QUAERITUR: morning sickness and the Eucharistic fast

From a reader:

I’m fairly early in my pregnancy yet, but I’ve been getting sick if I don’t eat regularly — about an hour is my max time before I get queasy. Unfortunately, that’s a little less than how long Mass lasts and the minimum for fasting before Communion. I’m fairly sure I can break the fast because I’m pregnant with morning sickness (right?), but do you (or any readers) have any suggestions for doing it politely? Would I be in danger of causing scandal by stepping out to have a cracker or two, especially when I don’t look obviously pregnant?

First, congratulations.

Some basics for some of the readers who may not be up to speed.

Latin Church Catholics are bound to fast for 1 hour before reception of Holy Communion, not 1 hour before the beginning of Mass.

We have to be properly disposed to receive Communion.  Since we are both soul and body, we have to be disposed in both soul and in body.  We are disposed in our souls when we are baptized, in union with the Church, not under a censure, are reasonably sure we are in the state of grace, and believe and are aware of what we are doing.  The disposition of body is addressed through the fast.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law says in can 919 §1: “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” However, §3 says that elderly people, those who are ill, and their caretakers are excused from the Eucharistic fast.   Of course, in the case of danger of death, the fast obviously doesn’t apply.

Moreover, can. 89 says that priests and deacons cannot dispense someone’s obligation for the Eucharistic fast unless the bishop has expressly granted them to do so.  But if you are really feeling ill, the law itself says you are not bound, so you needn’t consult or ask anyone.  You are entirely free to make the call yourself.

So, if you are feeling sick, that is, you are ill, then according to can. 919 you are not bound to the Eucharistic fast.  You may eat something and still receive.

As to a way to get up discretely and go out for your crackers… hmm… some people do this to have a smoke …. I can’t easily advise you, since I don’t know you or your church.  But I should think that sitting in the back, near a door, and at the end of a row might be better than in the center of the front pew beneath the pulpit.  Just go quietly.

Also, do avoid the blaze orange chapel veil we were talking about in another answer, unless all the women – or at least quite a few – are also wearing blaze orange chapel veils.

A couple more things.

Having never been pregnant, I cannot speak from experience of morning, but I have from time to time in the morning been ill, nauseous from the flu or other bug during Mass, even as the celebrant, and it has taken some real effort to keep going.  I have real sympathy.  It is entirely understandable if you really have to go out, but if you can make it through, perhaps you can offer up your suffering for a good intention. I have a couple, if you are looking for something to pray for.

Also, while it sounds as if you can still receive Communion even if within an hour you had eaten something to relieve your illness, it is not obligatory to receive Communion at any Mass.  If you are at all concerned about whether you were sufficiently ill to have needed to eat something, etc., you don’t have to go forward if you don’t want to.  I think you could.  You shouldn’t beat yourself over the head with this or be filled with any anxiety about the choice.  Go freely, so long as you are reasonably sure you are in the state of grace, and will keep down for a reasonable time the Host you receive.

I doubt anyone will look at you funny even if you are not yet “showing”.  I seriously doubt that anyone will be scandalized by your going out.  People have to go out from Mass for all sorts of reasons.  And some old hands might figure out why you are going out!

Above all, relax.  Mass isn’t the rack.

I am sure the women readers here will have some sage advice about this.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. avecrux says:

    Dear Reader –
    I know exactly what you are speaking of. I would cut up some crackers ahead of time which make them small enough to “palm”. Sit in the back (I always had to sit in the back – close to a bathroom – anyway…). Then, if you feel the blood sugar drop, discretely pop a couple of the dinky crackers.. you don’t need to crunch them, just let them dissolve quietly. Its humbling not to be able to keep the fast, but Father has good advice about offering it up. God bless.

  2. kab63 says:

    When you carry your baby in your arms (instead of in your womb) you will most likely step out during Mass for nursing or fussiness. Remember that your current situation is no different, just that no one can yet see the baby for whom you are caring.

    Many, many blessings!

