The first time I observed Mass as a non-Catholic, I heard an astonishing exchange. As the service wrapped up, the priest gave a blessing and then proclaimed: “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” Everyone responded with a resounding: “Thanks be to God.” I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought the priest was merely dismissing everyone, and the participants were thankful that their obligatory hour had ended.
Years have passed since that day, and after studying the Faith and becoming Catholic, I now understand the real meaning of the final words at Mass. But how does this relate to the familiar image in the Gospel today of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to go in search of the one who is lost? (See Matthew 18:12-14.)
As I contemplate this Shepherd’s heart, I am filled with awe, gratitude, and relief that I, too, was once very lost but Jesus never gave up on me. He pursued me ardently, and the Father rejoiced to welcome me home. Now I am one of the ninety-nine—a safe, comfortable sheep following the Shepherd, nourished within the sheepfold of the Church.
Basking in the glory of this reality is good, recounting God’s merciful love is important, and being strengthened and sustained in the Sacraments is essential. But as a sheep who is well loved and cared for, I must GO out, with the heart of my Shepherd, and seek the lost.
The words of another option for the final dismissal at Mass echo in my head: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” God sends His sheep who have been gathered together and fed out on a mission.
This means not only striving for personal holiness, but also intentionally and tirelessly searching for those who have strayed and are far from the flock.
Lord, I don’t just want to be safe and comfortable. Today, show me “the one” and I will join Your rescue mission to seek and save the lost.
Do you already know the Blessed is She mission statement?
Debra Herbeck, a Jewish convert to the Church, has worked extensively in youth and women’s ministry. She has directed Pine Hills Girls Camp for the past 32 years, is the founder and Director of the Be Love Revolution, and also helps lead a ministry called i.d.916. She has written a number of books that can be found here. Debra and her husband Peter live in Ann Arbor, Michigan and are the parents of four children and five adorable grandchildren. She is a contributing author to our Works of Mercy Study: Misericordia.