From a reader…
A kindly retired priest offers morning Mass, ordinary form, at our parish occasionally. At the Consecration of the bread, father literally breaks the host in two when he prays the words ” . . . He took the bread and broke it . . . “.
I would appreciate your comments father.
We are dealing with the “fractio panis… breaking of the bread”. This is one of most important, well-attested moments in the Eucharistic liturgy going back to Holy Church’s earliest days. It’s forerunners are in the New Testament, in the account of the Last Supper, the Road to Emmaus, Acts 2, 1 Cor 10, etc. The Didache speaks of it, as do many other ancient sources.
The fractio panis is, historically and practically, a readying for the distribution of Communion. Hence, the breaking of the unity of the Host is a real sign of the unity of those who will receive Communion.
Symbolically, some make of the fractio the representation of the moment when the Roman soldier opened the Lord’s side with the spear. Moreover, if Christ is the new Adam. Eve was taken from Adam’s side. The Church’s sacramental life is born from the Blood and water that flowed from His side. The particle from the Host is like to the rib which brought forth Adam’s spouse and Christ’s Spouse the Church. Another view of the Host after the fractio is to envision the three parts as the three dimensions of the One Church, Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant, the small particle representing those in the grave and not in heaven, because that particle harks to the ancient practice of sending out Communion for the sick. Prayerfully creative writers have through the centuries many explanations.
The fractio panis has a specific location assigned by the rubrics in the Roman Rite: after the Libera nos and before co-mingling and Agnus Dei. That is when it is to be done, with the accompanying prayer and then combination of a particle of the Host with the Blood in the chalice.
Therefore, what this priest is doing is a serious liturgical abuse.
I am sure he is well-meaning. There are a lot of priests of a certain age who got the idea – from some Notre Dame liturgical workshop or other – that because “experts” (= libs) abandoned language (and understanding) of sacrifice and consecration and began to refer to the “institution narrative”, that priests should act out the description in the words of consecration: “…giving thanks to Thee, He blessed + it, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying:…” So, they melodramatically broke the host before it’s consecration. Why not? It’s symbolic, right? And it’s a great show with a versus populum altar, especially because everyone can see meeeee doing it.
Holy Mass is not a theatrical drama which we enact to make people remember what the Lord did way back when. Yes, the priest “takes” when the text says the Lord “took”, etc. However, the priest is not an “actor” in theatrical sense. He is alter Christus. We don’t “dramatize” the words of consecration. The consecration is far deeper than that, and must not be so trivialized. The sacramental action of the Mass makes present once again the ancient, historical event. Father isn’t acting: he is by the sacrament of orders made by Christ to be in that moment the High Priest/Victim in the upper room, in the garden, in the tomb, in the resurrection.
Historically, it seems that in various Rites of various Churches there was something close to but not quite a literal breaking of the bread at the time of the consecration. Jungmann in Missarum Sollemnia explains, however, that the Syrians etc. didn’t break it all the way through and medieval books in England and France instructed the priest to pretend to break the host.
And speaking of doing the literal thing, if the melodramatic priest is going to be consistent, after breaking the bread at that moment, should he then immediate give it out? The Lord broke and gave it. Right?
The actual breaking and giving are realized later.
Think about it. If we have as a Church been saying “broke it” during the consecration for … well, always, and the Church hasn’t assigned that moment for the fractio panis, but rather assigned it later, there must be a darn good reason why not to break the bread during the consecration but at some later point.
But, no. Some priests think they’ve really got some amazing insights as to how the Church ought to do it.
The deeply sub-optimal ars celebrandi of many priests, especially those of a certain age, will eventually be balanced out and then cleansed away by younger priests who don’t have the baggage of those halcyon days of revolution and innovation.
If one desired to give Father some “continuing education”, for no one is too old to learn, Redemptionis Sacramentum says:
[55.] In some places there has existed an abuse by which the Priest breaks the host at the time of the consecration in the Holy Mass. This abuse is contrary to the tradition of the Church. It is reprobated and is to be corrected with haste.
In the Church’s legal language to “reprobate” means to abolish or put an end to a practice in such a way that no one can claim that they can continued to do what they are doing because of long-standing custom. In other words, the Church really intends to put an end to something, period.
That is how the Church views this host-breaking thing during the consecration.
Lastly, the serious abuse of the fractio before the consecration does not invalidate the consecration.