The Fraction and Agnus Dei
Following the Lord’s Prayer, the liturgy proceeds to the Fraction and the Agnus Dei. It is at this time in the Divine Liturgy that the consecrated host, which is the body of Christ, is broken as a vivid reminder that the body of Christ himself was broken when He suffered upon the cross. During this act the priest quietly prays the following prayer while the congregation observes a period of silence:
Deliver us, we beseech thee, O Lord, from all evils, past, present, and to come: and at the intercession of the blessed, glorious, and ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with that of thy blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, of St. Luke our Patron, and of Andrew and all thy saints, favorably grant peace in our time, that by the help of thy mercy, we may ever be kept free from sin, and safe from all disquietude. Through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
During this prayer the priest breaks the host in half breaks a smaller particle from the host. This small particle is then placed in the chalice with the prayer:
May this mingling and the consecration of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ avail us who partake thereof unto life eternal. Amen.
What is the purpose of the fraction? Through this ceremonial act we are reminded that we mystically partake of the fullness of the incarnate Jesus. Even if a person, for health reasons, is only able to consume one element, in each element mystically resides the body, soul, and divinity, of our incarnate Lord. This physical action of the the fraction and the prayers that accompany it also remind us we are participating in a holy union. We are not alone at this altar, but are accompanied by all the saints.
It logical, therefore, to proceed at this point in singing the Agnus Dei. This brief responsive chant constitutes a three-fold declaration that we are in the presence of the Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed before the foundation of the earth. He is the one that demonstrated to the world that bloody sacrifice no longer need be pursued by humanity and that a scapegoat need no longer be sought, but that blood and violence in sacrifice and mankind perpetual search for someone to blame, was done and finished, and that instead, we can lean on the grace, and mercy and forgiveness of God. It is common to strike one's breast in penitence during the request for divine mercy, an act which reminds us that we do not deserve the mercy we have so freely and richly been given but that we humbly accept in the midst of our insufficiency to save ourselves.
(as published in St. Luke's Weekly Bulletin, 08/26/18)