under the Cross by which divine order was restored; we acknowledge God’s right to govern our lives; and we submit with a humble and generous heart to His will, asking Him to order our lives for the sake of the salvation of our souls as well as for the building up of His kingdom of peace here on earth. And when we make the Sign of the Cross together within our families at home, or when we have our homes blessed, we are placing our families under the protection of that same Cross, and asking Our Lord to guide our every thought, word, and deed.
But the Sign of the Cross within the Church's liturgy does more than this. The two Signs of the Cross, at the beginning and at the end of the Mass, encompass within their embrace the whole sacrificial action which they signify. Lifting our minds and hearts to God at the start of the Mass, the Sign of the Cross serves to help us meditate on the beloved Trinity from whom all life comes; and the blessing at the end of Mass summarizes the fullness of Our Lord's sacrifice of love, the shedding of His blood in expiation and propitiation for our sins. During the Mass, God pours grace upon grace into the hearts of those present and of those for whom the Mass is being offered. With the final blessing, those graces are sealed within our hearts, as it were, by the Sign of the Cross, the Cross from which those graces flow, and we are blessed "in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph 1:3).
The word blessing comes from the Latin word benedicere, to speak well or to speak good things. When we speak good things to someone we might be simply wishing them well; but because "the Word of God is living and active" (Heb 4:12) then any word spoken by God actually brings about what that word signifies. So when we receive God's blessing from the hands of a priest, all the goodness of the heavenly places are truly heaped upon us, and we are made sharers in the spiritual blessings of the Mass, sharers in the blessings of Christ's great act of redeeming love.
Then comes the dismissal: in Latin, Ite, missa est. "Go, this is the dismissal." In English, to be dismissed sounds rather as though we are being disposed of somewhat summarily. But, of course, the word comes from the Latin, mitto, "I send". Having received grace upon grace, and having had blessings heaped upon us, Our Lord sends us forth, just as He did His first disciples, to bear those graces and blessings out into the whole world in order to help with His divine mission of converting the world, of bringing sinners to repentance, and of establishing His universal kingship here on earth and in the hearts of every man, woman, and child, so that both heaven and earth may be governed by His law of love, so that the will of God may be done on earth as it is in heaven.