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The Fraction Anthem

“The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread.”

The bread which we break, Alleluia, is the communion of the Body of Christ.

One body are we, Alleluia, for though many we share one bread.

Right before we receive Communion, we (or the choir) typically sing the Agnus Dei, a reference to John 1:29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” During this moment, the priest breaks the consecrated bread. This is called the Fraction, from fractio panis (“breaking of the bread”).

Through weekly repetition, most of us have memorized and internalized these lyrics. However, it’s very easy to forget the meaning of these words and why we sing them. Starting this Sunday, we will sing “new” lyrics. Our liturgical guidebook, the Book of Alternative Services, allows for a number of texts besides the oft-used Lamb of God. The refrain (above) references a familiar story from the Gospel of Luke, in which two disciples walk with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but they only recognize him once he breaks bread. The verses of this so-called “Fraction Anthem” come from 1 Corinthians 10.


Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio (1601)

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