Parts of the Mass: The Breaking of the Bread

This Liturgy Lines column may provide helpful background or follow up to Part 14 of Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s series on the Mass at https://brisbanecatholic.org.au/beliefs-and-works/mass/.

After the sign of peace, the celebrant breaks the bread in a ritual called The Fraction (Breaking). This is one of the central moments of the liturgy because the breaking of the one loaf into many pieces symbolises our being broken and shared for the life of the world. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the early Christians believed that Christ was revealed in ‘The Breaking of the Bread’ and so named their Sunday worship after this ritual.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal emphasises the importance of using bread for the Eucharist that can be broken and shared: ‘By reason of the sign, it is desirable that the eucharistic bread be fashioned in such a way that the priest is truly able to break it into parts and distribute these to at least some of the faithful.’(# 321)
Up until this point of the Mass, there is a single plate with the bread on the altar. The bread is not broken during the Eucharistic Prayer as the words ‘he broke the bread’ are said because the Mass is not a re-enactment. Mimicking the details of what Jesus did and said at the Last Supper historicises a mystery which transcends time and place.
The Fraction proceeds as follows. The presider stands at the altar and waits until the sign of peace is completed and all eyes are focussed on the altar. He raises the bread for all to see, breaks it and the singing of the Lamb of God begins. The bread is broken slowly, deliberately and reverently, and in such a way that all can see what is happening.
How this can be done with six altar breads and the pieces divided into four vessels, sufficient for one hundred and fifty people, is demonstrated in a video clip on the Liturgy Brisbane website (http://liturgybrisbane.net.au/document-category/videos/). The Lamb of God is intended to continue during this entire action. Only when the presider is standing still before the plate and cup is the litany concluded with its final 'grant us peace'.
During the Fraction, the priest breaks off a piece of the host and drops it into a chalice. The technical name for this is 'commingling' and its origins are complex. Originally, there was only one Eucharist in each city on Sunday led by the bishop. As Christianity spread, the bishop appointed priests to preside over other gatherings. To maintain the connection to the bishop’s liturgy, a small portion of the host consecrated by the bishop was taken to each of the other celebrations and placed into the chalice where it 'commingled' with the wine. We no longer receive a piece of the bishop’s host. Instead the priest breaks off a small part of the larger host and places it into the chalice saying quietly: 'May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it'.

Elizabeth Harrington