My confessor (who is also a canon lawyer) told me that it is OK to drink coffee before Mass, within the sixty minute period before you receive communion. He says it’s OK to do this because “coffee has no nutrition. It’s just brown water.” He told me that he does it every day right before he celebrates Mass. Could you clarify this issue, please? It was my impression that you can’t have anything except water or medicine within the sixty minutes before you receive communion.
I hope this comes from your love of Mystic Monk Coffee!
First, let’s be clear about the law for the Latin Church. The 1983 Code says in can. 919:
“One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion.”
The Eucharistic fast was shortened in 1957 by Pius XII from a complete fast after midnight until the reception of Communion, to three hours (1957) and again in 1964 by Paul VI to a mere one hour before reception of Communion.
The fast, according to the law, is one hour before the reception of Communion, and not the beginning of Mass!
Your confessor thinks that coffee is “brown water”. That may be the way he drinks it, poor man. You could not mistake the coffee I make for “brown water”.
So, I think the priest is wrong. I think that coffee is a drink that is not water. Coffee could be medicinal, in the case of a person who has worked a night shift and is therefore very tired before dragging herself to Mass. People don’t generally say, “I’m really tired. I’ll have me a nice cup of water to help me stay awake.”
That said, because I am an Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist who likes to check the opinion of experts, I look at manuals of moral theology. BTW.. how cool would be to drink coffee from this mug while reading this answer? I digress.
In Sabetti-Barrett I found really interesting quotes. In the context of fasting for Lent and other days, the first interesting quote is “Liquidum non frangit ieiunium… liquid does not break the fast”. And this is followed by an explanation that drinks such as coffee and tea do not break the fast even if they have a little milk added, or a bit of sugar, or fruit juice, which in the case of tea might be lemon. Going on, in a question about hot chocolate they say tea and coffee can be taken. Remember, this concerns the old fast for Lent, etc., not the Eucharistic fast before Holy Communion.
Concerning the Eucharistic fast before Holy Communion, dear questioner, you will be alarmed, I’m sure, to know that the authors think your chewing of tobacco could very well break the fast if you are actually chewing. You don’t, however, break your fast by gargling or brushing your teeth. Great word for gargling in Sabetti-Barrett, by the way, “gargarisatio” and for brushing “pulverisatio“, since tooth powder was used, thus, you “pulverize” your teeth. Nor does the mere tasting of food while cooking break the fast, according to these guys. But please do gargarize and pulverize often. Please? Hmmm… I guess you could gargle with coffee, if you spit it out.
That said, back to coffee and tea and the Eucharistic fast.
For valid baptism, true water must be used. Coffee would be invalid matter for baptism. It isn’t water. Some moralists would say that very light coffee might be doubtful matter, but certainly strong coffee is not valid matter. Making coffee infuses substances into the water so that it can no longer be considered water. If you can recognize what you are drinking as coffee, and not as water with a few drops of coffee in it, don’t drink it before Communion.
I think the confessor is wrong. Coffee breaks the Eucharistic fast and it may not be consumed except for a medical reason within one hour of reception of Holy Communion.
It will be interesting to find out if there are any official responses on this matter from the past which are floating around out there.