ASK FATHER: Priest breaks the host during the consecration. FAIL!

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. rhhenry says:

    A parish priest did something similar to this at every Mass when I was a child (1980s). At the word “broke” he would crack the large priest’s host, making an audible sound, but being careful to keep the host in one piece. Even as a young boy this always struck me as the priest knowing that what he was doing was wrong, but wanting to do it anyway, so coming up with a “middle ground” of cracking the host without breaking it so that he could convince himself that he had not actually violated any rubrics.

  2. thomas tucker says:

    My priest does this too. However, since I only recently got him to restore the Kyrie eleison to the Mass after the Confiteor, I’m leaving it alone for now.

  3. tamranthor says:

    Nothing is more banal than what I refer to as “The Father Show.” Once a priest finds himself the center of attention personally, that is the beginning of the end, particularly when he determines that he must entertain the masses. I understand that the priesthood may be a lonely frustration for some men, but whilst in persona Christi, one would hope that the loneliness could be held in check by devoting it to service of Our Lord. It is difficult as a parishioner to tolerate the Mass tinkering and the constant interjections during worship, usually paired with miserable self-focused music and sickly-sweet homilies. Bishop Morlino once explained that any music that uses the words “we” or “I” more than “He” and “His” was missing the point.

    Please do not mistake me; I do not believe that most or even many priests have fallen into this deception, but for those who have, the road back may be long and difficult, and they deserve our prayers and gentle support rather than derision. Their sin is no more serious or worse than our own; it is simply more visible.

  4. Aquinas Gal says:

    I’ve seen priests do this too, though not so much lately. I don’t know why they seem to like doing it.

  5. Charles E Flynn says:

    I forget where I read the simple observation that the words referring to the breaking of the bread are “not a stage direction”.

  6. pseudomodo says:

    Years ago we had s visiting Priest say mass and at the consecration he DID NOT break the host beforehand.

    Instead he unceremoniously tipped the bread out of the paten and using the paten like a pizza cutter, he sliced the bread in two and then consecrated the host.

  7. Grant M says:

    More protestantizing of the liturgy?

    “…who in the same night that he was betrayed, took bread (here the Priest is to take the Patten into his hand) and when he had given thanks, he brake it (and here to break the bread)….”

    Book of Common Prayer.

    Note that in the BCP liturgy the elements ARE given out immediately at the conclusion of the “institution narrative”. So the Anglican priest DOES use this narrative as his “stage directions”. The rite for him is a memorial, not a sacrifice. For the Anglican priest it is indeed a “theatrical drama which we enact to make people remember what the Lord did way back when.”

  8. Chaswjd says:

    Breaking the host at the time the celebrant says “broke” is actually theologically incoherent with the wording of the narrative itself. The order is clearly “blessed” then “broke.” Both are in the past tense. So following the actions of Christ, the priest should completely bless and only then break. But the blessing, itself, is the entire eucharistic prayer, or at a minimum, the words of institution. So by breaking before the Great Amen or even the words “This is my Body . . .”, the celebrant is breaking before blessing. Not the right order at all.

  9. fishonthehill says:

    I did that only once in the 16 years I have celebrated Mass… I remember it distinctly, I was on cold medication and had a very cloudy head. I froze and didn’t even know what to do! I think you are being very kind in saying he is “well meaning”.

    [I am sincere in saying that they are “well-meaning”. Let’s face it. Many of these priests of a certain age got caught in the buzzsaw of post-Conciliar madness. They were being told all sort of nonsense. Many of them, also not being all that well-educated (just seminary) or not that bright (lot’s of priests are not that bright, let’s not kid ourselves), they bought into all manner of liturgical and theological goofiness. Once upon a time they would have been helped by the training that came from the older rubrics and warning in the Missal about sin. However, once that foundation was gone, all sorts of strange things slithered in.]

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