Questions about grammar in the Mass

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: I get these questions and usually don’t have the answer. I have an idea for the second question, but no idea for the first question. 

Posed from a parishioner:  Why do we say the Mass is ended … instead of the Mass has ended. (Someone caught me, inadvertently, saying the latter and corrected me. I’m not losing sleep on this, but I am sure there is something there.

Another:  Why do we say “we dare to “say” (instead of we dare to “pray”) before the Our Father (Priests often change the line to say the latter as they say the Mass).


A: Grammatically, “has ended” could signify a transitive verb (“The home run has ended the game”), whereas “is ended” refers back to the subject (“And the pitcher’s career is ended.”) The deacon could say, “We have ended the Mass,” but says instead that “The Mass is ended.”

As with much of the translation, the English resembles the Latin. In Latin, it’s Ite, missa est. Some say that the phrase includes a verb in past tense (missa est). Latin uses the verb “to be” (here, est) as part of this tense to signify that an action is complete. So in this case, something like, “Go, [the assembly] has been sent.” 

Others say the verb is present tense (est), and missa is the subject, meaning the Mass. So, something like, “Go, [that] is the Mass” or more colloquially, “the Mass is over.”

Either way, the existence of est in Latin probably influenced the English translation’s use of “is” instead of “has”.

Either is grammatically acceptable, but “is ended” suggests something happening in the moment, like “dinner is served,” whereas “has ended” suggests something that has just passed (“Dusk has ended”).

The reason behind “dare to say” is similar. That’s what it ways in Latin: audemus dicere.

The verb can also mean “sing”, but it does not mean “pray”. Nor should it be translated that way. The point of this introduction is that Jesus gave his followers permission to use the same title for God that he (Jesus) used in his prayer: “Father”. We don’t dare to pray the prayer; we dare to say “Father” as our title for God. In many other languages, “Father” is the first word of the prayer, so the connection is easier to see without the intervening “Our”.