  3. dacna84 says:

    i was the same way during Mass. i would suggest bringing a jolly rancher or other hard candy rather than crackers. it usually eased my nausea (especially when in a car or somewhere i could not find food immediately). also, it is a little more discrete than chomping on a cracker. thank you for asking this question; i always wondered about fasting while expecting.

  4. introibo says:

    Just a note for later in the pregnancy…you might get gestational diabetes, which also wreaks havoc with your blood sugar. You not only have to watch your meals before receiving Holy Communion (but as discussed the fast might not be obligatory if you will be feeling faint) but remember to bring a little snack for after Mass, especially if you have a long ride home. Many times, I’ve been very nauseated on the long bumpy ride home, due to the late term pregnancy and the blood sugar going awry.

  5. digdigby says:

    Digby tells how, on a major fast day, St. Francis was with an invalid who was prescribed meat by a physician. San Francesco, immediately sensing the patient’s reluctance to profane the fast, HIMSELF dug in and ate some of the meat to put the pious old man at ease.

  6. Marg says:

    Just remember (as my friend, a mother of 12 always says)”This too will pass”.

  7. ray from mn says:

    It is not mandatory that you MUST receive Holy Communion. The belief that it IS mandatory has led to an incredible amount of liturgical abuses by laypeople in every parish in the U.S. who receive Holy Communion in the state of Mortal Sin.

    If you feel that you shouldn’t receive Holy Communion because you had to eat, remain seated in your pew and make a Spiritual Communion. Those prayers maybe be found in a good prayerbook or on the internet.

    Your example might keep others in their pews too. That would be exceedingly joyful to the Lord.

  8. Peggy R says:

    I am a bit uncomfortable offering a suggestion, having attained motherhood by adoption. I was wondering whether the morning sickness actually subsides later in the morning and whether this mother-to-be could attend a later mass or an evening vigil if she can more easily keep fast in that part of the day and receive Our Lord without concern, as she desires.

    Please forgive any ignorance on my part in this suggestion.

  9. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I had a similar concern, sometimes becoming hypoglycemic to the sweating and tunnel vision stage. My priest said that glucose tablets are in such a case considered medicine and not food. Maybe a few crackers to keep you from barfing are considered medicine too. Barfing in church kind of disturbs the ambience a little. So does fainting. God understands how our bodies work and that they don’t always work as we would want them to. And morning sickness is one of the worst feelings, as bad as seasickness.

  10. Philangelus says:

    If there’s a certain time of day you feel better than other times, try to go to Mass during that time. If you generally feel best at noon, a noontime Mass may be worth changing to (or 8 AM, or Saturday night.)

    Also, experiment and go with your instincts. There was one pregnancy where I found that if I had a “Celeste For One” frozen pizza (cooked, of course) at 10AM, I’d be free of morning sickness until 4pm. That was a boon, let me tell you. You may find your own magic formula if you do whatever your body tells you to do.

    And finally, ask your guardian angel and the baby’s guardian angel to help you figure this one out. The angels may have ideas about how your own body will best combat nausea.

    Best of luck. It’s no fun being nauseated for eight weeks at a shot. **hugs**

    (PS: I discovered the hard way that if I knelt during the consecration, I’d faint during the sign of peace. If you start feeling dizzy during Mass, **sit down** even if you’re “supposed to” be standing. Don’t be a hero. Your circulation and blood pressure are doing weird things right now.) [Hmmm… an effective, though dramatic, way to avoid the handshake of peace if you time it right.]

  11. Dear Fr. Z,

    As a father of 12 (8 here, 4 in heaven) while I have not experienced the physical ramifications of pregnancy, I have spent many years with my wife, living them with her. Issues like this have, from time to time arisen.

    I thank you for your comment that the hour fast does, in fact, refer to the hour prior to reception, rather than the hour prior to the beginning of Mass.

    Introibo also makes a good point. Gestational diabetes can be a real issue for many women, and glucose in the form of a tablet from the pharmacy is every bit the same as glucose in the form of a glass of fruit juice or a couple of crackers. It’s medicinal — and sometimes, quite necessary.

