An argument for lengthening Communion fast to 3 hours again

Over at In the Light of the Law, canonist Edward Peters has a proposal.

Be sure to go over there and spike his stats.

Here is his piece, with my emphases.

Proposal: Extend the Communion fast

I have just published a short article proposing that the Communion fast (1983 CIC 919) be calculated from the start of Mass (instead of from the reception of Communion) and that the fast be extended to three hours (instead of the current one hour). See Edward Peters, "The Communion Fast: a Reconsideration", Antiphon 11 (2007) 234-244. Briefly, my reasons are:

1. A one hour "fast" is physically insufficient to bring the human body into a fasting state, meaning that the spiritual benefits long associated with corporal preparation for Communion are lost.  [We are both body and soul, according to our human nature. To be properly disposed to receive Holy Communion requires a spiritual preparation but also a physical preparation.  That is one reason, not the only, why we fast before Communion.  Remember that the physical dimension is very important.  We are not merely ghosts in a meat machine.  Think about the importance of the physical manner of reception of Holy Communion: standing does something different to us than kneeling.]

2. Making reception of Communion relevant to calculating the fast leads to distracting cogitations about the liturgy itself (e.g., worrying about whether the length of the homily or sung responses or angling to the end of the Communion line might allow one to complete the fast in time).

3. Calculating the fast from reception of Communion reinforces the assumption of many that "going to Communion" is the only important thing about Mass (rather than helping them see, e.g., the Sunday obligation as a liturgical one fundamentally oriented to worship [Rather than merely getting your obligation ticket validated.]).

4. A fast oriented only to reception of Communion diminishes the faithful’s appreciation for the Liturgy of the Word as an encounter with Christ worthy of preparation in its own right (see Mk VI: 34-42 on Jesus’ example of teaching hungry people before He fed them). [Related to the previous point.]

5. The brevity of the current fast means that Catholics with guilty or doubtful consciences have no discrete way to refrain from going up to Communion without attracting attention, resulting in pressure on them to approach the Eucharist under conditions that risk profanation.  [I think this is one of the most damaging things that resulted from shortening the Communion fast.  I have written on this many times and am very glad Peters has too!  Well done.  There is too much psychological pressure on people at Mass to get up and go forward.  Row by row Communion does this too, I think.]

6. Imposing as a requirement of law what is scarcely impossible to avoid doing anyway (how many people really eat and drink on their way to Mass?) makes legal norms seem like empty exercises, in turn fostering a diminished respect for the role of law in ecclesiastical society.  [Hmmm.. subtle, but good.]

My article outlines these problems in light of the history of the Communion fast and demonstrates, I think, that reforming the Communion fast as proposed above would resolve each of these issues quickly and completely.

We’ll see who might agree. [I do.]

PS: If you don’t already know the Society for Catholic Liturgy, publisher of Antiphon, check it out today!

 

Remember, the present law is one hour before the reception of Holy Communion.  That is the law.  You can fast longer if you wish.

However, Peters has a longer view here.  He is considering big picture issue, such as

What do we think Mass is?
What do we think the Church’s law is for?
What do we receive at Mass?

I think these questions, and therefore the proposal, is also bound up with Pope Benedict’s efforts to revitalize our Catholic identity in the modern world, ruled by secular relativism.

If we don’t know who we are, we have nothing to say to or give to the world. 

Our Catholic identity was once shaped by many traditions, often codifed in law.  We not only knew more about ourselves as Catholics through these things, but non-Catholics recognized us as well out there in the world. 

For example, meat-less Fridays: everyone knew this about Catholics.  Women and girls wearing veils, even on the way to Church.  Fasting.  I am sure you could come up with other things.

I think we have lost too much.  

Good proposal.

 

 

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69 Responses to An argument for lengthening Communion fast to 3 hours again

  1. Mark S. says:

    I know I’m probably setting myself up to be shot down in flames by posting the first comment, but here it goes. I’m not sure about an actual change in legislaion, but certainly emphasising that the 1 hour is a MINIMUM would be a start.

    Assuming that in a Sunday/Saturday evening Mass, Communion is received after 40 – 45 minutes…in many cases you have to be virtually stuffing your face with food as you walk out of the front door of your house in order to break the fast. Having said that, there may be a lot of people who are clock-watching, as Father points out, which means that the emphasis is placed unduly upon the 60 minutes – “I’ll join the back of the queue so that when it’s my turn, the 60 minutes will just be up”

    I’m actually an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion in my parish, as such I can’t help but notice the behaviours of a lot of people before, during and after the act of receiving the Sacrament. The behaviours of a lot of people are perhaps not as reverent as they could be. Perhaps what is really needed is a gradual re-stressing of the points made by Father – what is the Mass about, Who are we receiving in the Sacrament, etc., perhaps a gradual increase in reverence in general along with a reconsideration of fasting times.

  2. Will says:

    I agree with Mark S.

    First, we need to make sure the faithful know that there is, indeed, still a fast. It is troubling to discover that so many Catholics are not aware of it. Many think Vatican II did away with the fast.

    Then we can move on and discuss extending the fast.

  3. johnny says:

    Funny you post this today, as I had to skip my usual a.m. coffee before morning mass.

