Calling all Geometricians

Prior to Vatican II there was little emphasis on the breaking of the Eucharistic Bread.  Indeed, in the Tridentine Order of Mass the faithful never saw the broken Host (the celebrant showed them one of the small precut Hosts). Thus the ancient Biblical understanding of the Eucharist as being the breaking of the bread (fractio panis) was lost.

This changed, at least on paper, with the post-Conciliar reform of the liturgy.

Although it is rarely complied with, the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) prefers that Catholics receive Communion that has been Consecrated at the liturgy they are attending and seems to express a preference for administering Communion in the form of a broken piece of the Eucharistic Bread that the priest has received from.  Number 321 of the GIRM says:

By reason of the sign, it is required that the material for the Eucharistic Celebration truly have the appearance of food. Therefore, it is desirable that the Eucharistic Bread, even though unleavened and made in the traditional form, be fashioned in such a way that the Priest at Mass with the people is truly able to break it into parts and distribute these to at least some of the faithful. However, small hosts are not at all excluded when the large number of those receiving Holy Communion or other pastoral reasons call for them. Moreover, the gesture of the fraction or breaking of bread, which was quite simply the term by which the Eucharist was known in apostolic times, will bring out more clearly the force and importance of the sign of the 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.

However, I would say that the vast, vast majority of Catholics receive Communion not only from the Tabernacle, but from the “exceptional” small hosts.  While the GIRM is clear that such exceptions exist dure to “large numbers” of communicants and other pastoral reasons.  Aside from the excuse of “pastoral reasons” (the Latin Church’s equivalent of the Eastern Church’s “Economy”), I hope that all can agree that few parishes, at least in the Western world, have to struggle with “large numbers.”  Therefore I am posing the question in this post, how can we allow for communicants to receive a Host that is broken?

The clearest solution that I have come across, is to simply use many of the traditional “priest’s Host” that is often broken in 4 pieces.  They cost a little more, but if a ciborium of pre-broken “priest’s Hosts” are consecrated, it is difficult to tell if the piece you receive was broken during the liturgy you are attending or in the sacristy prior to the service.

The other option that I come across more frequently is a bigger host that can break into 24 pieces.  I include photos of one that I took from a sacristy in New Jersey (and which was not consecrated before or after the photos). Here in Ireland a similar Host is available, but it is somewhat smaller (and even more difficult to use).


The main problem that I have with this type of host, is that Eucharistic Ministers find them difficult to administer and very frequently they are left behind and more and more of them end up in the Reserved Species in the Tabernacle.

Personally I try to solve this problem, by breaking the host into 8 or 12 pieces.  But this is more difficult as there are break lines that tend to break into the smaller fractions.


I have occasionally seen similar sized hosts that have no break lines.  But I am wondering here, if anybody knows of a better type of existing host that elegantly meets the requirements of the GIRM? Alternatively, not being mathematically inclined, I wonder if any of our readership can propose an as yet untried geometric solution to the problem?

7 thoughts on “Calling all Geometricians

  1. When living in France before ordination, I experience that our community sacristans would prepare a large host by scoring it with a nail, keeping the lines straight with a plastic ruler. I don’t recall the details of how many lines etc, but it ended up being just fine. The only difficulty was in not applying too much pressure with the nail and making a hole in the bread.
    Re Tridentine Missal….the first edition (1570) made no provision for an invitation to Holy Communion…the Ritus servandus just indicates when to give communion. It was the second or third edition of the Roman Missal which introduced the brief rite for the sick with its Confiteor and Ecce Agnus Dei (presuming it involved a small host after the priest had consumed his large one), taken from the Roman Ritual, itself influenced by a decision of a local church council in maybe the 1580s or 1590s with respect to the communion for the sick (Confiteor, etc.).
    Theologically it seems to me to be problematic for the priest celebrant to be, usually, the only person to receive from the “bread broken”. The breaking is part of the offering (Aquinas mentions this too). Practically and theologically, most receive tiny whole loaves, offered, consecrated, but unbroken, and I’m not sure what that then represents liturgically/symbolically.

  2. I take issue with your proposed solution that large hosts simply be broken beforehand so as to have the appearance of being a part of the “priest’s host” at communion time. A deceptive symbol is a poor one.

    While I laud the vision of the GIRM on this point, I suspect that it did not have in mind the mega churches and conglomerate “clusters” that are so common now in the United States, at least. I would argue that these situations do indeed constitute the exceptional.

    The best place to start is weekday Mass. Simply use a large presider host and break it in to pieces according to the number of people present.

  3. Few changes are more difficult to make in parish worship than ensuring that the assembly receive bread offered, consecrated and broken at the mass in which they’re participating. Efficiency and convenience are idols in parish sacristies. Cavanaugh makes a 9 inch double thick wheat host that easily and cleanly breaks into 69 pieces and is large enough to serve as a quality sign even in large worship spaces.

  4. Someone said many years ago that it is easier to believe that what we use for Communion is the Body of Christ than to believe that it ever was bread.
    In 1967, a few months after ordination, I helped out during Holy Week and Easter in a small rural parish outside Bologna. There I found that the bread for the Eucharist was made by people in the parish. Not only that, the Communion wine was made in the parish!
    In the 1970s, I was at a wedding in a large Episcopal parish in Houston, Texas, where there was a strong Charismatic movement. The bread for the Eucharist was in the form of a loaf, something like home-made loaves of brown bread here in Ireland, and of a similar size. At Communion for the large congregation, there were perhaps four ministers of the Eucharist. Each had a loaf on a plate. As each person came to receive, the minister broke a piece from the loaf – not a geometric shape or equal size, but simply a portion broken from the whole.
    In a small country church in a rural parish in Co Wicklow, I used to use one of the largest size of Communion bread from Glencairn in Co Waterford, and break it as required. This bread looks and tastes more like real bread than the white wafers in common use. The one large host was supplemented with smaller hosts of the same bread.
    In my present parish, there has been a custom for many years that bread for Communion on Holy Thursday was made in the parish, and broken into many pieces at the Breaking of Bread. Where necessary, this was supplemented by small hosts of the commonly used type.
    Tom O’Loughlin, Emeritus Professor of Historical Theology at University of Nottingham has written several articles about the Eucharist as sharing in the one loaf and one cup:
    “A Loaf of Bread: The Links between Life and Liturgy”: Reality, July/August 2020
    ‘The Grammar of Meals and the ‘”Bread of Life”,’ Scripture in Church 45, n.179(2015)117-128.
    “For a Biblical Regeneration of our Eucharistic Practice” Japan Mission Journal, Summer 2018.

  5. I will celebrate my 50th anniversary of ordination this week and over that whole span of time I have made many attempts to provide people with bread that was broken during the Lamb of God. For a while I used the 69 piece large “loaf” that is made by Cavanaugh so that at least a sizeable number of people could be given one of the broken pieces. After a while, I switched to the small 24 piece “loaf” from Cavanaugh and have used that ever since. I always try to consecrate enough smaller altar breads so that there would be no need to go to the tabernacle.
    I would regard it as truly wonderful for the authorities to authorize the use of bread that consists of more than just flour and water. Receiving Communion should not require two acts of faith. One, that it is bread (the accidents thereof), and two that the bread has become the true Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity of the Lord.

  6. About twenty years ago, an interim priest at my wife’s Episcopal church consecrated one of those 5.5 in / 14 cm altarbreads. The people in the pews were quite taken aback.

  7. “In the Tridentine Order of Mass the faithful never saw the broken Host.”
    When Father Neil wrote that, his subject was not which side of the altar a presiding priest should stand on. However, I think that’s the best argument for versus-populum I have ever seen.

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