QUAERITUR: Breaking the Host during the consecration

From a reader:

Father – Is it OK for a priest to “break the bread” during the Eucharistic Prayer, when he says “On the night He was betrayed, …Jesus broke the bread…” The priest in question makes an audible snap right there, and it’s shocking. Should I be shocked?? I think this should happen during the Agnus Dei, but I’m not a priest.

No. It is not okay. There is not rubric during the consecration that directs the priest to do this. Furthermore, there is a precise moment in the Mass called the “fraction rite”, during which the priest is to break the Host. You don’t have to be a priest to know when the right moment for the fraction rite is. All you need to be is: able to read.
Some priests think, wrongly, they can make the gestures and words of Mass “more meaningful”. However, by acting our the words at that moment they are doing something rather shallow. They are also violating the rubrics on their own authority at a most important moment, and they are causing confusion.

No. It is not okay.

Should you be shocked? Well, that is something I can’t answer for you. It is pretty hard to shock me, after all these years. I think most people in the pews who are even partially aware of liturgical decorum are rather battle scarred by now and probably will not be shocked as such antics.


As per a comment below:

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, it really intends to put an end to something completely and for good.

That is how the Church views this host-breaking thing during the consecration.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Volanges says:

    I remember being very surprised while reading Redemptionis Sacramentum to see
    [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.
    I’d never seen that happen so wondered where it was happening.

    A few years later I’m attending Mass in a small Quebec community and the distinct “SNAP” during the consecration left me very surprised. The priest then endeavored to make the Host look whole for the elevation. I thought perhaps the priest, who seemed to be retired and simply filling in, had never read RS.

    Imagine my surprise in May of this year when, during the Mass closing the regional catechetical conference, the Archbishop broke the Host during the consecration. Now he had to have read RS, so why would he do this? Of course at this same Mass, Communion was distributed from glass bowls and glass goblets.

  2. Jayna says:

    Some priests think, wrongly, they can make the gestures and words of Mass “more meaningful”.

    As earnest as some priests are when they do this stuff (especially at the “take this all of you, etc.” and they gesture to the congregation), it just looks silly most of the time. I don’t need an actor, I need a priest.

    I did see what was described once at the basilica in Atlanta. After which communion was distributed out of glass bowls. The priest sat in a pew for the readings and didn’t even touch the missal for the whole of Mass.

  3. uptoncp says:

    The practice was an innovation in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and one which 20th century Anglican liturgical reforms have sensibly discarded.

  4. APX says:

    This bread breaking practice was very popular with the priest in my parish in the early 90s. I remember it distinctly:

    “On the night he was betrayed, he[*break*] broke bread […]”

    And then at the elevation it would be in two “half moons” as I thought.

    I’m happy to report this priest filled in on Christmas Eve last year and no longer broke the bread there.

  5. mrose says:

    I too had only heard about this very vaguely until my now-wife and I stumbled into St. Niklaskerk in Amsterdam, right in the city center. We unfortunately walked into the Church, which is open to the public for “sightseeing” or whatever, during the Sanctus to see a half-naked priest (meaning the priest was saying Mass w/o a Chasuble), and so we knelt for the Canon, and right at the Consecration, a very loud “SNAP” as the priest broke the host. Suffice it to say, those were not the only two “anomalies” we saw in our short time inside that Church.

  6. Like APX, I too have observed priests who formerly broke the host at the Consecration who don’t do so anymore. I have never seen a priest who broke the host at that time do what logic should demand from the words ‘gave it to the people’.

    I was ordained in December 1967, when we had a ‘transitional Mass’. But even then there was a certain amount of ‘if given an inch take a mile’ attitude. That became much more serious during the next few years. Most priests, including myself, were affected by this, I think, in varying degrees. I would say too that ‘innovations’ were usually introduced in good faith, which is not to say they were right.

  7. AnAmericanMother says:

    Was that the Usual Suspects across from the county courthouse?
    I have to go there for daily Mass, the only church for miles. It was Abuse-of-the-week there for awhile, but things seem to have settled down a little. You can still count on a hard left and highly political homily though.
    I keep thinking to myself “it’s still valid . . . . It’s still valid . . . “

  8. pelerin says:

    The first time I saw/heard this in a European parish I thought I must be mistaken and that the priest had got muddled. I too was shocked as it was unexpected and the microphone had picked up the sound of the ‘snap.’Then when I returned to the same parish the next year and the year after I noticed the same and even started to wonder if this was not more logical. However thanks to Fr Z I now know that this was not as it should be.

