Liturgy Matters — What is the Fraction Rite?

By  Dr. Judy Bullock

What is the Fraction Rite of the Mass?

The “Fraction Rite” may be an unfamiliar term for many people. However, almost all would recognize this part of the Mass by the Lamb of God litany that accompanies it.
The name “Fraction Rite” comes from the focus of this rite: the breaking of the sacred Host. This action symbolizes Christ’s body broken for us, so that when we receive holy Communion we may be one, united in Christ.

St. Paul writes, “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17).

In the early church, the gesture of breaking the eucharistic bread gave the entire celebration of the Eucharist its name. In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 24, we get another dimension of the significance of this ritual action. Luke describes the journey of the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus with some of his disciples. Unaware that they were in the presence of Christ, the disciples only recognized him in the “breaking of the bread.”

Today when we celebrate Mass, this symbolic breaking of the sacred Host is not just functional but emphasizes our sharing in the one Bread, one Body that is Christ.  The eucharistic bread is broken, various vessels used for distribution are filled and if there are concelebrating priests, a paten is passed among them in order that they may receive the sacred Host at the same time as the main celebrant.

What is the commingling?

During the Fraction Rite the priest also breaks a small piece of the sacred Host and drops it into the chalice.  This action is called the commingling. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 83, says that this action is to “signify the unity of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the work of salvation, namely, of the Body of Jesus Christ, living and glorious.”

What music accompanies the Fraction Rite?

The Agnus Dei or Lamb of God litany accompanies the Fraction Rite. The words of this litany express the connection to the Passover when the blood of the lamb saved the Israelites. Now it is Jesus’ blood, the Lamb of God, which saves us.

Normally this litany is sung in dialogue between the cantor or choir and the rest of the assembly, but it may be sung straight through by the congregation or even recited. The Lamb of God begins when the priest breaks the sacred Host and continues through the entire rite.

Usually the rite can be covered with three invocations, but should be extended as needed. After the last invocation, the assembly’s response changes from “have mercy on us” to “grant us peace.”

Respecting our tradition, the liturgical documents stress the importance of knowing some parts of the Mass in Latin. They advise us that the best choices are the parts the people understand without need of a translation. The Agnus Dei is one of these parts that we can sing as an alternate to the vernacular setting, where the meaning is clear and the Gregorian chant setting is quite familiar.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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