The Fraction Rite

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


The Fraction Rite

ROME, 24 JULY 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: As a priest I have difficulty with the fact that with the Roman Missal now, the priest places a particle of the host in the chalice before the fraction rite which takes place during the Lamb of God. Why was this particular change made? — SK, Milford, Connecticut

A: Actually the change is just in the position of the rubric in the missal rather than a change of practice.

In the former translation the rubric at the moment of the breaking of bread said:

"Then the following is sung or said: Lamb of God …."

After the text of the "Lamb of God" the rubric says: "This may be repeated until the breaking of bread is finished, but the last phrase is always Grant us peace.

"Meanwhile, he takes the host and breaks it over the paten, he places a small piece in the chalice, saying inaudibly: May this mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it."

The new translation, following the Latin missal, takes a slightly different approach. After the invitation to make the sign of peace, the rubric indicates:

"Then he takes the host, breaks it over the paten and places a small piece in 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."

The missal continues: "Meanwhile the following is sung or said: 'Lamb of God ….'

"The invocation may even be repeated several times if the fraction is prolonged. Only the final time, however, is grant us peace said."

Thus, although the order of the rubric has been reversed, the action described is exactly the same:

The host is broken and a piece placed in the chalice during the singing or recitation of the Lamb of God. The key to understanding both rubrics is the use of the word "meanwhile." In the former translation the "meanwhile" is placed at the action of breaking the bread, in the new translation at the singing of the Agnus Dei.

From one point of view we are not really dealing with a change but a correction. The order found in the new translation is actually the original and is found as such in other languages. It was the former English translation which varied from the others.

Although the action described is exactly the same, I think that mentioning the fraction first emphasizes that this is the most important liturgical element at this moment. The "Lamb of God" accompanies this action of breaking the bread and readying it for communion, hence underlining its importance.

Indeed, breaking the bread is one of the four structural elements of the Eucharistic celebration that have always been present in one form or another since the time of the Apostles. These four elements are: Bread and wine is presented; prayer of blessing and thanksgiving is said over these offerings by the one who presides so that they become Christ's body and blood; the Eucharistic bread is broken; the species are administered to the disciples as Communion. In this way Christ's action on Holy Thursday — taking, giving thanks, breaking and giving to his disciples — is carried on in perpetual remembrance of him.

A possible danger of the older translation, in mentioning the "Lamb of God" first, could be to induce the faithful to believe that singing this acclamation was the principal action while the rite of the fraction faded into the background — almost, so to speak, something the priest did to speed things up.

* * *

Follow-up: The Fraction Rite [8-21-2012]

Several readers responded to our July 24 piece on the fraction rite.

Since we mentioned the singing of the "Lamb of God," one correspondent asked if it is always sung. While singing is preferred — especially on Sundays, feasts, and when the fraction rite is extended — a simple recitation is always possible and is probably common on most weekdays.
A Charleston, South Carolina, priest made the following interesting observation: "While I did not notice such a change as did the reader, it is important to recognize the significance of the connection of these two different yet interconnected rituals of the fractioning and the singing of the Agnus Dei. As the Mass is about the Word of God being made flesh, from the Liturgy of the Word into the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it is important that we help the faithful to recognize this. And this time of fractioning the Eucharistic Lamb of God could be used to reinforce that. John's Gospel portrays the night of Jesus' last supper as taking place the night before, so that Jesus is being slaughtered on the cross among the lesser, unblemished lambs that were being slain for the Passover meals. And just as the lambs would then be fractioned for families to celebrate the Passover in their homes, Jesus is being fractioned for us at Mass."

All I can say is that I totally agree that both rituals receive their true recognition and certainly did not intend to lessen the importance of either.

Finally, a writer from London asked: "Following your explanation on the fraction rite, I wonder if you would be so kind as to explain the exact meaning of the philosophical words 'Corpus in substantia et corpus in omnibus partibus.' I know of one bishop who refuses to use the corporal at Mass and countless priests who place the missal on the corporal directly in front of them during Mass, thereby eliminating the possibility to collecting any crumbs of the host that may have fallen during the fraction rite."

To do justice to this question would require a treatise on Eucharistic doctrine beyond the limits of this column. The use of the corporal is obligatory at Mass, and its primary function is to gather any possible fragments that might fall. Therefore, it is unlawful to omit it or to obstruct its proper use.
For very large celebrations with many chalices and ciboria on the altar, very large corporals, sometimes covering the entire altar table, are sometimes used.

In this context it must be observed that since hosts are rarely placed directly upon the corporal in the ordinary form of the Mass, the presence of visible fragments is usually far less of a problem than before. Because of this, placing the missal partly upon the corporal might not in fact obstruct its proper use.

With respect to the interpretation of the philosophical words regarding the extent of the Real Presence in very small fragments, we previously tried to clarify this point using the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas; see the columns of June 12, 2007, and June 26, 2007.

The Church has never wished to officially determine this extent and, even when asked, has preferred to simply remind all involved to closely follow the rubrics with respect to purification of the sacred vessels and the overall care and reverence due to the Eucharistic species.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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