How does one respond to a priest who:
- contrary to what the rubrics dictate and permit, routinely omits from the Mass or severely truncates the Penitential Rite?
- routinely breaks the host at the words "At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his Passion, he took bread and, giving thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying... ."
- instead of using the new translation of the consecratory prayers, routinely uses the former paraphrase version (1973 ICEL translation)?
- instead of the new translation of the Per Ipsum, routinely uses the former paraphrase version?
- for no good reason, habitually does not wear the appropriate vestments to celebrate Mass?
- say nothing and tolerate the deviations and go with the low bar approach: "Oh well, at least the Mass is still valid."
- request a conversation with the priest to share one's concerns?
- send the priest an email of concern?
- leave for the priest an "FYI" memo in a conspicuous location?
- consult with another priest to seek his advice as to how to proceed?
- when a priest obstinately refuses to abide by the rubrics, report his actions to the Bishop?
- By what authority are you making changes to the Mass?
- Is there any wonder why the average person in the pew flees a parish when a priest cannot or will not pray the Mass with care and attention?
- Is it any wonder that members of parish liturgy committees consider themselves above the liturgical law when their pastor acts like he is above the law?
- Why must the faithful be subjected to the whimsy of priests who, for whatever reason—e.g., bad seminary formation, personal bias, ignorance—, abandon the script that Holy Mother Church has given for the Mass?
- Why must the faithful be placed in the awkward position of having to remind priests that they should not mess with the Mass?
A) General norms
1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.
When my priest is saying the words of consecration and he gets to the words "He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said . . . " he breaks the host in two on the word "broke." Should he be doing this?
No, he should not. The breaking of the host is known as the "fraction," and there is a special place for it in the Mass—namely, in the Fraction Rite, which occurs after the Sign of Peace and immediately before the Communion Rite.
Since the Church has a specific place in the liturgy for the fraction, to perform it at another time subverts the role of the Fraction Rite and must not be done.
Further, the rubrics in the Sacramentary tie the meaning of the Fraction Rite to the commingling, where a piece of the host is placed in the chalice. The symbolism of this is commonly explained today as representing the resurrection of Christ, the reuniting of his Body and Blood.
The rubrics of the Mass link the meaning of the fraction to the commingling, stating:
"Meanwhile, [the priest] 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.’"
Since nothing else is said—either in the rubrics or the prayers—about the breaking of the host, its primary purpose in the current order of Mass seems to be to obtain a piece of the host for use in the commingling. Any other meaning attached to the fraction that precedes the commingling would be secondary.
If one breaks the host on the words "He broke the bread," it would have a different primary meaning—either a reference Jesus’ breaking the bread for his disciples to partake or to the breaking of his body on the cross or both. Thus it would amount to adding a new rite to the Mass, which cannot be done (refer to Sacrosanctum Concilium 22).
Snapping a host in two on the word "broke" is also dangerous. It is done so quickly and carelessly that excessive particles are likely to result and possibly be scattered. Priests who do it may think that they are heightening the symbolism of the Mass, but they are actually detracting from it as well as giving scandal to many of the faithful.
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: The pastor of my parish breaks the bread into two pieces prior to consecrating the bread into the precious Body of Christ. Then he holds the two pieces of bread, one in one hand, one in the other. Then he spreads his hands wide apart, and as he pronounces the words of consecration, he brings his hand together, and touches the two consecrated hosts at the lower end. I always understood that the bread is not to be broken till after the Lamb of God is announced. This is a source of concern and very disturbing to some of the members of our parish. — E.F., Scottsdale, Arizona
A: This theme is succinctly addressed in the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 55:
"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."
It is hard to be much clearer than that.
This abuse seems to have arisen from a literal and somewhat dramatic interpretation of the words of the institution narrative of the consecration "He took the bread, broke it ..."
This might be a symptom related to our televised society where the visual image predominates over the deeper meaning. And so, some priests, often in good faith, have been led to adopt in a more dramatic or even theatrical mode while celebrating the Mass.
Thus, some see themselves almost as acting out the role of Christ by imitating his words and gestures.
This phenomenon, however, may also be indicative of a lack of formation and of a defective understanding of the priest's ministerial role as acting "in persona Christi" and the theological content of the words of consecration as form of the sacrament.
Of course, if one were to be totally consistent with this view, then Communion would logically have to be distributed immediately after pronouncing the words "gave it to his disciples," etc.
As far as I know, this has never been attempted.
In a way, the other parts of the Eucharistic Prayer explicate what is contained within the institution narrative as the summit of Christ's paschal mystery of his death and resurrection, the center of salvation history.
During the course of the celebration each element of the consecration is rendered clearer and in a way is also made present.
During the offertory the Church takes the bread and wine and offers up thanks and praise to the Father.
Before the consecration the Church also calls upon the Holy Spirit to intervene just as he did in Christ's incarnation and throughout his life.
The prayer which immediately follows the consecration, often called the "Anamnesis," because it begins with a phrase such as "Father, calling to mind his death and resurrection ..." is, in a way, the Mass defining itself by explaining what is meant by Christ's command to the apostles to "do this in memory of me."
This prayer shows that the priest, in the consecration, is saying and doing more than just repeating Christ's words and gestures.
What is called to mind and made present throughout history is Christ's death resurrection and ascension into glory.
The command to "do this" also means imitating in our lives the attitudes of the loving and total self-giving which Christ demonstrated in his sacrifice.
After this the Eucharistic Prayers generally invoke the Holy Spirit once more so that we may obtain the fruits of the celebration, above all to be united in charity and to intercede along with Christ for all those, living and dead, who need our prayer. This is done so that the overall purpose of the Eucharist is achieved when we are united with the saints in heaven.
Finally, in the doxology, we recognize that all that is done through, with and in Christ in union with the Holy Spirit, is done for the Father's honor and glory just as Christ constantly offered all to the Father.
This might seem to be a digression away from the main point of the question. But I wish to show that unless the Eucharistic Prayer is complete, the full meaning of the gesture involved in breaking and giving is truncated and not fully grasped.
The gesture is not the breaking and giving of a piece of bread but of the Lord's Body sacrificed yet risen and ascended into glory.
It is not partaking of a simple meal, but of Christ's eternal sacrifice from which springs our salvation.