The Host at and After the Fraction

Date: April 28, 2024
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Question: The Order of the Mass 132 says that “The priest genuflects, takes the host and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says aloud: ‘Behold the Lamb of God .…’” In practice, many priests reassemble the two parts of the broken host and hold it up as if nothing had happened to it. Having split the host in half and then broken a particle into the chalice, they hold the two remaining parts together and conceal the missing area with their fingers. 1) Is it allowed, instead of breaking the host with one’s hands, to use the paten to cut the host which is put on the corporal? 2) Is there a need to put back together the two parts of the broken host, and to conceal the missing area with the fingers, in order to show it to the people? Or should the two parts be shown as such to indicate that they were really broken? Otherwise, does it make sense to break the host if after that we must show it as if it was not broken? -- F.X.K., Ndola, Zambia


Answer: While this point is not described in detail in the rubrics there is probably enough material present to give us a sense as to how it should be interpreted.


In this, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) offers some details regarding the bread used for the Eucharist:


“320. The bread for celebrating the Eucharist must be made only from wheat, must be recently made, and, according to the ancient tradition of the Latin Church, must be unleavened.


“321. By reason of the sign, it is required that the material for the Eucharistic Celebration truly have the appearance of food. Therefore, it is desirable that the Eucharistic Bread, even though unleavened and made in the traditional form, be fashioned in such a way that the Priest at Mass with the people is truly able to break it into parts and distribute these to at least some of the faithful. However, small hosts are not at all excluded when the large number of those receiving Holy Communion or other pastoral reasons call for them. Moreover, the gesture of the fraction or breaking of bread, which was quite simply the term by which the Eucharist was known in apostolic times, will bring out more clearly the force and importance of the sign of the unity of all in the one bread, and of the sign of charity by the fact that the one bread is distributed among the brothers and sisters.”


This number clearly suggests that the practice of presenting a recomposed large host is not what is foreseen by the legislator.


As mentioned above, by reason of the sign, breaking the host into several pieces visibly expresses the unity of the participants in Christ as they share in the one bread.


This breaking of the host into several fragments should also be done during the rite of fraction and not after showing the host above the paten or chalice.


It also implies a preference for a larger host than those habitually used in many parishes (which the priest consumes in its entirety). It has become common in some places to use a larger host that can be broken into several pieces for the communion of the priest, the deacon, and five or six other members of the faithful.


It may be that some priests have been inspired to follow this practice from the rites in use before the conciliar reform. In this rite, which is still celebrated where duly authorized, the priest did recompose the two parts of the host before his communion. The Fortesque-O’Connell-Reid ceremonial book describes this moment thus:


“He takes the two fragments here, at their upper part, between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. The fragments are side by side, so as to form a circle, as if the host were not broken in the middle …. Taking the two fragments thus in his right hand he places them in his left …. Then, with his right hand, he takes the paten …. He now holds the Host in his left hand … and the paten under it …. Bowing moderately, he strikes his breast with the free (not joined) fingers of the right hand as he says, aloud Domine non sum dignus. Then silently he continues ut intres sub tectum meum, etc. He does this thrice in the same way.”


If the faithful were to receive communion then, after the priest has communicated from the host and chalice, he would take one small host and hold it above the paten or ciborium and say, “Ecce agnus Dei …” and would repeat the “Domine non sum dignus …” three times along with the people. He would then distribute communion to the faithful.


Therefore, although the older rite did foresee recomposing the host in conjunction with the prayer “Lord I am not worthy …,” the ritual circumstances are somewhat different as this gesture was hidden from view of the faithful and was not associated with the showing of the host to the faithful before communion.


The reformed rite has fused the two moments of the priest’s communion and that of the faithful into a single ritual action and has introduced the rite of showing the large host that the priest has consecrated and fragmented. In this rite liturgical logic and the GIRM suggest that the symbolic value of this rite is best elucidated by showing the broken fragments.


With respect to the use of the paten to cut the host there does not seem to be any reason to do this. It would seem to be something of an anomaly. The current rite foresees that the host rests on the paten for the duration of Mass until communion.


Likewise, such a process could make it more likely that small fragments would be dispersed as these usually are left visible on the paten. It is true that gathering such fragments is one of the functions of the corporal. However, with modern celebrations involving multiple chalices and sacred vessels this role is not always treated with due care.


Also, although the use of a paten with a single host is still very common there is an indication in the GIRM which clearly shows that this is not the preference. To wit:


“331. For the Consecration of hosts, a large paten may fittingly be used, on which is placed the bread both for the Priest and the Deacon and also for the other ministers and for the faithful.”


If the above indication is respected, it is obvious that such a paten could not be an instrument for cutting the host.


Nor does this appear to be a carry-over from the former rites. Although the paten was given special treatment, especially during solemn Mass, it does not seem to have been ever used to cut the host at the moment of the fraction.


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Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.


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