Catholic fine art - In the Breaking of Bread

The breaking of the consecrated bread was, in the first years of the Church and during several centuries, a practical gesture necessary to prepare the particles that would be distributed in Communion. Since small hosts didn’t exist, the Mass was celebrated with unleaven bread that later had to be broken in order to be distributed to the faithful. However, this gesture also had other symbolic meanings in reference to the Eucharist. The connection between that moment and the moment of the institution of the Eucharist where Jesus, as the Jewish paterfamilias, nourished His disciples with His Body and His Blood, was clear to everyone. Many people saw this sign as a memory of the multiplication of the bread as Jesus broke it (cf. Mt 14:19; Mk 6:41). Another common interpretation is the memorial of Emmaus, where the discouraged disciples whose hearts had been enflamed once more with Jesus’ words, recognized the Lord in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:30-35).

All of these images caused the Eucharist at first to be referred to as the breaking of the bread, “fractio panis” (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 10:6).

Later on, during this liturgical moment, the singing of the Lamb of God was introduced (Agnus Dei). In this way, a new reality is underlined, the sacrificial and salvific dimension of the Eucharist. Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. The nourishment that He gives is His immolated Body. In this way, the sense of communion and sacrifice is presented united. The breaking of the bread prepares the nourishment of the Christians, the sacrificed Body of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of the new Easter (cf. Apoc 5:6,13).

In this way, the surrender that Jesus Christ makes of Himself as a sacrificed Bread-Body is clearly made manifest. When the faithful worthily receive the Eucharist, it makes both of them (Christ and the faithful) one united thing. The Mystical Body of Christ is thus constantly renewed and can live His life (1 Cor 10:17).

A simple and at the same time important gesture is the conmixtio. It consist of the introduction of a small particle of the Body of Christ in the chalice. Its origins date back to the beginning of Christianity. The Pope celebrated the Mass and sent the priests to celebrate in the churches on the outskirts of the city. He gave each one of them a small particle of the Eucharist that he had consecrated, and that received the name of fermentum. Each priest, during the celebration of Mass, introduced the fermentum into the chalice as a sign of communion with the Pope. Thus the Eucharist was made manifest as the sacrament of unity. Later on, another theological meaning was developed. The union of the two species of the consecrated bread and wine, which until that moment were separated, simbolizes the sole, glorious person of Christ, vivified by the Holy Spirit. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says: “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.” (GIRM, 83)

Then the priest, presenting the consecrated Host to the faithful, repeats the words of St. John the Baptist: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29). And adds the words that, according to the Apocalypse, the celestial liturgy proclaims: “A voice coming from the throne... like the sound of a great multitude or the sound of rushing water or mighty peals of thunder, as they said:... ‘Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” (cf. Apoc. 19:1-9) In fact, the priest says: “Happy are those who are called to his supper.”

Then, the faithful respond with the words of the Roman centurion, who was awestruck by Christ’s humility and daring trust: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say a word and I shall be healed.” (Mt. 8:8-10)

Knowing the meaning of the words and gestures of the liturgy will, without a doubt, help us to enter into communion with the Lord. However, a lively faith is essential in those who participate in the Eucharist. Discovering the presence of the Lord, His love that becomes a gift in order to come into communion with us, is key. In the words of Benedict XVI, “The Holy Eucharist is the gift that Jesus Christ makes of himself, thus revealing to us God's infinite love for every man and woman.” (SC, 1)

Let us ask Mary, the Eucharistic woman, once again, to help us not to miss the treasure that God has given us in the Eucharist, rather that in loving and living the mystery of Christ, we may be transformed in Him.