On Sunday during ZedNet a question came up about the fraction rite at Mass with the commingling and how it signifies the resurrection of the Lord by the fact that it is the rejoining of the Body with the Blood of the Lord. Does this commingling merely signify the Resurrection or is it a mystical reality?
I must admit that my heart quailed. The fraction rite is stupendously complex. This is the moment when the priest breaks the Host in half, then breaks a small piece off of one half, says a prayer and (in the Vetus Ordo) making the sign of the Cross three times with the small piece over the uncovered chalice with the Precious Blood, drops the particle into the Precious Blood. There follows the three-fold Agnus Dei and rite of Peace.
The history of this rite goes back to the earliest Eucharistic practices, because it is one of the four elements of what the Lord did at the Last Supper: He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it. With extreme brevity, the fraction rite eventually merged with the placing of the fermentum, a piece of the Eucharistic Host from the previous Mass, into the chalice. This was symbolic of the continuity of the Mass but also, practically, softened the reserved piece for consumption. A piece of the Host broken during Mass was also reserved for viaticum. In Masses of the Bishop of Rome, there was great ceremony involving linen bags and very large patens which had to be carried by two subdeacons. Patens eventually became small as the hosts became smaller and the rite simplified, so that chalice and hosts were brought to the altar together. Too complicated to explain here.
Because we are liturgical beings by inward inclination (cf. Aquinas) and by formation (“We are our rites!”) even the practical gestures and objects used during Mass have acquired symbolic, even mystical, meanings, even multiple meanings. So it is with the fraction and commingling.
So important and complex is this fraction rite that, in the traditional Pontificale Romanum, the bishop is to instruct the men he has just ordained to the priesthood to study and reflect on the whole of the Mass but especially the Consecration, the Fraction, and the Communion.
His expletis, Pontifex sedens cum mitra et baculo admonet eum, dicens:
Quia res, quam tractaturus es, satis periculosa est, fili dilectissime, moneo te, ut diligentur totius Missae ordinem, atque Hostiae consecrationem, ac fractionem, et communionem, ab aliis jam doctis Sacerdotibus discas, priusquam ad celebrandum Missam accedas.
Because this matter, which you are about to conduct, is so very perilous, dearest sons, I warn you, that you diligently learn the order of the whole Mass, and the consecration of the Host, and the fraction, and communion, from other already learnéd priests, before you undertake to celebrate Mass.
My oh my, what a difference. Having read that, think about how St. Ignatius of Loyola waited a whole year before saying his first Mass. You get the idea from what the bishop says in the traditional Pontifical that it is somehow important for priests to know how to say Mass and that they don’t do anything wrong.
NB: The “reformers” who glued together the Novus Ordo screwed around with these three interconnected moments in significant ways. Coincidence? Certainly not. Holy Church, in her long acquired wisdom, came to underscore these moments. The Snipper-Pasters had been told at their own ordinations that these were of particular importance. And they knew that by changing the way we pray, what we believe will eventually change as well. But they changed the way we pray – for us, and certainly not by clamorous popular request – because of their own beliefs, foisted on the rest of the Church in contravention of what the Council Fathers mandated. But I digress.
The fraction rite has taken on several mystical meanings, apart from the fact that we imitate what the Lord Himself did in the upper room and at Emmaus. One meaning of the breaking or division of the Bread points forward to Communion, with which the fractio panis is interconnected. Another idea is the sacrificial wounding of the Lord such that His Soul and Body separated in death. In the breaking He is seen at the Lamb that was slain for our sins (cf. Isaiah). This points backward to the two-Consecration and the symbolic, mystical separation of the Body and the Blood even though they are both present in both species. The commingling of the Body and Blood reinforces that this is not just food and drink but sacrificial food and drink.
