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Is Breaking the Host at the Consecration Correct?

January 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Eucharist/Mass, Fr. Bartunek, Liturgy

Dear Father John, I recently attended Mass at another parish. The priest broke the bread as he said the words of consecration. I know this is not according to the rubrics. What’s up with that? Was the celebration valid? Was it legal? Was it the Body and Blood of Christ? We received from previously consecrated Hosts that day. Should I have politely walked out?

Jesus-Eucharist-MassBreaking the hosts during the consecration is an abuse that crept in as a result of a more drama-based interpretation of the Mass. Some liturgists seem to have considered the Mass primarily as a kind of dramatic replaying of the Last Supper, so to speak, in which case it would make sense to break the hosts when the priest says that Jesus “…said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples, saying…” Of course, according to this drama-based interpretation, the priest would then have to distribute the hosts before saying the words of consecration, which wouldn’t make much sense, sacramentally.


A Clear Liturgical Abuse
In any case, this practice has been explicitly identified as an abuse in the Holy See’s liturgical Instruction from 2004, Redemptionis Sacramentum, #55, which states: “In some places there has existed an abuse by which the priest breaks the host at the time of the consecration in the Holy Mass. This abuse is contrary to the tradition of the Church. It is reprobated and is to be corrected with haste.” You can read more about the reasons why this abuse is historically and theologically reprehensible here: The person ultimately responsible for the proper and worthy celebration of the sacraments is the local ordinary, usually the bishop. I am fairly certain that this abuse didn’t invalidate the Mass, since it didn’t substantially alter the matter or the form.

How to Correct a Priest?
As to what you should do about it, or about any liturgical abuse that you run into, that’s a more complicated question. Since you were a visitor at this parish, you may not have a relationship with the priest in question. So it may not be realistic for you to try to intervene in any way except praying for the priest involved. If you did have a relationship with a priest who was habitually committing an objective liturgical abuse, it would be an act of charity on your part to kindly and calmly inform him of your concern. Maybe the priest was not aware of what he was doing, or of Church teaching about it. In that case, he may be grateful for your concern and intervention.

If he stubbornly refuses to correct an objective abuse, then it might be prudent (again, depending on your relationship with the priest in question) to approach him together with some other members of the parish who share the concern. If the abuse still continues, you have every right to approach his ecclesiastical superior, who would usually be the bishop (see Matthew 18:15-17). In all cases like this, it is important to proceed prayerfully and calmly, without internally condemning the person in question or defaming him. That will help you avoid causing more damage than you are seeking to correct, or causing any unnecessary damage at all.

Should you have politely walked out? That certainly would be a legitimate way to protest an obvious abuse. In this case, however, since this particular abuse doesn’t invalidate the Mass and since, it seems, the rest of the parishioners are not even aware that it is an abuse, that kind of protest may have been exaggerated, and would probably have been ineffective.

Thank you for your question. Please pray for us priests!!!


Art: Jesus-Eucharist-Mass, Library.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • RobinJeanne

    You didn’t respond to “We received from previously consecrated Hosts that day.” We at our parish regularly distribute host previousely concecrated along with newly concecrated. Is this wrong of us? We kinda think it is better to have too many then to run out during Communion. Are we wrong?

    • LizEst

      The norms for communion direct against having too many extra consecrated Hosts in the tabernacle. In general, these are reserved specifically for the sick. Occasionally, it will happen that too many are reserved because of situations where it is almost impossible to know how many will communicate. But, it is not to be done as a regular practice. If one runs short, Hosts can be broken in order to accomodate the extra few people that might approach to receive the Lord. If the parish is always running short, they should get a better count of the numbers of people at Mass from one Mass to the next. Yes, one physically has to count heads and the pastor can assign someone to do this discretely.

      Under the “Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America” paragraph 30, it says:

      “30. When Holy Communion is to be distributed under both species, careful planning should be undertaken so that: enough bread and wine are made ready for the communication of the faithful at each Mass.45
      As a general rule, Holy Communion is given from hosts consecrated at
      the same Mass and not from those reserved in the tabernacle. Precious
      Blood may not be reserved at one Mass for use at another”

      And the #45 in the reference above, refers to the Vatican document “Eucharistum Mysterium” and this reference “The faithful share more fully in the celebration of the eucharist through sacramental communion. It is strongly recommended that they should receive it as a rule in the Mass itself and at that point in the celebration which is prescribed by the rite, that is, right after the communion of the Priest celebrant. “In order that the communion may stand out more clearly even through signs as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated, steps should be taken that enable the faithful to receive hosts consecrated at that Mass.” which references Mysterium Fidei

      • RobinJeanne

        As a sacristan at our church, It is not easy guestamating. i try real hard. One time we had over 750 people, so I figured half would go to Communion but only a quarter did. Needless to say we had too much left over. I’ve always wondered if we should try the setting the unconcecrated host on a table with tongs and if they are going to recieve communion, the put one in the bowl, with maybe a few extra for those who forgot…. do you know if that is ok and does it work well?

        • LizEst

          You’re right. It’s not always easy to know. And, sometimes, it can’t be helped that one overdoes the numbers.

          What you propose used to be done in some places…and is probably not being done any more because there are norms against it. Even if there are not any norms against it, it is not good practice. Some people will not use the tongs to put them in the paten or ciborium. Young kids will get ahold of them and eat them as “cookies”. Some adults will take extras, when no one is looking, and stick them in their pockets (or whatever) just to have. Then, all sorts of abuses can take place. You might find them in the pews and you would not know if they are consecrated or not consecrated (unless, of course, you have “hierognosis,” which is the ability to immediately recognize people, places, or things that are holy, blessed or consecrated, and to distinguish them from those things that are not — cf Jordan Aumann’s “Spiritual Theology”). And, some might take them to a sick person, or a non-Catholic, and try to communicate them with an unconsecrated host. Bottom line: don’t do it.

