The Fraction Rite

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ROME, JULY 24, 2012 (Zenit.org).- 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.

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