Another view was that the three parts of the Host represented the Holy Trinity. Another that they were like the Mystical Body of Christ in its present three modes, Churches Militant, Suffering, Triumphant. The Angelic Doctor says, almost at the end of the Summa Theologica: “The breaking of the host denotes three things: first, the rending of Christ’s body, which took place in the Passion; secondly, the distinction of His mystical body according to its various states; and thirdly, the distribution of the graces which flow from Christ’s Passion…” (IIIa, q.83, a.5 ad 7). So, the pieces of the broken Host can also be seen as in His earthly state, in His state in the tomb, and then gloriously Risen. If the breaking of the Host is seen at the death of the Savior, then the ritual reunion of His Body with the Precious Blood in the chalice can certain be seen as the Resurrection.
To the question: At this moment in Mass, what are we witnessing?
That depends. Which of these various interpretations are we going to adhere to? One of them? None of them? All of them?
Let’s keep clear in our minds the fact that sacramental reality is not less real than what our senses discern. Our senses bring to us the signs through which we discern mysteries, indeed, Mystery. This is a complex undertaking and one that will make the heart quail a bit, even as we long to encounter it. It is an encounter with the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, mystery both fearful and alluring. It is encountered both through what we sense and what we cannot sense, the critically important apophatic dimension of sacred liturgical worship (which is nearly always denied in the Novus Ordo by the artificial construction of the rite itself with its heavy emphasis on options and didacticism).
Are we, in the moment of the Fraction, witnessing the actual Passion of the Lord and then his Resurrection in the commingling? I suppose that depends on our ability to be still, our long-term discipline in giving ourselves to the rites which are being given to us by the High Priest Himself.
In all the words and gestures of Holy Mass Christ is speaking, He is acting. He speaks and acts through us, in our different roles, the baptized and the ordained. The realities which are symbolized in the rites are being made present to us and us to them, particularly through the fact that the Lord in His Ascension to the heavenly Temple, outside time and space, now renews His Sacrifice to the Father. His doing so makes it possible for His Church to do so, even simultaneously in time and in many places.
What do we experience at these jam-packed moments in Holy Mass? It is going to be a continuum. For some, much. For others, nothing.
A great deal depends on our full, conscious and active participation at Mass. This was a thing before the Second Vatican Council, of course. It wasn’t cobbled up during the Council.
For example, in touching up my memories about the fractio panis I came across this great paragraph in vol. 2 of A. Croegaert’s The Mass, in the English translation [US HERE – UK HERE] which got its imprimatur in 1958 and was published in 1959 (i.e., before the Council):
The greater the soul’s capacity by charity to receive grace, the more abundantly will that grace be poured into it in holy communion. That is why preparation for communion is so important – even more important than thanksgiving. We must prepare for communion by being sorry for our sins (in acts of contrition, the prayers at the foot of the altar), by confessing our faith (in the Mass of the Catechumens), by accepting sufferings and sacrifices, mingling them, like the drop of water in the chalice of wine, and offering them in Christ’s great sacrifice (in the offertory and consecration). We must long to be united as closely as possible in victimhood with Christ himself that we may be offered with him to the glory of the Father (communion). By active participation in the various phases of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the soul is gradually prepared to be abundantly filled with the graces poured out in holy communion: such intelligent, devout and active participation in the Mass itself is the best – and natural – preparation for communion. As this great rite draws near, the church supports this preparation by suitable ceremonies and prayers which in the mass extend from the lesser elevation to the Domine, non sum dignus.
Do you see how active participation is conceived? It is actively interior. It is actively receptive. This is why at about the same time as this English translation was prepared, Pius XII wrote that the highest manifestation of active participation in Holy Mass is in the moment when a person in the state of grace receives Holy Communion.
Another reason for reception on the tongue rather than taking by the hand.
Bottom line, certain mysteries are strongly suggested in the different moments during Mass. Sometimes one may occur, and at other times another. This probably comes from what we are willing to contemplate and also how our angels or the Holy Spirit in our inner temple may be urging us. But, unless we know with the help of spiritual direction that we are in a period of profound dryness, a kind of dark night when God has withheld consolations and promptings, if we are getting little or nothing out of these moments… something is amiss.
Hence, I am delighted that you asked this question. It reveals something of your inner disposition and active participation at Mass.