Ite, missa est are the concluding words addressed to the people in the Mass of the Roman Rite. The exact meaning of the words is disputed, it has the effect of "Go", or "It is Sent", but the term "Mass" (in Latin, missa) derives from this phrase. Until the reforms of 1962, at Masses without the Gloria, Benedicamus Domino was said instead. The response of the people (or, in the Tridentine Mass, of the servers at Low Mass, the choir at Solemn Mass) is "Deo gratias" (Thanks be to God).
One theory of the meaning is that the words are Latin for "Go, it is sent." This theory interprets missa to be the feminine form of the perfect passive participle of mitto, mittere, which is the verb "send" in English. The "it" possibly refers to the distribution of Communion. Supporting this theory is that the Latin words for "host," "offering" and "Eucharist" are all feminine nouns.
Another theory is that missa is not used here as the feminine past participle of mitto, mittere, but is instead a noun:
It is a substantive of a late form for missio. There are many parallels in medieval Latin, collecta, ingressa, confessa, accessa, ascensa—all for forms in -io. It does not mean an offering (mittere, in the sense of handing over to God), but the dismissal of the people, as in the versicle: "Ite missa est" (Go, the dismissal is made).
After the twelfth century, accretions began to be added after the "Ite, missa est", changing it from a dismissal to a mere formula without relation to actuality. But only in the sixteenth century (Missal of Pope Pius V) were these accretions officially accepted as part of the Mass.
In this Pope's revision of the Roman Missal, the "Ite, missa est" was followed by a silent private prayer by the priest, then by the blessing and finally by the reading of what was called the Last Gospel (usually , but since, until the reform of Pope Pius X, saints' feasts came to supplant most Sunday Masses, the Last Gospel on such Sundays was that of the Sunday Mass).
With the reform of Pope Paul VI "Ite, missa est" returned to its function as a dismissal formula. It is omitted if another function follows immediately and the people are therefore not dismissed.
Ite missa est, not being variable like the Scripture readings and the collect, is part of the Ordinary of the Mass and has always been printed in that part of the Roman Missal. Being sung by an individual (ideally the deacon), not by a choir, it obviously cannot be part of a polyphonic musical setting of the Mass. Only the "Deo gratias" response could be set polyphonically and, because of its brevity, it rarely was, except in some early settings such as Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame.
The dismissal formulas in other liturgical rites are:
- Ambrosian Rite: "Procedamus in pace" (Let us go in peace). Response: "In nomine Christi" (In the name of Christ).
- Mozarabic Rite: "Solemnia completa sunt in nomine D. N. I. C: votum nostrum sit acceptum cum pace" (The celebration is completed in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ; may our prayer be accepted with peace). Response: "Deo gratias" (Thanks be to God).
- Apostolic Constitutions: "Go in peace."
- Antiochene, Alexandrian and Byzantine liturgies: "Let us go forth in peace" (said by the deacon). Response: "In the name of the Lord." Then the priest says a short "prayer of dismissal".
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