    There are some times in life when one’s physical condition, or the particular medications one must take, requires food, drink, or medicine at hours which aren’t particularly convenient. It seems to me that the important issue is one’s heart attitude. Without minimizing the import of the Canon (which I accept, embrace, and to which I adhere) I would also suggest in the words of Our Lord that “The Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath”.

    I wish your reader much happiness in the new life within her.

    Thanks for your blog, and for your ministry. I’m praying for your intentions.

  12. JoAnna says:

    I’ve been pregnant six times (am currently halfway through pregnancy #6).

    Call your doctor and ask about getting prescribed Zofran or its generic equivalent. For me, it worked wonders in the first trimester. I went from spending Good Friday in the bathroom, unable to stop throwing up even crackers and ginger ale, to cooking Easter dinner for my family. Amazing stuff.

  13. RichardT says:

    Hmm. The need to eat discretely whilst pregnant – is this another reason why women should wear veils at Mass?

  14. Nony says:

    I mean to say, for at least 15-20 minutes

  15. Nony says:

    I think my other comment got lost! I just said that it seems the main concern would be how likely it is that one may throw up. I have abstained from Communion before when I was quesy for no apparent reason, because I would never want to take the chance of bringing back up the Sacred Host! But I suppose if crackers are allowed and will prevent any throwing up for 15-20 minutes after Communion…. Anyway, we should never judge when we see people get up and leave Mass for a little while, as we never know what conditions a person may have. But if you’re eating crackers it would probably be a good idea to go to the bathroom or hop in a closet or something! :)

  16. Nony says:

    I mean, of course, if crackers are allowed in case of illness like this ladies. Goodness, I’m a disorganized commenter!!

  17. The Cobbler says:

    I’m a man, but I’m butting in to point out that “illness” is not synonymous with “disease” and “medicine” is not synonymous with “chemicals”. We moderns overrely on chemicals for medicine and tend to make much of the distinction between illness-from-germs and a “condition”, even a medical condition requiring (the way we do it) chemicals. However, for centuries the use of diet to treat any genuine illness (and modern medicine really confirms that things like diabetes and “morning sickness” are illnesses of one sort or another, unless I’m gravely mistaken; it’s not like we’ve learned they’re not with all our fretting about germs vs. conditions) would have been considered medicine, and I have no doubt that the law is formulated with this understanding in mind, if not an even broader one.

    Even broader? Of course. The point about diet as medicine is irrelevant since the law says quite broadly that illness (that point is relevant; it actually says “the infirm”… if you’re not firm, you’re ill in the sense we’re speaking here) renders the fast non-obligatory, without even considering whether food is medicine; after all, you have to keep up your strength and nutrients _in general_ no matter _what_ your body’s fighting. Heck, the law extends that exemption to people caring for people who are ill (“those who care for them”; that doesn’t seem to specify that they do so as a profession, though if it implies it in the Latin I’ll be glad to be informed so); it’s just that basic a matter, you need your strength.

    I shall now butt back out.

  18. rsalie says:

    I had terrible morning sickness with both my sons and my daughter the entire pregnancy, and had to rush out of Church several times. We always sat near the side entrance so I could do so without causing a distraction. One thing I found that were great are preggie pops. They are a small, hard candy in several flavors that have peppermint or ginger in them to quell the nausea. They have a minimal amount of sugar in them (I was diabetic and they did not affect my sugars at all), but they really work.

  19. Norah says:

    Fr Z, you tell it the straight from the shoulder “this is the mind of the Church” re doctrinal or liturgical matters but you are also wonderfully pastoral as this post illustrates. As ever the Church is not” either” “or” but “both and”.

    Jimmy Akin, my apologetics hero, is also wonderfully pastoral and gentle with people concerning personal matters. [Thanks for putting me in such distinguished company!]