  9. Mrs. O says:

    This happened consistently at a parish here and I called the VG to discuss it. He told me that because he had seen other priests doing it, it must be ok. I wrote to him and included a copy of the R.S. 55 where it states it wasn’t and to stop. He called me back and said he didn’t realize that BUT that I had to correct the priest, not him. This made me very sad as I think if something is brought to the diocese’s attention, it would be better for them to address it. The priest stop doing it without me ever speaking with him. I don’t know why but am hoping someone spoke with him.
    I don’t assume anymore that when speaking with the diocese they will know.
    I also addressed using hymns that contained “Yahweh” after the Vatican addressed it. I was saddened when the Bishop wrote back and said although they had stated that, he didn’t think it was a sin to keep using those songs that included it. His basis was that we would get new hymnals sometime in the future and that would do away with it. We do not sing the songs that include it still because it seems very wrong to do something when you were asked not to, no matter if you agree or not.
    We may be getting a new Bishop next year. We are hopeful that some things will be addressed as these new Bishops seem on top of some things that either were not taught, or taught by those who openly dissented from the Church.

  10. ejcmartin says:

    I had not seen this in a while and then visiting a parish I do not normally attend a couple of weeks ago I witnessed it once again. I’ll say one thing when the priest has the microphone and everything else is silent the “snap” is most audible.

  11. Charles E Flynn says:

    I wish I could recall where I read that the description of the breaking of the bread is not a stage direction provided for the priest.

  12. Centristian says:

    I have only ever witnessed the breaking of the bread during the institution narrative at an Episcopalian service.

    This sounds like another good reason to turn the priest around. If such “meaningful” gestures cannot be seen by anyone, celebrants will not bother to do them.

  13. Joe in Canada says:

    In my experience it used to be fairly common. What is more distracting is the ‘half-snap’, when the Priest half breaks the consecrated Host, leaving It cracked but intact. That implies that he knows he shouldn’t be doing it, so decides to do it ‘somewhat’.

  14. irishgirl says:

    I remember in late Sixties, early Seventies there was a priest in my baptismal parish who would ‘break the Host’ at the Consecration. He was sort of a ‘hippie’ type, anyway-he constantly used the term ‘Good News’ instead of ‘Gospel’, which annoyed the heck out of my father. When this priest came out at the start of Mass, Dad would mutter under his breath, ‘Oh, here comes “the Good News” ….’
    To my recollection, this priest was the only one who ‘snapped’ the bread at the Consecration.

  15. irishgirl says:

    Oops-should have added ‘the’, as ‘THE late Sixties, early Seventies’.
    Proofread before hitting the ‘post’ button….sigh.

  16. Phil B says:

    I recall from my days as an episcopalian a priest who would break the large wafer during the consecration as he held it up with two hands and then snap the two half moons with each hand. It seems perilously close to the “z snap” that was once popular amongst those who were down with the ‘hood (or however it is that the young people say it). Of course, given the issue of the validity of anglican orders, one might say, “no harm, no foul.”

  17. Urget_nos says:

    If the ‘snap’ is loud enough to hear, there is a substantial amount of energy being released. If father is holding the Host up to show It to the people when the breaks It, then Particles are flying past the edge of the altar, toward the people, ad onto the floor.

  18. Phil B says:

    By the way, I in no way mean to suggest any connection between the “z snap” method of breaking the host and Father Z!

  19. frjim4321 says:

    “Took, blessed, broke, gave.”

    What the priest did made as little sense as it would have to stop and give communion right then and there.

    I’m not a big one for over dramatizing the mass.

    This post illustrates the fact that many of the common excursions that we see, both textually and rubrically, detract far more than add to the meaning of the mass.

    With respect to the new translation – the VC2010 – whether one likes it or does not like it the fact is there will be vast multiplication of excursions from the text and many if not most of them will be bad.

  20. Mark R says:

    I think somewhere in Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Feast of Faith” it is explained that the Eucharistic rite is not a dramatic re-enactment of the Last Supper.

  21. uptoncp says:

    Gregory Dix pointed out in The Shape of the Eucharist (late 40s iirc) that the change from the order of the Last Supper (take-bless-break-share-take-bless-share) to the order of the Mass/Liturgy (take both-bless both-break-share) happened very early, as there is no exception anywhere in recorded liturgy (at least until reformers started having bright ideas).

  22. raitchi2 says:

    I know in the original exorcist movie there is a scene where the priest breaks the bread before the consecration while at mass. I’m not sure if this is just an oversight by the director or it was a foreshadowing of the priest’s own spiritual struggles.

  23. Ralph says:

    ” I think most people in the pews who are even partially aware of liturgical decorum are rather battle scarred by now and probably will not be shocked as such antics.”

    No Father, it jars me everytime. And it breaks my heart anew everytime. Perhaps because I am a convert. When you have never had the Mass and then you do, it’s hard to stomach someone messing with it.

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