Ite, missa est are the concluding Latin words addressed to the people in the Mass of the Roman Rite, as well as the Lutheran Divine Service. 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”). from Wikipedia
Although I did not grow up Catholic, I have attended many Catholic masses over the years–enough to know that while similar to a Protestant Service, there are some differences–like taking communion and how the Lord’s Prayer is said.
When we were in school and attended mass with some friends, the mass was ended when the priest said, “Mass is Ended. Thanks be to God”. Needless to say, the more irreverent stressed the last part of the response.
On Ash Wednesday, a friend and I decided to attend the mass at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Crozet. It is a lovely modern chapel on the second floor of the new brick wing with a commanding view of the valley below and the surrounding mountains. The monastery houses about a dozen sisters and their resident chaplain. The nuns (part of the Trappist monks) make and sell 2-pound rounds of lovely Gouda cheese to support themselves.
In the chapel, the priest faces the sisters who each has her own desk and chair. The desks are coupled, with five pairs on each side of a center aisle. The public is allowed to attend at least one mass a day and sit in pews to the priest’s left as he faces the nuns.
Like the chapel, the mass is simple. The mass is sung in English and the sisters sing the responses with one sister who has a voice like an angel singing some parts solo. No one was miked so at times it was hard to hear what was being said.
On Ash Wednesday some dozen middle-aged people sat scattered across the twenty or so pews. There were several vacant pews and no pew held more than three people. Judging from the uncertainty of the responses, probably most of us were not Catholics.
When it was time for the priest to rub ashes on our foreheads, the nuns went first. They proceeded up to the railing in their stocking feet. As the priest intoned “Ashes to Ashes”, his thumb traced the sign of the cross on the forehead of each sister.
When it was the laities’ turn to receive the ashes, he faced and spoke to us for the first time. He repeated the same story about how ashes are a sign of physical death, as in ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ We begin as dust (a joyless and lifeless existence), and our bodies will return to dust until we are raised up by Christ. By receiving ashes and keeping them on, we publicly proclaim our intent to die to our worldly desires and live even more in Christ’s image.
He did not speak directly to us again until it was our turn to receive Communion. The sisters received the holy wafer and the wine. Those civilians who took Communion only received the wafer. I’m not sure why no wine was offered.
Shortly after Communion, the priest and the sisters (with some feeble assistance from the civilian Catholics in the back pew), finished singing the Mass. Someone turned the lights out in the sanctuary and the priest exited to a side room. Those of us in the alcove sat in our pews for a few long seconds, wondering what to do next. Finally, someone realized the mass was over and we quietly straggled out of the sanctuary.