    Point 5 definitely has some merit, it seems to me. As to the witness angle, I’m reminded of the stories of the Catholics in the Gulag in the 30′s and 40′s, who would forgo any food throughout the day of back breaking manual labor to be able to recieve at a clandestine evening mass. What a small price compared to that! You’ve given something important to ponder here, I think Fr Z.

  4. Irenaeus says:

    Not being Catholic, I don’t get #5 — is the idea that a person could not go to communion, and others could assume that he or she had eaten and not kept the fast?

  5. LCB says:

    Most Catholics I know are totally unaware of even a 1 hour fast.

    Is it so absurd to suggest there are deep connections between no fasting, no veils, girls wearing swimsuits with shorts/t-shirt over them, guys wearing shorts and muscle shirts, gum chewing, talking (before, during, after), text messaging during mass, bad music (focused on US! I am God! I sing God’s words! Just like Adam & Eve, I get to make decisions on moral truth!), bad preaching, liturgical abuses, reception on the tongue, EMHC treating the Eucharist poorly, and morality outside of mass?

    A point that has occupied much of my thought recently: are such things a direct consequence of the NO, or simply the result of abuses of the NO? I’ve only rarely seen the NO conducted well, so I don’t have the experience to decide.

    Save the Liturgy, Save the World. And bring back the mandatory fast.

  6. John6:54 says:

    The one hour fast serves its purpose if you said it is one hour from the scheduled start Mass but when you say it’s from the time of reception the whole rule/law becomes silly.

    The only time the fast even affects me is at daily Mass. I too have to skip the morning coffee in order to receive. Imagine that, the Body & Blood of Christ ranks higher than morning coffee. I’m such a witness to the faith… tongue firmly in cheek.

  7. Christopher Milton says:

    I don’t understand #5. How would a longer fast make it easier for me to refrain from Communion?

    It would give me an easier excuse? “Yeah, I was going to receive the Lord, but I had a donut.” That doesn’t seem to help the situation.

    Could somebody help me here?

    That said, I welcome this proposal.

  8. Jason says:

    Interesting to hear that the law is 1 hour before Communion. I’ve often thought it was 1 hour before Mass.

    But my question is this: What exceptions are there? The reason this is on my mind is that my wife is pregnant, which I would suspect lessons the requirement in her personal case, but I’m not sure of the details. Particularly if the fast is extended to 3 hours, she and other ladies could have significant issues if they need to eat every 2 hours while pregnant (which is fairly common).

    –Jason

  9. LCB says:

    Irenaeus,

    When the fast was still 3 hours (and priests still bothered to hear confessions), it was not a major deal if a person didn’t receive Communion. Others would just presume the person hadn’t gone to weekly Confession, or had not kept the fast, or had some other good reason.

    It was understood that receiving Communion was not the main point of “showing up”, but rather participating in the sacrificial worship (notice the focus on God vs. a focus on our own activity). Today if a known Catholic doesn’t receive Communion, it is not uncommon for others to directly question them, “Is something wrong? You didn’t receive Communion? What’s going on?”

    I’ve had this happen to me on occasions where I had already attended mass that day, and had not received permission to receive Communion again, by numerous individuals. Once, when I went up for a blessing (seeking to prevent such gossip) one of the EMHC even told many others, “LCB received a blessing instead of Communion.”

  10. dcs says:

    Not being Catholic, I don’t get #5—is the idea that a person could not go to communion, and others could assume that he or she had eaten and not kept the fast?

    Yes, exactly.

  11. LCB says:

    “I’ve had this happen to me on occasions where I had already attended mass that day, and had not received permission to receive Communion again, by numerous individuals.”

    Might be better read, “I’ve had this happen to me on occasions where I had already attended mass that day and had not received permission to receive Communion again. Numerous individuals questioned me on the matter.”

  12. Jackie says:

    I have the same question as Jason. I am insulin resistant and becuase of my medicine sometimes I need to eat close to Mass time in order not to get sick (like eating a piece of fruit…nothing big just enough so that my blood sugar remains high enough to function) A three hour fast would mean that pretty much I couldnt receive at all.

  13. Arieh says:

    Is a three hour fast really that difficult? It seems to be fairly minimal. I am going to a noon mass today, had breakfast at 8:30am, will eat lunch after mass. If I go to daily mass in the morning I will grab a coffee and bagel after mass. I don’t see what causes some so much grief. And there has always been exceptions for the infirm/pregnant/nursing/etc.

  14. I had already attended mass that day, and had not received permission to receive Communion again, by numerous individuals.

    For the record, it\’s now perfectly ok (whether or not it should be) to receive Holy Communion twice in the same day. However, I sometimes don\’t receive communion at the second Mass I attend in a day, so — not having the fasting issue for cover — am likewise open to assumption of mortal sin if anyone bothers to notice or care.

  15. Ken says:

    I would hope that any priest saying, or layman hearing, the traditional Latin Mass using the 1962 missal would abide by the 1962 discipline: a midnight fast, or at least three hours if the Mass is later in the day.

    Yes, it’s not the law anymore, but neither is receiving communion kneeling on the tongue from a cleric.

  16. Atlanta says:

    Well, Fr. Z., you know Orthodox fast from midnight the night before liturgy, and that on Wednesdays and Fridays we fast from meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, fish, wine and oil, during a more lenient fast we are allowed wine and oil and on feast days during a fast we are allowed fish. Also, whenever I complained about some one going to communion who I thought should not be, I was always told it was none of my business who went to communion, that I am not supposed to look and see who is going. It is inspiring to see liturgical renewal taking place in the RC church.