  20. JenB says:

    My prayers for you, it is not a comfortable place to be. I did not suffer from nausea so much as dizziness and a tendency to pass out if I didn’t keep food in my stomach at all times. I am also suffering with you, as at the moment I am on bedrest due to complications with my pregnancy and have been unable to go to Mass, or even confession. I know that I am released from the *obligation* due to my current illness, but that does not stop the wishing I could do things the “correct way”, wishing I could receive my Lord… but as other readers have said, this too shall pass, and the baby comes, and I promise you – all these little sacrifices are worth it. (My two angelic sons are proof of this!)

  21. benedetta says:

    I discovered that morning sickness during pregnancy was kind of a misnomer, that what intensifies the sickness and feeling is an empty stomach, and it is often most intense but not isolated to morning because one wakes up with an empty stomach. It’s sort of a built in reminder I suppose to encourage the mom to eat and nurture. Congratulations! Sometimes but not always it lessens in later months, I hope that for you it will. I agree with others that it is helpful to carry a few crackers along with you. Sometimes ginger things can be helpful too, you could try out the Ginger People’s gin gins to carry too or peel and cut up some ginger and brew it with a little sugar for a nice tea.

  22. Alice says:

    I had to chew mint gum for most of Mass when I was first pregnant with my first child. My second pregnancy wasn’t so bad and I occasionally had to take diet Coke (not Pepsi, mind you) with me, but that was very rare. The thing that helped me the most with both my pregnancies, though, was to eat plenty of protein and fat and avoid anything labelled “low fat” like the plague.

  23. avecrux says:

    Peggy R – don’t fear making a suggestion. :)
    Just so you know – people can have different degrees of “morning sickness” – even I had different degrees for different pregnancies. Three of my pregnancies I had hyperemesis (also known as morning, noon and night sickness!). The first time I lost 40 pounds in the first trimester and spent 3 months on IV fluids – couldn’t even keep down a sip o of water or suck an ice cube. Obviously the fast was not an issue then. It lasted all nine months and I vomited til the day my daughter was born. My other pregnancies were milder – I’ve had 8 all together – 2 which ended in miscarriage – but three with “normal” “morning” sickness as well.

    JoAnna is right on about Zofran! Only med out there that put a dent in my nausea. However, it is really expensive and some insurance companies won’t cover it (mine didn’t – which annoyed my doc to no end since they would pay thousands more for the hospitalization that resulted from not getting it). That’s great if there is a generic alternative!

  24. Ralph says:

    This is not a female specific problem. I have a coworkers who had horrible sympathetic morning sickness with all three of his kids! he was actually more ill than the mother!
    My wife had gestational diabetes. with our fourth. she had to carry substantial snacks with her, even at mass. People were very supportive of het. No one, as far as I know, was scandalized. And, as others have said, she had some serious suffering to offer up!

  25. edm says:

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. God knows our difficulties.
    I am reminded of one of the servers in our parish who never had anything to eat before the Sunday 10:30 Mass. One day he disappeared from the sactuary and I found him totally passed out on the sacristy floor. I could not get him to regain consciousness and ended up having to call the ambulance and he spent the remainder of the day in the hospital. The doctors told him he could not continue the practice, especially since he was taking several meds in the morning. He know HAS to eat breakfast before coming to church. The rest of us continue to fast but for him, it is better to eat than the alternative.

  26. Sacristymaiden says:

    While I have never been pregnant, I have had and seen many similar circumstances.
    I heartily sympathize with those whole have the tendency to faint during mass for whatever reason–been there, done that. It is no fun and I go to extreme lengths to make sure it doesn’t happen–I even carry little pre-packaged coffee sugars in my purse to prevent fainting during mass if that looks like that is going to happen. The fast does not apply to those who are ill or unable to control their bodies all of the time (ie. fainting) You learn to work with it.
    I also agree with the person who mentioned the tip about kneeling during consecration. I had a very large average injury that refused to heal on my knee and had to sit during the consecration at the daily college mass for 2 weeks.
    There is only so much that we can do with our body, the least we can do is try and if all else fails, then we can offer it up. The Lord Jesus understands.

