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Timing of the Breaking of the Bread at Mass


During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, did you ever notice that the priest says, “He took bread, and giving thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples…” long before he actually breaks the bread himself? One shrewd Busted Halo fan noticed this and wrote to Father Dave, asking, “Why don’t priests break the bread when it’s referred to during the consecration, instead of right before dispensing the host?”

In the Roman Missal, even though the breaking of bread is mentioned during the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest doesn’t imitate or demonstrate that action as those words are spoken. Instead, the bread isn’t broken until the “Lamb of God.” Father Dave starts off his explanation with an admission: “First of all, let me just say that it has certainly [happened before in the history of the Mass] that a priest would, in fact, mix it up and do the breaking at that breaking line. That would not be correct [per the Roman Missal].”

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As for why the moment of breaking the bread happens later, Father Dave says: “The reason why we do it at the “Lamb of God” is because, during the Eucharistic Prayer, we’re not mimicking and re-enacting word for word and action for action what Christ did either at the Last Supper or when He was dying on the cross or with the loaves and the fishes — but it’s all of those things. So, we see both at the Last Supper and at the miracle of the loaves and fishes, that there is a four-action movement. And we even see these words — and Saint Paul says this in his letter to the Corinthians when describing the Eucharist — we take as Christ took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it. So, that happens at the feeding of the five thousand, when the kid comes up with a couple of loaves and some fish. Well, he takes the loaves from the kid. He then says a blessing. Then he starts breaking it. And there’s so much that he keeps breaking it, and that’s the sharing. … The feeding of the five thousand is found in all four Gospels, [which is] rare — there aren’t too many stories that are. So, it’s obviously a very important one. In Mark’s [Gospel], it’s the most closely linked to how we celebrate the Eucharist because Jesus then gives the fragments of the bread to His disciples to distribute, just like we do during the course of Mass! So, the one priest is up there, and he breaks the bread, and then oftentimes, at our modern parishes which are very large we need extra help. So, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are then given the host and then they give them to the people. So during the Eucharistic Prayer, we follow that rhythm of ‘take, bless, break, and share.’”

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Father Dave has a fun analogy for the Eucharistic Prayer: “It describes everything we’re doing in one little microcosm, but we haven’t gotten to that part yet. It’s almost like an overture of a symphony or a Broadway show, where you hear little pieces of all the songs — but then you get to live them out when they actually happen. So, it’s a little bit like that.” (Original Air 07-19-17)