  17. I think the three hour Eucharistic fast is appropriate for anyone between the ages of 18 – 59 (just like we have for the law on Lenten fasting) and keep the one hour Eucharistic fast for the children and elderly. This would keep continuity. I would also recommend the timing of the fast start with the beginning of Mass rather than at Communion time. As a priest, I see many in Church at Sunday Mass, weddings and funerals chewing gum. Many are oblivious to the fact that this is irreverent, crass and violates the fast. So, I inevitably must make an announcement before weddings and funerals to dispose of all gum, candy and any food or beverage while inside the House of God. Sadly, too often Catholics are the culprits.

  18. David Deavel says:

    I know many will object to this (though not as many on this site) but I think restoring the post-Midnight fast should be the goal. That venerable and continuous tradition has a lot to say for it. Of course, the question of regular vigil Masses and Masses after noon in general would follow. And that would annoy even more people.

  19. Brian Walden says:

    Fr. Z. said: “There is too much psychological pressure on people at Mass to get up and go forward. Row by row Communion does this too, I think.”

    At the very least I wish churches wouldn’t have an usher that goes up the aisle marking when each row can go. It really draws attention to who is going and who isn’t and adds to the mentality that everyone should go.

    Ending row by row communion might also make it easier for people who prefer to go to the priest for communion rather than an EMHC. The way it is now in most churches, you’re pretty much locked into a communion line.

    But if the rows didn’t file out one by one, how would that work at packed Sunday Masses? I’ve never been to a church where it wasn’t done this way.

    Also is there any solution to people climbing over you to get go to communion? I feel that newer churches have longer pews whereas old ones tended to require more pillars for support which meant that the pews would be shorter and often have a divider in the middle – all of which which I think made it easier for someone staying in the pew.

    Anyway, I think Dr. Peters’ proposal is great. I have no idea how long it takes to change a rule like this, but as others have mentioned a good start would be emphasizing that the law is the minimum and teaching people about the importance of fasting. I personally don’t mind the very easy requirements for communion fast, fast days during lent, Friday penance, etc. – the problem is people aren’t taught that that’s just the bare minimum and that they should be doing more if they want to grow in holiness. I personally always try to fast all morning before Mass (or atleast 3 hours if its a later Mass), but if for some reason that doesn’t happen I don’t hold it against myself.

    I think that in a perfect world the best solution would be to keep the rule at one hour (although making it from the start of mass would be a good change) but convince everyone to choose to do more than that on their own. That way they wouldn’t be penalized if the events of the day just didn’t work out. But understanding that many (most?) people won’t do more than the minimum of what’s required, I think the 3-hour rule is probably the best solution for the “real world.”

  20. Jackie’s comment interests me.
    I hope I do not seem to be going down a rabbit hole with this, but many years ago, we were taught that something taken for medical reasons did not break the eucharistic fast. I took this to refer to genuine medication. A diabetic who needs to sustain blood sugar levels sounds to me like a case of genuine medical need.
    But what of people whose medication is to be taken only with food ? Does the food break the fast ?

  21. Tim Ferguson says:

    Jackie, if the three hour fast were reinstated, medical issues would alleviate your obligation to follow it, just as they do now. The old canonical principle that no one is bound to the impossible still retains force. If you are unable to refrain from eating for three hours (realistically, for four hours or so, taking into consideration the time spent at Mass), there would be no obligation for you to do so.

    One would not be able to lightly dispense oneself from the obligation, and it should be done in consultation with one’s pastor and/or confessor (who might urge you to be discrete, so as not to give scandal to others – and might ask you to stay away from a garlic-and-onion sandwich before Mass, especially if you’re receiving on the tongue).

  22. Jackie says:

    Tim- Thanks for the info…since I have been newly diagnosised and our parish priests have both been transfered recently I have not had time to talk to our new priests yet about it. So far the only time it was a close call I decided to eat something small but something i hated to eat so do some penance to make up for it a little. But I never new if I was on safe ground with it (as it is mass took 20 minutes longer than normal and I was safe).

  23. Jason says:

    Tim Ferguson:

    That was my understanding as well. And I had to laugh about the Garlic and Onion Sandwich… thankfully, I haven’t been subjected to that as an EMHC, but the possibility is certainly there…

  24. Sacramento Mom says:

    Father John Trigilio: Good post and I have not seen you on WDTPRS before so a nice surprise. I hear you on Ave Maria radio all the time.

    Fr. Z: Thanks for posting this article and the link. When in RCIA they taught us about the 1 hour fast and how it used to be a 12 hour fast.They really stressed the importance of fasting even longer than 1 hour before receiving our Lord in holy communion. I was very sad it wasn’t the 12 hour fast anymore as I saw this not as an outdated law but as an opportunity for great grace by this small sacrifice. In my mind, the longer the fast, the more meaning it brought to the whole Liturgy.