  27. John Nolan says:

    One of the problems with the way FCAP is usually interpreted is that at Mass we are too regimented and overly concerned about what other people are doing. I object to being tapped on the shoulder by a sidesman when it is ‘my turn’ to go up for Communion; I might not be intending to receive, or I might be in the course of singing the Communion verse from the GR along with the choir. After Communion I might want to make my thanksgiving at a side altar and light a candle for a particular intention. If the person next to me nibbled a biscuit I would assume he or she had a sound medical reason for doing so. That goes some way to explain the popularity of the London Oratory; you can connect with the liturgy without being made self-consciously aware that you are part of a ‘worshipping community’. There’s no ‘handshake of peace’ and you approach the altar rails in your own time. You won’t see an EMHC or a female server either.

  28. Thomas in MD says:

    I might have mentioned this in another thread, so forgive a repeat, but I am the dad of an 11 y.o. Type 1 diabetic who, thank God, rarely has had hypoglycemic issues during Mass. But on a Sunday when I let my 6 y.o. pick our seats- front row, right below the pulpit- of course 11 y.o. had low blood sugar and needed to get sugar immediately. We use smarties candies to correct her lows often, and that is what I had on hand. So there I was shoveling CANDY into my kid during Mass! I sent her up to Communion because I don’t ever want her to feel that her cross (and it is a heavy one) is a bar to her receiving our Lord. Thankfully no one said anything to us about it. I have since always talked 6 y.o. into the ‘cheap seats’.

  29. SaintJude6 says:

    A little container or baggie of plain Cheerios in your pocket works very well in this situation. And it is a good, healthier change from crackers. I have had six babies and about 4 to 5 months of morning sickness (which should be re-named all-day sickness) with each one. The Cheerios are small enough to be discreetly eaten continuously (just let them melt in your mouth). And at some point you come to associate the smell and taste of crackers with nausea and can’t bear to eat another one. I always keep Cheerios in the house, because they make a perfect first food for when someone has been vomiting due to illness.

  30. Meri007 says:

    I experienced some pretty bad morning sickness with my 3rd daughter and the sickness would hit me during the middle of Mass sometimes. I would not go up for the Eucharist during these times as I was afraid of becoming ill afterwards. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing that. It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to something as sacred as the Host.

  31. Robert_H says:

    My wife, who is reading over my shoulder and pregnant with our 5th, has either been nursing or pregnant since we’ve been celebrating the TLM three years ago. She always eats right before we leave (or in the car on the way to church), which puts her an hour out from receiving the host. She suggests eating a hearty protein/carb breakfast (i.e. pancakes, fruit and eggs) when waking – as best tolerated – and then eat a protein/carb snack before an hour before receiving (i.e. apples and cottage cheese). Certainly bring water and crackers for your purse in case you begin to feel faint. She usually steps out to do this, so as to not cause scandal among the littlest parishioners :).

  32. JoAnna says:

    avecrux, there is indeed a generic form now, and my insurance covered it no problem — all I’ve had to pay is the copay ($5!). I wish I would have had it in my first pregnancy — I was so sick I lost 20lbs and had to go to the ER for IV fluids.

  33. inara says:

    I’ve had 15 pregnancies (4 to term) & have always been frustratingly prone to motion sickness (I can’t even watch home movies). For me, the best & most long-lasting remedy is good quality ginger tablets (taken 2-3 times per day along with whichever food seems to stay down best). I also find sometimes protein snacks (cheese, tuna, chicken) work better than carbs/sugar (crackers, candies, toast, pop).
    Congratulations & I hope this stage passes quickly for you! :o)

  34. JenB says:

    Father and all,
    I would like to thank you for posting this question, and for the ensuing discussion. Because of it, I ventured to Mass today (I am on modified bed rest, but the doctor said I could go out to dinner or the movies, so I figured Mass would be ok as long as I felt up to it.) But, I did eat right before leaving the house. And, as I got dizzy immediately from standing, I sat through the entire Mass. It meant a lot to me to be able to go, and not to worry about “doing it right”.

  35. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Jen, hooray!!! God knows our intentions. I often can’t kneel and have trouble getting up and down so I just play “bump on a log.” God doesn’t care, He’s glad we’re there.

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