To answer the question, we have to start with the purpose of the litany. It does not stand on its own; it is designed to accompany an action. After the Lord’s Prayer and the Sign of Peace, we go into the Rite of the Breaking (or “Fraction”) of the Bread. Notice that the priest takes the consecrated host and breaks it into pieces, placing a small piece into the chalice. This action can easily be overlooked, but it is important enough that the earliest Christians used it as a title for the whole liturgy. That is, where we would say, “We go to Mass on Sundays,” the early Church would have said, “We go to the Breaking of the Bread.” The image is that, at the Last Supper, Christ used just one loaf of bread from which all of those gathered there had a piece. As the Church grew, a single loaf became impractical, so they began using individual pieces of bread, “hosts.” The priest had one a little bigger so that it could be seen when he held it up and so that it could be broken as a symbol of our unity. The Fraction is a reminder that we share one Eucharist with every Catholic throughout the world.
The litany that accompanies this action adds further significance. The Lamb of God ties the Eucharist in with Christ’s crucifixion. Therefore, it is always a part of the action, not something that stands alone. At times, that action can take a little longer. I like to use the very large host so that at least some people can receive a piece from the same host. Also, we have a large bowl that, to signify that unity, allows me to put all of the hosts into one container. Part of the Fraction Rite is to distribute those into the various patens that the Eucharistic Ministers and I will hold when we distribute. All of that takes a little bit longer. Meanwhile, the plan is for the litany to accompany the entire action. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the document that tells us what to do at Mass) says, “This invocation accompanies the fraction of the bread and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has been completed. The final time it concludes with the words grant us peace.”
I hope that explanation not only answers the question but also gives you a better understanding of what is happening. And if you have any questions that I think may be of general interest, I will try to get to them in future columns.