  25. JC says:

    Officially extending the one hour fast to three hours is great–it’s what I think most traditionalists do anyway. But Mr. Peter’s reasons for calculating from the beginning of Mass are entirely unconvincing. He completely misses the point of the fast. We fast in order to receive Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity, not to hear Him present in the Word. You do not have to fast to attend Mass if you are not going to have the Eucharist. And while I am aware that there was a time when receiving Our Lord was done entirely outside of the Mass, as far as I know, it was never the practice to fast for Mass. Of course the “Liturgy of the Word” and worship are important in their own rights,” but in this context, they are intended as preparation for the culmination of Mass, that is, the Sacrifice of the Mass. Some of Mr. Peter’s reasons regarding the behaviour of the faithful during Mass are valid, but could be addressed in other ways; they need not be codified in Canon Law. Yes, people would be better off not watching the clock (by calculating the fast at a suggested maximum of 20 minutes after Mass begins, perhaps), but there are far more troubling sources of distraction (such as immodest dress or other irreverent behaviour) that the Church does not legislate with any specific detail. The clergy should attempt to help the faithful in the right formation of conscience to avoid these problems and any others that might distract them from the Mass. Also, if one is to discuss all the effects of this new guideline for a three-hour fast, one should also consider the fact that with High Masses or Solemn Masses a three-hour fast could easily turn into a four-to-five-to-six hour fast, including preparation and travel time to Mass (I mean, really, are we expected to eat in the car?). While this kind of sacrifice may be possible and even fruitful for adults, it is very difficult to impose on a 7-year old. Reinstitute the three-hour fast by all means, but do so with the right intentions, namely to generate a hightened respect for the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

  26. dcs says:

    When in RCIA they taught us about the 1 hour fast and how it used to be a 12 hour fast.

    The traditional fast is the strict fast (no food or water) from midnight on. I don’t ever recall reading about a “12-hour fast.” The rule of thumb for those celebrating the Christmas midnight Mass or receiving Holy Communion at it was that they should be fasting for four hours.

    While we’re on the subject of fasting, perhaps we ought to consider fasting on Lenten weekdays, Ember Days, and the vigils of feasts.

  27. Cerimoniere says:

    On the whole, this would surely be a good thing: another step in restoring respect for the Holy Eucharist, especially so since it would also be a restoration of another element of the Church’s tradition.

    However, I am confused about points 3 and 4. There is no traditional discipline of fasting before simply assisting at Mass. The fast is prescribed for those receiving Holy Communion. There are various customs of fasting before events of particular significance; for example, those assisting at the consecration of a church would fast for a certain period beforehand.

    I can see the benefit in timing the fast from the beginning of the service within which Holy Communion is received, but is Dr. Peters really suggesting that all those assisting should be fasting, not just communicants?

  28. Ed Peters says:

    Cerimoniere asks: “is Dr. Peters really suggesting that all those assisting should be fasting, not just communicants?”

    Of course I am not. JC didn’t understand my blog, and obviously did not read the linked article. But since I have just written an article on the Communion fast that “completely misses the point of the fast”, I see no point in trying to correct him.

  29. elizabeth mckernan says:

    There are many interesting comments being brought up here. I should like to ask whether a throat pastille counts as ‘food’ or ‘medicine’ ie whether one would be right to receive Holy Communion shortly after having had to resort to taking one. Occasionally a throat tickle can be aggravated by incense! and it is an awful decision to make whether to carry on spluttering in the hope that it will stop and Communion can be received, or whether to take a pastille and refrain from Communion. No doubt there are others who may be asking themselves the same question so I would be grateful for a reply.

  30. Mark says:

    A lot of people skip breakfast anyway. That’s all that you need to do if you go to Mass in the morning. I don’t eat after midnight and have a nice Break-Fast around 11:45 am when I get home. That’s where the word breakfast was dirived. You were breaking your fast – after Mass.

  31. Michael UK says:

    When young we had Masses at 07:30; 08:30; 09:30 and 11:00. Communion was never available at the 11:00 High Mass. Relaxing the rules on fasting was given to allow greater reception of Communion. Hoever, the side-effect, possibly on purpose, was to deamean the value of The Sacrament. In my local diocesan church, which is a veritable bedlam of noise before, during and after Mass an interesting homily took place a couple of weeks ago. It was the Saturday evening Mass and the PP refered to children making their First Holy Communion the following day: he refered to their coming to the best cafe in town and the feast they were to share at the table. Clearly there being no transmission of the reality of Transubstantiation and the Real Presence. The Masses at that church mimic many of the affectations of the Church of England. Personal circumstances, for the moment leave me with no option but to attend.

  32. paul says:

    One of the reasons I support the midnight fast is that it is of ancient origin and our Orthodox and Eastern brethren still observe it. This fast is really not that difficult for the majority of people, most people are asleep at midnight, wake-up 7 or 8 go to the 9am or 10am mass have breakfast after. Sure some people might not be able to observe it- but most people could. Most people in America are overweight it really would probably be a good thing for most of us.

  33. Brian Walden says:

    “When young we had Masses at 07:30; 08:30; 09:30 and 11:00. Communion was never available at the 11:00 High Mass.”

    They couldn’t have communion at an 11AM Mass? Two Sundays ago I volunteered at the parish’s donut Sunday all morning and then went to Noon Mass. I didn’t think of it as a sacrifice, or even an inconvenience, to spend the morning on my feet without eating. The only sacrifice was having to see all those delicious donuts and not eat any. I can’t imagine that back in a time when people fasted regularly, they couldn’t go a whole morning without eating. I suppose it’s moot anyway, what’s being proposed is only a 3 hour fast.

