Fractio panis

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Fractio panis (Latin: Breaking of the bread)[1] is the rite of breaking the sacramental bread within the Eucharistic celebration before distribution to communicants.

One of four actionsEdit

It is almost universally recognized that the rite of breaking the bread is one of the four actions that make up Christian Eucharistic liturgies:[2][3][4]

  1. taking bread and wine (the offertory)
  2. giving thanks to God over the bread and wine (the consecration)
  3. breaking the bread (the fraction)
  4. distributing the bread and wine (the communion)

Roman RiteEdit

The Catholic Church recommends that the bread for use in the celebration "be made in such a way that the priest at Mass with a congregation is able in practice to break it into parts for distribution to at least some of the faithful". It does not rule out the use of small hosts, "when the number of those receiving Holy Communion or other pastoral needs require it".[5]

It goes on to say: "The action of the fraction or breaking of bread, which gave its name to the Eucharist in apostolic times, will bring out more clearly the force and importance of the sign of unity of all in the one bread, and of the sign of charity by the fact that the one bread is distributed among the brothers and sisters."[5]

The actual rite is described as follows:[6]

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 Agnus Dei is "the liturgical chant which from ancient times has been sung at Mass at the time of the fractio panis, or the Breaking of the Bread, which precedes the Communion Rite of both the priest and the people".[7]

At the 2005 assembly of the Synod of Bishops some participants deplored the practice whereby "the Fractio Panis is gradually assuming an inferior role to the peace".[8] In the apostolic exhortation issued by Pope Benedict XVI following that assembly, he said of the sign of peace: "During the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration."[9] On 8 June 2014, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments sent to the presidents of episcopal conferences a letter requesting correction of excesses that had crept in regarding the sign of peace.[10]

Protestant ReformationEdit

Reformed Christians symbolize their belief that Christ is not physically hidden in the bread by breaking the bread. This was a controversial practice among Protestants during the Reformation, as it shocked the sensibilities of Lutherans, who believe Christ's body to be physically present in the Eucharist. Lutherans mocked Calvinists by calling them Stuttenfressers (roll eaters).[11]


  1. ^ James T. Bretzke, Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary (Liturgical Press 2013 ISBN 978-0-81468239-5)
  2. ^ Leonel L. Mitchell, Praying Shapes Believing: A Theological Commentary on The Book of Common Prayer (Church Publishing Inc. 1991 ISBN 978-0-81922476-7)
  3. ^ Owen F. Cummings, Canterbury Cousins (Paulist Press 2007 ISBN 978-0-80914490-7), p. 48
  4. ^ Patrick W. Carey, Joseph T. Lienhard (editors), Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians (Greenwood Publishing Group 2000 ISBN 978-0-31329649-9), p. 156
  5. ^ a b General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 321
  6. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 83
  7. ^ Russell B. Shaw, Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing 1998 ISBN 978-0-87973669-9), p. 48)
  8. ^ Keith F. Pecklers, The Genius of the Roman Rite (Liturgical Press 2009 ISBN 978-0-81466021-8), p. 83
  9. ^ Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, 49
  10. ^ "Text of Vatican Document on Sign of Peace at Mass" (ZENIT News Agency, 25 August 2014)
  11. ^ Benedict, Philip (2002). Christ's Churches Purely Reformed. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-0300105070.


  • Barry M. Craig, Fractio Panis: A History of the Breaking of Bread in the Roman Rite, Studia Anselmiana 151/Analecta Liturgica 29, Rome: Pontificio Ateneo S. Anselmo [Sankt Ottilien: EOS], 2011. ISBN 978-3-8306-7426-9