          I assume that “over 750 people” was for a special occasion…because it seems unusual, by the way in which you wrote this. This is where experience comes in. Was it for a First Holy Communion or Confirmation? Then, one would now know that there are a good number of people who invite all sorts of relatives and friends who are either not Catholic, or are not in a state of grace to receive the Eucharist.

          Really, the only way to get a handle on how many people receive communion is to do a head count at every Mass for a number of months. And, yes, people do this. In fact, our archdiocese requires a count from all parishes once a year, per Mass time, of all those attending Mass for an entire month. You can also get a handle on it by watching how many hosts are used from the supply of hosts you receive each month. Now, one can’t be everywhere all the time. So, you need to work with your pastor and liturgical committee to get helpers to provide you with this information. It can be done and has been done in many, many places.

          • RobinJeanne

            Wow, I would never had imagine such problems with people putting the unconsecrated host in the ciboria. I guess I think people would be respectful…. so out with that idea. there was no special occasion, I think it was the soccer play offs, I don’t know. 500 is the norm at that Mass. We do, do a head count but not till after the collection/offertory. It was a learning experience. I know now (after a year o service) that only about a 1/4 receive at that Mass and 60 % at others.I sent this to my priest and asked him, what should I tell people who asked me about this. In the country he came from, they were taught to crack it, not totally break it at the words “He broke it and …” He’s quite new to this country, so it can be a challenge to communicate. I am the Liturgist(we don’t really have a committee) and at all the Masses on the weekend, which does help. Like you said, with experience, I will get better at estimating.

            Thanks, Liz for sharing what you know with me.Thanks, Liz for sharing what you know with me.

          • LizEst

            Since you are, no doubt, also responsible for setting up the Missal, find the fraction rite, the place (at the “Lamb of God”) where the Body of Christ is broken, and point that out to your priest so he will know where it is in the book. That will help him.

            This is from the General Instructions for the Roman Missal in the front part of the Missal (see where it is right after the sign of peace and just before communion):

            “As for the sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner.
            The Fraction
            83. The priest breaks the Eucharistic Bread, assisted, if the case calls for it, by the deacon or a concelebrant. Christ’s gesture of breaking bread at the Last Supper, which gave the entire Eucharistic Action its name in apostolic times, signifies that the many faithful are made one body (1 Cor 10:17) by receiving Communion from the one Bread of Life which is Christ, who died and rose for the salvation of the world. The fraction or breaking of bread is begun after the sign of peace and is carried out with proper reverence, though it should not be unnecessarily prolonged, nor should it be accorded undue importance. This rite is reserved to the priest and the deacon.
            The priest breaks the Bread and puts a piece of the host into the chalice to signify the unity of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the work of salvation, namely, of the living and glorious Body of Jesus Christ. The supplication Agnus Dei, is, as a rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; or it is, at least, recited aloud. This invocation accompanies the fraction and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has reached its conclusion, the last time ending with the words dona nobis pacem (grant us peace).

  • Donna Ruth

    I recall a visit to another parish several decades ago. It was a noon Mass and the sunlight was streaming across the altar. The young priest had opted for an oversized host that was about 8 to 10 inches in diameter, and at the time of consecration, and while he was saying, “He broke it,” the priest raised the Host and dramatically snapped it in half. I was aghast when I saw the rays of sunlight revealing particles of the host cascading everywhere. Considering this happened on a regular basis can one imagine the accumulation of particles in the sanctuary. Had I the boldness that has come with aging, I would have gone up after Mass and quietly picked up and consumed the particles-and most certainly would have written a note to the pastor.

    • LizEst

      Thanks for sharing that. The Church has these norms in place for a reason. God bless you, Donna Ruth.

  • LizEst

    RobinJeanne–Yes, I would agree with Father. As a sacristan you really do need to know a lot about the liturgy. This will come with time. Take every opportunity to learn. Show him that section about the Fraction in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal. It’s at the front of the book. The reason I kept the number in was so that you could find it, easily.

    Not talking about the sign of peace here. I left that in as a help so that you could locate the Fraction in the Missal. Show him what it says. He could have learned it wrong…or, they could have taught him wrong. Is he a priest of the Roman rite? I ask because different Catholic rites do things differently. Still Catholic, though! But, that could account for the difference.

    Some priests miss these things, basic as they may be. Besides doing your sacristan job, your job is to help them. And, breaking the Host at the Consecration is a liturgical abuse, as Father John stated. This is a Vatican directive, not something specific to our country. Do it tactfully and humbly, and a humble priest will more than likely accept it and be grateful for your assistance.

  • marybernadette

    Sadly,I have experienced this abuse and “false teaching” on the Holy Eucharist in Confession with the same Priest. I went to Confession today before Mass. I was telling him that I have problems with dry mouth due to medications. I had received but felt some part of the Host was “stuck” at the back of my throat and I could not swallow properly. I should have drank water but ate crackers instead. I did not have water on hand but should have waited for the water. I confessed this and the Priest told me it was the Risen Jesus that was in the Host so He was only “Spuritually”present, referencing His Glorified Body and even if a particle dropped on the floor you do not need to consume as it was like eating “food” off the floor. Oh dear, when I Respectfully told Him about the Host remains a certain time and “Miracles of the “Eucharist” He told me that “Best Theologians” dispute this. He realized my “position” and said of course, it’s up to to me who I listen too. Of course, I need to pray for him and not sure what else to do.

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