  34. Cerimoniere says:

    Dr. Peters: Thank you for your reply. My question was not prompted by JC’s comment, but rather by the language of your own point 3. If the fast should not be “oriented only to reception of Communion” because the Liturgy of the Word is also “worthy of preparation in its own right”, then it would seem that those not intending to receive Holy Communion should also fast.

    Obviously, fasting is a laudable practice quite apart from going to Communion, but I’m not aware that the Church has ever promoted it strongly as preparation for habitual participation in the liturgy in itself. To this extent, you seemed to be suggesting more than has traditionally been required, and that was what surprised me. I now see that you were suggesting that timing the fast from the beginning of Mass might incidentally increase respect for the entire liturgical action.

  35. Mark S. says:

    I’ve got an observation about the “12 hour fast”. A couple of years ago, I heard a sermon from a priest ordained in the 1950′s. He brought up the fast from midnight with respect to the midnight Mass of Christmas. He said the laity had to fast from 9pm (3 hours from the start of Mass), but the celebrant had to fast from 6pm (6 hours before). Moreover, if the same priest had to say all 3 Masses – Midnight, Dawn and the day Mass – he had to fast from 6pm on Christmas Eve until he’d finished the Mass during the Day, which could be anything up to midday – a fast of up to 18 hours. If this really was the case, it puts things into perspective a bit, doesn’t it? As a curiosity, he also said that in seminary, they would go to chapel at 10:30pm to sing Matins, have Solemn High Mass straight after at midnight, sing Lauds immediately after Mass, finally get to bed at 2:30am, then have to get up at 6am for the dawn Mass. That takes a bit of stamina…

  36. Sacramento Mom says:

    Mark:”A lot of people skip breakfast anyway. That’s all that you need to do if you go to Mass in the morning. I don’t eat after midnight and have a nice Break-Fast around 11:45 am when I get home. That’s where the word breakfast was dirived. You were breaking your fast – after Mass.” Thanks for posting this.

    dcs:
    I stand corrected. This is true about fasting being from midnight on. This is what the RCIA taught, I mistakingly associated it with a 12 hour fast. Thank you. I still agree with a longer fast.

  37. Ed Peters says:

    Cerimoniere. Ah, then you see the problem with reading one point out of the context of the other points. Do read the article itself. So far, virtually every relevant question I’ve seen folks post here and elsewhere is addressed in the original article. It is, after all, 10 pages of analysis, not just a few line of blogging.

    ps: Thanks for your always kind words, Fr. Z. A ton of your people have come over the view the blog.

  38. Jason in San Antonio says:

    I think restoring the post-Midnight fast should be the goal.

    It would be nice, but it’d be much tougher to cram more Masses into the earlier part of the Sunday. But, on the other hand, most of those teen Masses are in the evening. . . hmmm. No wait, so is the Latin Novus Ordo I attend. Nope, sorry, midnight fast simply won’t do. :)

  39. Jason in San Antonio says:

    One additional benefit to the change to a three-hour fast: a change in discipline is the perfect time to teach about that discipline. It’s much easier to bring it up because of some Church-wide stimulus than because of, “Oh, hey, on this random Sunday it just occurred to me that many of you here at St. Ipsidipsy might not be aware of the one-hour fast.” Right?

  40. Kozaburo says:

    Before new rules are proposed, I suggest that existing ones be revealed, such as abstinence from meat on Fridays (still in the Code of Canon law!) What fraction of American Catholics know that they’re supposed to perform an “act of mortification” of some other type if they don’t abstain? That would be the limit of zero.

    But really, even that issue is a stretch, since about half of church-going American Catholics think it’s OK to practice birth control or vote for legalized abortion (“it’s my personal decision between me and God!”), and many get those beliefs straight from their priests.

  41. Zak says:

    It seems to me greater catechesis is necessary for people to understand the role of law in the church. Otherwise, a change like this would be encountered by many as a rule being imposed without reason. I know too many people who think any fasting regulations are contrary to the spirit of Christianity, presumably because their early catechesis included a bastardized version of St. Paul.

  42. Cerimoniere says:

    Dr. Peters: Naturally, I’m aware of the dangers of reading things out of context. Having now read your whole article, however, it still seems to me that number 3 is a stand-alone point, not strongly related to the main thrust of your argument and weaker than your other points.

    It has never been a goal of the Eucharistic fast to encourage respect or spiritual preparation for the Mass as a whole, but only for reception of Holy Communion. While the two are obviously linked, they are distinct and can happen separately. Indeed, over history, it can probably be said that most people assisting at any given Mass have not received Holy Communion. I think the logic of your third point would suggest fasting in preparation for Mass, whether going to Communion or not.

    In any event, I think your general proposal is very well founded, and hope that it is widely accepted.

  43. “However, I am confused about points 3 and 4. There is no traditional discipline of fasting before simply assisting at Mass. ..”

    I think the Orthodox do. At the very least, people who are not going to receive
    Holy Communion still have to fast if they want to receive the antidoron.

  44. Emily says:

    I love this article! This is exactly the kind of thing I wish more parishes would talk about. For myself, I’ve begun taking communion in the mouth only (which can get me some weird looks from the distributors), and going meatless on all Fridays (as much as possible, anyway). The example of a priest in the parish is SO IMPORTANT–I started receiving communion in the mouth once I saw how happy my pastor got when people did that!
    Thanks, Fr. Z, for the great website. It inspires me daily.

