Thursday, May 10, 2012

Imitating Jesus

(This post is the fruit of a brief Twitter conversation I had yesterday with Rev. Bosco Peters of, who has blogged about it as well.)

Sometime around March of 2010, I spoke with a group of students at Princeton University's Aquinas Institute (their Catholic chaplaincy) about the Mass and the coming new translation of the Roman Missal.  My overall theme was about how our participation in the liturgy should direct our actions outside the liturgy.  I explained how during the Mass there are moments of reception:  during the Penitential Act, we receive God's mercy; during the liturgy of the Word, we receive God's Word; during the Rite of Peace, we receive God's peace; during the Communion Rite, we receive God's very Self in the Eucharist; and in the Concluding Rites, we receive God's blessing.  These five gifts (graces) — God's mercy, word, peace, self, and blessing — are just what we need to get on with the rest of our day (and week).  We receive these graces not for ourselves only, but also for others, for everyone we come in contact with, either in person or in prayer.

The Concluding Rites of the Mass present liturgically Christ's sending His disciples out into the world shortly before His Ascension.  We receive a blessing and are sent forth, uniting the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 with the Great Blessing of Luke 24:50-51.  The link between the dismissal and the Great Commission may not be immediately evident, despite their etymological link: dismissal, commission, both from the Latin mittere (to send), missio (mission, sending).  But I expect that for most Christians, etymology is the last thing on their minds during their liturgical worship... especially at the very end of the liturgy!  So it falls to liturgical catechists (as I imagine myself to be) to point these things out.

So what does this have to do with "imitating Jesus", as I've titled this blog post?  Well, to make my point at this same meeting with Princeton students, I asked "Why are we dismissed from the Mass?"  That is, to what end are we sent forth from the church?  It's not so that we can get home in time to watch the football game.  It's not because we've worn out our welcome in God's house.  It's not because the Mass has been dragging on too long... although hearing "The Mass is ended" may elicit more genuine "Thanks be to God!"s than we think.  But no, we are dismissed from the liturgy for a particular reason, which the third edition of the Roman Missal attempts to make clear in its new formulae for dismissal.  As Pope Benedict pointed out in Sacramentum Caritatis, the dismissal of the liturgy is a missionary sending-forth.  But to what end?

The end is to imitate Jesus.  I came to this conclusion when I noticed a pattern of speech in the Gospel of John.  In the Gospels, Jesus often makes remarks about "as that..., so this..."  Examples from Matthew and Luke are the signs of Jonah (Mt 12:40; Lk 11:30), of lightning (Mt 24:27; Lk 17:24), and of Noah (Mt 24:37; Lk 17:26).  This pattern of speech is particularly pronounce in John's Gospel, where the comparisons are less about events than they are about persons.  On five occasions, Christ spoke about how, just as the Father does something, so too the Son does it:
  • For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
    so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (Jn 5:21)
  • For as the Father has life in himself,
    so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (Jn 5:26)
  • As the Father has loved me,
    so have I loved you; abide in my love. (Jn 15:9)
  • As thou didst send me into the world,
    so I have sent them into the world. (Jn 17:18)
  • As the Father has sent me,
    even so I send you. (Jn 20:21)
This is simply the principle of John 5:19 put into action: "The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise."  As the Father gives life to the dead, so too does the Son; as the Father has life in Himself, so too does the Son; as the Father loves the Son, so too does the Son love us; and as the Father sends the Son, so too does the Son send... us.

That last one is the key:  Jesus sent His disciples into the world just as the Father sent Jesus into the world.  Jesus is not speaking simply of the similarity between two people who send others out; Jesus is saying that as the Father sent Him, so He sends His disciples.  The purpose, the reason, the mission (missio, sending) is the same; from paragraph 858 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Jesus is the Father's Emissary. From the beginning of his ministry, he "called to him those whom he desired; . ... And he appointed twelve, whom also he named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach." From then on, they would also be his "emissaries" (Greek apostoloi). In them, Christ continues his own mission: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." The apostles' ministry is the continuation of his mission; Jesus said to the Twelve: "he who receives you receives me."
Our imitation of Christ requires knowledge of why the Father sent the Son.  John's Gospel is the Gospel of Siloam, "the sent" (Jn 9:7), and a whole Bible study could be centered upon the theology of "sending" in John's Gospel.  The first answer John's Gospel gives to the question of why the Father sent the Son is "that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3:17), so that as the serpent in the desert was lifted up, so too the Son will be lifted up, to draw all to Himself. (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32)  While we cannot claim to be Christ, the Savior of the world, we are anointed ("christed") to share in Christ's threefold mission as priest, prophet, and king, and so our mission is the same as His: if not to bring salvation to the world, then to bring the world to its salvation, to its Savior.

There is another set of verses in John's Gospel with the "as-so" pattern, but instead of "as the Father... so the Son," these verses are "as the Father (or: as I)... so you."
  • As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father,
    so he who eats me will live because of me. (Jn 6:57)
  • Even as I have loved you,
    that you also love one another. (Jn 13:34)
  • Even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee,
    that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (Jn 17:21)
These verses teach us how to imitate Christ:
  • as He lives because of the One Who sent Him,
    so we are to live by the One Who sends us;
  • as the Father loves Him, and as He loves us,
    so we are to love one another;
  • and as the Father and the Son are in each other,
    so we are to be in God (and God in us!).
This is why we are dismissed from the liturgy: to live by the One Who sends us, to love one another (even those not yet within the fold) as He loves us, and to participate in His divine life as He Himself lives it.  And this is all so that the world may believe that the Father sent His Son, and thus believe in the Son, who came for the salvation of the world.  And in this way, we are carrying out the same mission as Christ; in this way, we are sent that the world may be saved.

This is imitating Jesus.  This, not to take anything away from Thomas à Kempis, is imitation of Christ.


liturgy said...


The word "Mass" comes from the same root as the words you list.

The Eucharist ends with "ite missa est" - Go it is the dismissal; you have been dismissed.

What we call the Eucharist (Communion, Mass, Liturgy,...) stresses one dimension of this services. Calling it "Mass" stresses the missional dimension you mention.

I have been writing a blog post after our conversation on twitter about this.

Christ is risen!


Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Thanks for commenting, Bosco.

Yeah, once I learned that "Mass" comes from "missa", I found it interesting that this title for the liturgy comes from the name of the last part, and one of the last words.

I've read hypotheses that the "missa" actually refers to the Eucharist -- "Ite, missa est" would mean "Go, it [the Eucharist] is sent [to God]", that is, the people are allowed to leave now that the sacrifice has been completed. But I think it's more likely that it's a real dismissal (sending on mission) of the people, not just an announcement of the end of the liturgy.

Moonshadow said...

It may change nothing of what you've said here to recall the old name for the liturgy of the word as "mass of the catechumens." Catechumens were "dismissed" after the Gospel reading and, not being full participants, it's uncertain how "missional" their dismissal would have been. In fact, don't they often head downstairs for more instruction? :)