There are two dismissals in the Sunday liturgy. The one Catholics are most familiar with is the second one, the dismissal of the faithful at the end of Mass. The other is becoming better known. That is the dismissal of the catechumens at the end of the Liturgy of the word. Both dismissals are sometimes misunderstood.
It is a common misperception that the dismissal of the faithful at the end of Mass is a type of “goodbye.” The Mass is over. Go now. We’ll see you next week. Most RCIA team members, however, know that the final dismissal is more of a beginning than an ending. In a sense, the whole liturgy builds up to the moment of the dismissal. What we do at Mass prepares us to be dismissed as missionaries or apostles to the world.
The sacrificial nature of life and worship
Likewise, the first dismissal is not always understood clearly. If many Catholics think of the dismissal of the faithful as a type of “goodbye,” they are likely to think of the dismissal of the catechumens in a similar way. It is not uncommon to hear people ask why they catechumens are leaving if Mass is not over. We hear language like “kicking them out” and “making them leave.”
In fact, the catechumens are being dismissed after the Liturgy of the word to prepare them for the time when they can be dismissed to do the work of the faithful – the baptized priesthood.
Our vocation as members of the baptized priesthood is to be apostles – bearers of the good news – to the world. In order to be able to participate fully in the vocation of baptized priesthood, the catechumens have to hear the good news so deeply that it changes them.
So when they are dismissed, they are continuing rather than ending their worship. They go out after the liturgy of the word to reflect more deeply on what they have just experienced. It is an extension of their liturgical moment of encounter. Their reflection is a mystagogical immersion into the mystery of Christ made present in the word. It is not catechesis nor an end to their participation in the liturgy. It is a liturgical act that is ordered to their status as novices in the apostolic mission.
All of this is to ready the catechumens to join us at the eucharistic banquet. But they will not join us as guests. They will join us as priests – co-offerers of the sacrifice. So the preparation of the catechumens is a training in how to live and worship sacrificially.
Sent forth to love and serve
The key to understanding the dismissal of the catechumens is to more deeply understand the dismissal of the faithful. In a sense, the ultimate purpose of Mass is not only to offer sacrifice and not only to share in communion. It is also to be dismissed. We are dismissed not because the Mass is over but because our mission has begun. Just as the liturgy of the word prepares the catechumens for their dismissal, the liturgy of the eucharist prepares the rest of us for our dismissal.
Having become one with Christ in the eucharist, we are dismissed into the world to offer that same sacrifice. Our bodies, our blood, one in Christ’s Body and Blood, are broken and poured out for the sake of the world.
Our mission is, of course, to family and friends who have not heard or have not accepted the good news. It is also to coworkers, colleagues, and associates who likewise need to know the saving word of Christ. And we are also set to transform institutions – our governments, schools, economic systems, and corporations “attentive always to the common good in line with the principles of the moral and social teaching of the Church” (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 31b).
But most of all, we are sent to bring good news to those on the peripheries of society.
Since the works of charity and mercy express the most striking testimony of the Christian life, apostolic formation should lead also to the performance of these works so that the faithful may learn from childhood on to have compassion for their brethren and to be generous in helping those in need. (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 31c)
Ultimately, our preparation of the catechumens is to do exactly what the deacon exhorts when Mass has ended: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
How are you talking to the rest of your congregation about the importance of the dismissal? What has helped them better understand – and pray for – what your catechumens are doing? What reactions have you received from your catechumens as a result? Share your thoughts in the comments below.