  45. Cerimoniere says:

    “I think the Orthodox do. At the very least, people who are not going to receive
    Holy Communion still have to fast if they want to receive the antidoron.”

    That’s interesting to know. Fasting discipline in the East is much stricter overall, I know. Anyway, forgive my occidentocentrism :)

  46. I am not Spartacus says:

    I know a lot of men like myself who have maintained the old ways. The members of our trad study group all trained our children to keep the fast from Midnight, to remain Friday Fish-heads, to say the responses in their correct Latin to English translations, etc etc.

    I am definitely not seeking “atta-boys” nor am I blowing my own horn. I am trying to let y’all know that those of us who maintained the Bonds of Unity in Worship, Doctrine, and Authority never abandoned the old ways.

    In the Church, those of us who have done this are legion. We just usually let our actions speak for themselves. And we could not be any happier that longanimity, some times, brings rewards in our own times.

    Pope Benedict is a radical (the good kind) and all around (thanks to Fr. Z for keeping us all informed) we can see good Christian men arise to form into a Phalanx of Faithful behind him ready to take on the political phantoms of the church progressives who, whether they know it or not, are dead men walking.

  47. John says:

    An excellent proposal. Many of the questions posed above are answered by reading the original article by Edward Peters at
    http://www.liturgysociety.org/JOURNAL/Volume11/11_3/Peters11.3.pdf
    I have always understood the one-hour rule as a MINIMUM: like many others, I had assumed it was before the start of Mass, as the time of actual Communiuon depends on so many variables, making it an uncertain law. [I was always under the impression uncertain law was bad law?!]
    Until the restoration of a longer fast, may I offer a suggestion for incorporation into one’s own Rule of Life. This would be that before receiving at Mass one abstains from the meal which would otherwise precede it:
    i.e. for a morning Mass no breakfast, an afternoon Mass no lunch, an evening Mass no supper/dinner. I do appreciate that this would only have relevance to societies where three meals a day were the norm.
    I was always taught that the justicication for fasting was that the first food of the day was the Lord: unless evening and afternoon Masses are abolished, it would seem difficult to return to that state.
    I can remember the old non-communicating High Mass – one went early Low Mass to receive, came back after breakfast to the High Mass for worship and thanksgiving.
    John

  48. mbd says:

    If re-establishing a three hour fast leads to a reduction in the numbers presenting themselves for communion for the reason intimated in point 5, there may be a further consequential effect – less justification for the use of Extraordinary Ministers.

  49. JC says:

    Dr. Peters,
    Even after reading the entire article, I was left with the same impression Cerimoniere originally had (perhaps I overlooked something…). His subsequent comments cleared up some confusion for me, that is, if in fact you meant what he said, “timing the fast from the beginning of Mass might incidentally increase respect for the entire liturgical action.” If that is in fact what you mean, I would argue that timing the fast from the beginning of Mass might achieve your other objectives, but would concurrently devalue the Real Presence of the Eucharist, even if as an unintended consequence. It might lead others to the conclusion, which both Cerimoniere and I reached independently, that the fast would apply even to those who were attending the Mass but not having Communion. It might imply that the rest of the liturgy is more important or equally as important as the Eucharist. This might just be where our differences lie. Why do we fast? It is my understanding that the Church enacted this discipline based on the time of our reception of the Eucharist precisely to distinguish it from the rest of the Mass, that at the top of the hierarchy of the Mass, you find the Sacrifice and the the Real Presence. We fast, therefore, for other reasons, but principally to show respect to our Lord in a physical way, so that when we ingest Him, He fills our physical as well as spiritual emptiness.

    –J.C. (she, though I have no strong objections to the all-inclusive “he”)

  50. leutgeb says:

    I’ve never seen a problem in not having ushers telling people when to get up to receive Holy Communion.

    At the High Mass the other week at Westminster Cathedral there was no-one to boss and there was no problem. People are not going to start pushing after all. We can wait a bit. It’s just an unneccesary job.

    The worst unneccesary job I saw being done was in a Church (UK) where you had to place a host in the ciborium before Mass. A man would ask you if you were receiving Communion or not and place a host in there with a pair of tongs. Surely that is just plain wrong? You might be someone always unable to receive Communion. Then what? In any case it’s just not anyone’s business what everyone else is up to.

  51. Calleva says:

    There has been mention of the difficulty of communicating during a Sunday late afternoon or evening Mass if stricter fasting rules are introduced.

    Surely, with the ‘reform of the reform’, there would be more Masses on Sunday morning and Benediction in the evening?

    I think Benediction is still far too lacking in our churches, you might get one on a weekday if you’re lucky. For a revival of devotion to the Eucharist, we need Benediction, Exposition and Adoration.

  52. Michael J says:

    JC,
    Given that the Church requires attendance at Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of obligation, but only requires reception of Communion once a year, I am not convinced that establishing a hieararchy between reception of Communion and “the rest of the Mass” is so easily accomplished. I really do not think the two can be separated.

    On a more practical note, If someone must cut it so close that they cannot start the clock so to speak one hour before the start of Mass, I would think that there are other considerations that would remove the obligation entirely.

