October Prayer Intentions

And More on Breaking the Host

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ROME, OCT. 19, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Please help me to understand the monthly prayer intentions of the Church. I am puzzled by the way we select the prayer intention of the Church. For example, October is the month for the rosary and yet it is also the month for the missions. How does this work, and which intention takes precedence? — P.B., Harare, Zimbabwe

A: The possibility of prayer intentions is unlimited, and there is no contradiction in having more than one commemoration in the same month. Nor is there any real need to establish a priority in this case.

The association of the month of October with the holy rosary is earlier than with the missions.

The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 7 originated as Our Lady of Victory and commemorated the decisive Christian victory over the Turks at the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571. Pope St. Pius V, a member of the Dominican Order, had organized special processions in Rome on that same day and had requested that Catholics pray the rosary for the Christian fleet. Since then, the feast is a continual reminder of the importance of the rosary and an occasion for promoting its use.

The advent of World Missionary Sunday is relatively recent. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and proclaimed patron of the missions along with St. Francis Xavier. Although Thérèse never left her convent she had a deep love for the missions, prayed continually for missionaries, and corresponded by letter with some missionary priests. She herself had requested to become a missionary and had been assigned to a Carmelite convent in Hanoi, in French Indochina, but her failing health prevented her departure.

The fact that her feast falls on October first probably led the Superior Council of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith to propose the second to last Sunday in October as «A day of prayer and propaganda for the missions to be celebrated on the same day by all the parishes and institutes of the Catholic world.»

The reasons for the initiative were clearly explained in the request: «It would foster better understanding of the vastness of the missionary task and greater missionary zeal among the clergy and the people; it would be an opportunity to make the Society for the Propagation of the Faith more widely known, encourage membership and offerings for the missions; but above all, like a holy crusade, it would exert sweet violence on the most Sacred Heart of Jesus to hasten universal recognition of His divine sovereignty.»

The mention of Christ’s divine sovereignty indicates another reason for proposing the penultimate Sunday of October. At that time the feast of Christ the King was celebrated on the last Sunday of October. This feast had also been instituted by Pius XI in 1925 and was very dear to his heart at a time when the Church was threatened by a rising tide of militant atheism.

Pius XI approved the request for the day of prayer for the missions in April 1926.

Over the last eight decades it became customary for the prefect of the congregation to issue a message on the occasion of Mission Sunday. In October 1965 Pope Paul VI issued a message «to add once again Our fervid contribution to the clarification of the essential missionary character of the Holy Church of Christ, presented with supreme effectiveness in these days by the Ecumenical Council [Vatican II] ….»

Since then, his successors have continued this tradition. This year Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Mission Day on Sunday, Oct. 24, has as its theme «Building Ecclesial Communion is the Key to Mission.»

The Little Flower’s combination of contemplation and missionary zeal holds the key as to why there is no contradiction between promoting the rosary and fostering the missions.

As a form of prayer the rosary contemplates the principal mysteries of salvation history so as to penetrate their meaning and apply them to our lives. Together with contemplation the rosary, like other forms of prayer, can also have specific intentions which we entrust to God through the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This dual aspect of the rosary as contemplation and intercession means it is perfectly compatible to pray the rosary for the intention of the missions, and, indeed, for vocations, for those in need, and for any other intentions we choose.

Another aspect is the Holy Father’s monthly intentions. This is a specific activity of the Apostleship of Prayer. Since its foundation in France in 1844, this apostolate has transformed many lives and reaped copious fruits of grace for the Church. Further information on the apostolate can be found at www.apostleshipofprayer.org.

An editor’s note on this site explains the monthly intention: «Apostleship of Prayer receives monthly prayer intentions from Pope Benedict XVI and urges Christians throughout the world to unite in prayer for those intentions.» As Catholics we firmly believe in the power of prayer and so the Holy Father commends specific intentions every month so that the faithful around the world can join with him in praying for these intentions. This can be done either by specifically praying for this intention or, as explained above, by adding them to our intentions while assisting at Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary, or other prayers and devotions.

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Follow-up: Breaking of the Host

Regarding our Oct. 5 column on why the priest should not break the host at the moment of the consecration, a reader commented: «After the Breaking of the Bread, why do some priests put the pieces back together right before they take Communion? It seems to me the breaking ritual is a sign of sharing, and they should share some of the pieces with the congregation or with others at the altar. In fact, when they use the very large (5-inch) bread, they never try to put it together again. Is there reason for the ‘reconstruction’ of the smaller sacred Host?»

A very good question! The rite is described in the General Introduction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), Nos. 83 and 84:

«83. 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 supplication Agnus Dei, is, as a rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; or it is, at least, recited aloud. This invocation accompanies the fraction and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has reached its conclusion, the last time ending with the words dona nobis pacem (grant us peace).


«84. The priest prepares himself by a prayer, said quietly, that he may fruitfully receive Christ’s Body and Blood. The faithful do the same, praying silently.

«The priest next shows the faithful the Eucharistic Bread, holding it above the pate
n or above the chalice, and invites them to the banquet of Christ. Along with the faithful, he then makes an act of humility using the prescribed words taken from the Gospels.»

These norms only mention showing the Eucharistic Bread and give no indications as to the mode of doing so. The fact that the liturgy foresees the possibility of breaking the host into several pieces precludes any need to recompose the circular form of the host. Even when using the common-size host that is broken into three pieces, most priests show one or both of the larger fragments as semi-circles.

There seems to be no good answer as to why some priests recompose the circular form other than their personal preference.

It might be that some are inspired by countless devotional pictures which show the host elevated above the chalice. These pictures capture the moment of the final doxology in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite in which the priest makes five signs of the cross with the host above the chalice before elevating host and chalice together while saying or singing in Latin «is all honor and glory forever and ever.»

The ordinary form is much simpler; it calls for elevating paten and chalice together and only offers the option of presenting host and chalice together after the fraction rite. It is understandable that some priests attempt to capture some of the significance associated with the extraordinary form’s elevation even though this practice risks detracting from the current meaning of showing the Bread that has been broken, the Lamb of God himself, in order to heal us and be our spiritual food.

In conclusion, although recomposing the circular form of the host cannot be said to explicitly contravene liturgical norms, it is perhaps less significant than showing the host in a clearly fragmented manner.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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