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A friend asked me “why does the priest break off a small piece of his host and place it in the cup just before receiving communion?” This is a great question because there are many little “details” of our Catholic Mass that can go unnoticed or unappreciated because we don’t realize the symbolism or theology behind them.

The priest breaks the bread (the consecrated Host) because that is what Jesus did at the Last Supper. Then he drops a little piece of it into the chalice with the Precious Blood (the consecrated wine) to signify the unity of the Church. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal explains: “The gesture of breaking bread done by Christ at the Last Supper, which in apostolic times gave the entire Eucharistic Action its name, 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 for the salvation of the world died and rose again” (No. 83).

So, the priest breaks off a small part of the consecrated Host while the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is either sung or spoken. This happens after the Lord’s Prayer and the sign of peace, but before Holy Communion. The rubrics in the Roman Missal (the big, red book on the Altar that Father prays from) specify: “Then he takes the Host, breaks it over the paten, and places a small piece in the chalice, saying quietly: ‘May this mingling of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.’” That’s it. Nothing concrete or absolute here. No heavy theology. Just a simple prayer and symbolic gesture to remind us of the beautiful mystery that we are about to receive the Bread of Life so we can be with God forever.

Too often in today’s world we want concrete facts and absolute answers. But as Christians, God asks us to trust him – to take a leap of faith – that he has a plan, and the plan is good. God’s plan is a mystery to us, as it should be, because we are only human, and that’s OK. May we pray this week for graces of wisdom and patience to seek God’s plan for us and celebrate the Mystery of our life.

Deacon John

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