  53. RJackson says:

    I understand the problems inherent in this suggestion but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. Perhaps the fasting rules should be different on Sundays and holy days of obligation than during daily masses. The reason I bring this up is because it seems many times I go to a daily mass at an oddly scheduled time (say 7:30 p.m.) which if I were to observe a 3 hour fast means that I wouldn’t be able to eat dinner until around 8:30. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is unreasonable.. but perhaps if one does this every day it could become pretty difficult. Certainly in principle I support the 3 hour fast.. or at least something stricter than what we have today.. but daily mass could become troublesome this way.

  54. Fr Edward says:

    I’ve been to several Masses where, if I was to keep keep the hour’s fast with the telos being communion, I could put down my sandwiches sometime sometime between the Epistle and the Gospel.

  55. This is an excellent proposal.

    Last week I wrote a blog entry On minimalism suggesting that saving the liturgy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for rebuilding fervour in countries like the US and Australia – we also need to look at practices like fasting.

    Dr Peters puts the argument in terms of how we approach the sacrament. But I think the practice of some common asceticism is also important in terms of the restoration of catholic culture and sense of community.

  56. Kathleen says:

    I go to Mass every day and, on days that I do not work, fast from midnight, except
    for water. On work days I eat breakfast before six a.m., to receive at seven.
    Then I go directly to work after Mass. I agree somewhat with RJackson. Perhaps the fast
    should be different for anyone who must go directly to work or a similar
    obligation, whatever day it is. On the other hand — here’s an excuse to have a
    bagel on the way to work instead of oatmeal before Mass. ;-)

    Regarding age, in “Catholic Replies” by James J. Drummey, he cites Canon 919:
    “those who are advanced in age…can receive…even if they have taken something
    during the previous hour.” “A person who has reached the age of 60 is considered
    to be “advanced in age.”" I’m not sure if that last sentence is from the code, or
    is Drummey’s. In some countries 60 really is considered old. Is Drummey correct?

  57. Anita says:

    If something like this was instituted, I would like to see more clarity on how to find out if you can be dispensed. When I am pregnant, I simply can’t go the 4-5 hours this would require, and this time around (I am expecting twins) I even had to stop going to daily Communion because I couldn’t manage the current wussy fast! But it seemed to me that just excusing myself from the fast was not ok, especially for daily Mass. And I recently read something saying that pregnant women were not de facto dispensed from Lenten observance, though St. Francis de Sales told a pregnant woman under his direction not to fast while pregnant. So, I am definitely in favor of clarity!

  58. LCB says:

    If you are pregnant, you are under no obligation to fast.

    If I’m wrong, I’m rather confident I’ll be corrected ;-)

  59. danh says:

    I find Point #2 to be an interesting foolishness. I was one who was taught that the fast was dropped by VII. I discovered otherwise on a blog, but, being un-instructed in the matter, I always calculated it to the beginning of the liturgy, an 9:00am liturgy meant 8:00am fast. End of problem and another potential distraction. I like idea of a 3 hour or Midnight fast which is the same given the time of the Liturgy.

    I began abstaining from Communion when in need of Confession only a couple of years ago. Another Spirit of VII myth busted by blog reading. I always find it very hard to stand out like this, a real lesson in humility. In a parish of 800 I WAS THE ONLY ONE sitting out. When people asked, I told them why. I got some funny looks, but now some others will sit out, I presume for the same reason. We are all sinners but nobody likes to stand out alone. I now attend a TLM and the priest has Confession for 30-45 minutes before Mass. No need to sit out for THAT reason anymore!

  60. HMacK says:

    In any case for those who wish, the midnight fast can be observed without fanfare. Our Blessed Lord prefers this approach, He has told us.

  61. elizabeth mckernan says:

    Oh dear – I see from kathleen that the Church regards me as ‘advanced in age!’ Now where did I put my zimmer frame!

  62. Paul Cavendish says:

    The old fast was very simple: the Eucharist was the first Food of the day as it still is in the Orthodox Church and other Oriental Churches.

    The Eucharistic Fast was not a penitential fast like Lent, Ember Days etc. Changing the fast to three hours in the 1950s completely changed the emphasis and missed the point. Once a time period was specified it was inevitable that it could and would be changed to a different period.

    A return to Apostolic practice would be most welcome.

  63. dcs says:

    If something like this was instituted, I would like to see more clarity on how to find out if you can be dispensed.

    In the old days one could be dispensed by one’s pastor or by a confessor.

  64. Fr Francis Coveney says:

    This is an excellent proposal.

    The fast from midnight was first temporarily reduced to three hours by Pope Pius XII during the Second World War. After the war when evening Masses were introduced on a permanent basis, the fast from midnight was no longer mandatory. So when I made my First Holy Communion 50 years ago this month we were obliged to fast from food or alcoholic drinks for three hours and from non alcoholic drinks for one hour. (Not that I was drinking alcohol much at the age of six!)

    I remember when I was at a Catholic Primary School (I think that’s anElementary School across the pond)and at a Catholic Secondary School (High School)and we had School Masses my brothers and I would skip breakfast and my mother would give us a packet of sandwiches to eat at school after Mass.

    As a result no one was under any pressure to receive Holy Communion. Any child who wasn’t a practising Catholic (and yes there were plenty of those – even in the “good old days”) had the perfect excuse of being able to say that they had already eaten breakfast.

    Pope Paul VI (who had a delicate constitution) reduced the Eucharistic Fast to one hour in the late 1960′s for pastoral reasons.

    Unfortunately it has had the unintended consequence that many people have already referred to.

