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?
Breaking 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: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/breaking-of-the-host. 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 for this post on whether or not breaking the Host at the consecration is correct: Detail from Canonization ceremony of Brazilian Friar Frei Galvão celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at the Campo de Marte, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Fabio Pozzebom/ABr, 11 May 2007, CCA 3.0 Brazil, Wikimedia Commons.