    There have been two generations of Catholics growing up who seem to be blissfully unaware that you need to be in a state of grace (ie free from serious sin) in order to receive Holy Communion.

    Thank goodness the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states this. Restoring the three hour fast would be a simple and practical way to help everyone to remember this – and not to take Holy Communion lightly.

  65. Hidden One says:

    “I began abstaining from Communion when in need of Confession only a couple of years ago. Another Spirit of VII myth busted by blog reading. I always find it very hard to stand out like this, a real lesson in humility. In a parish of 800 I WAS THE ONLY ONE sitting out. When people asked, I told them why. I got some funny looks, but now some others will sit out, I presume for the same reason. We are all sinners but nobody likes to stand out alone. I now attend a TLM and the priest has Confession for 30-45 minutes before Mass. No need to sit out for THAT reason anymore!”

    It’s interesting how that works. I was received into the church this spring, at a parish different from the one where I attended and still attend Mass. So, from last September until after Easter, I was not going up on a weekly basis. [And have missed an embarrassingly high percentage of opportunities since, largely because of the utter lack of availability of Confession.]

    While I would spend the time praying – some of my best time praying in any given week – I did not often have the luxury of having the pew to myself. Thus, sitting consistently near the back, and mostly on the same side of the rather large parish, I was rather aware that I was pretty much the only person staying seated, with the exemption of a few obvious visitors and perhaps one or two semi-regulars [at least to that portion of the church at that Mass time at that parish]. Well, that was September.

    The last couple times I was stuck in the pew during Communion, there were between a dozen and twenty people who also remained seated in the pews directly in front of me. The anonymous peer pressure to go up has, at least at that Mass on the right side of the Church, almost entirely disappeared. I can only hope that I have helped that process.

  66. Kathleen says:

    Regarding my earlier “advanced in age” comment, I could not find that the Church
    regards that age to be 60, so don’t take it too seriously. Canon Law 9l9.3 merely
    says “elderly.” I’m 68, fast from midnight (except for water) on non-work days,
    attend Mass and walk two miles (going to and from) before breakfast. So “elderly”
    can vary.

    I agree that the fast should be changed and kept simple, even though it will
    require packing breakfast for those going directly to work, etc. In the 40′s and 50′s
    we would go to Mass and receive, then go right to school with no ill effects.
    The worst part was no water in summer, as churches were not air conditioned.

  67. Maureen says:

    Speaking as someone who used to be able to fast for extended periods, but now can’t…

    Honestly, this sounds like something that would give a lot of us scruples, and get a lot of people fainting in the pews again. I’ve gotten pretty close to fainting in church a few times myself, and didn’t enjoy it much. I often sing for two Masses in a row; sometimes I’ve done up to three on a Sunday. A three hour fast before Mass would mean I would be walking to church in the morning, doing a lot of physical work on an empty stomach all morning and the beginning of afternoon, and then having a long walk home afterward before I could really get food, drink and a rest.

    I get all kinds of different symptoms: nasty headaches, getting sick to my stomach, getting too low on blood sugar to remember to look both ways when I cross, and all kinds of other stuff besides just plain getting faint. I especially like it wh en I get suicidally depressed because I haven’t eaten. (Yay! Mortal sin before I even get home from Mass!) As it is, it’s a darned good thing some Sundays that we have donuts and coffee after, or I’d never make it home.

    The really insidious thing is that part of the time, I still can fast without ill effects or much effort. So I’d always be sure that I could fast for three hours or from midnight or whatever, until I hit the wall and found out I couldn’t. I feel guilty enough about making myself eat a donut between Masses, even when I know I’m about to drop, and even when I’m not taking Communion. When I arrive hours before the Mass I’m attending or happen to cross the parking lot while going somewhere else, I hide food so people won’t see me eating.

    So a longer fast seems like a real gateway to scruples, not to devotion.

    What we need is to teach unformed people to keep the fast we have, before we start adding crazy new fasts for these same unformed people not to keep.

  68. I don’t think a three-hour fast would bother me too much. At present, I just have a cup of coffee on Sunday mornings before Mass, and have breakfast after I’m finished at the Church, at around 2:00 in the afternoon. On weekdays, I have coffee and a piece of toast in the mornings, and then usually don’t eat again until fairly late at night, although I’ll often have juice or pop during the afternoon to spike my sugar levels. I’d have to watch the timing of that, in order to be able to go to 5:00 pm Mass on weekday afternoons, but I think it could be do-able.

    But I know what everyone means, with people not seeming to know about the one-hour fast – it seems like every time I turn around I encounter someone chomping away on a wad of gum or something, while preparing to go to Mass. :-/

  69. Supertradmom says:

    OK, I am going to show my age, but as a very young girl, we took two sacks to school. One was breakfast, as we had fasted three hours before Communion and were singing in the choir almost daily for the Requiem Memorial Masses. In the second sack was our lunch. We did not mind at all, even after walking (yes, this is true; stop smiling) a mile one-way to Church and school. This fasting brought the reality of the sacredness of receiving Christ in the Eucharist home to us, as we had to do something hard to be ready for Him. If little children could do this, adults and older children should have no trouble, barring medical reasons.

    To be honest, scrambling in the dark mornings for my little lace mantilla or my school beanie, my Missal, and my Latin Requiem Mass book,(all of which were burned after such memorials were not sung), form happy memories of reverence and fear of the Lord. Sigh…bring back these days.