QUAERITUR: Does coffee break the Eucharistic fast?

From a reader:

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.

The law says water and medicine may be taken.  Coffee is not water.  Water is used to make coffee, but once it’s coffee it isn’t water any more.

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.

That said, buy Mystic Monk Coffee now.  Or Tea.

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. nccarter88 says:

    Though he was not speaking in any authoritative capacity, Cardinal Burke publically opined at a gathering in Rome that coffee does not break the Eucharistic fast. While I would tip my biretta to moral manuals and the tradition of the Church, might we have an instance of the head of the Apostolic Signatura interpreting the law for caffeine addicts? Hrrmm… ;-)

  2. Margaret says:

    Your tobacco reference leads me to inquire about chewing gum, Father Z. Chewing tobacco could break the fast?!?? Does that mean it possible could not?

  3. Margaret, when I was a kid in Catholic school, a fate worse than death awaited any kid who chewed gum at Mass. I shudder to think what would have happened to a kid found with chaw. (Blech, even if it doesn’t break the fast.)

    In the present day, however, I have seen people chewing their cud in the Communion line. I have also seen people bring coffee mugs into Mass. I’d like to think they’re filled with water, but…

  4. Mike Morrow says:

    Though today only of historical note, it’s interesting that Pius XII in his 1957 Sacram Communionem drew a distinction between its three-hour fast required of alcoholic liquids versus its one-hour fast required of non-alcoholic liquids (except water).

  5. kiwitrad says:

    I hate it when Catholics try to argue and debate things like this. I know this discussion is a lighthearted one, but there is such a feeling of “How little can I get away with?”
    I see this hour’s fast as an act of love to Our Lord for the precious gift of the Eucharist that He gives us. An hour is such tiny fast, just a token, can’t we give it with love and gratitude?

  6. asperges says:

    When I went to Canada (Quebec) some years ago, a religious laughed at me when I looked at my watch and said something about an hour before Communion. We were about to hear Mass. “You still do that?” He plainly didn’t, nor did anyone else.

    I don’t think that’s the attitude generally amongst Mass-goers in the UK but fasting is probably more by default in many cases (the actual passing of time, travel, length of Mass) than conscious effort by many.

  7. MikeM says:

    On the chewing tobacco note, what about dip, which you don’t actually chew but just put in your mouth?

  8. CMRose says:

    My sources (priests, current seminarians, books) have always told me that if it passes through the lips and is not medicine or water, it breaks the fast (not including basic dental hygiene…) It is my custom to fast from midnight, no matter what time Mass is at.

    When I am sick, I generally drink Lemon tea and normally, therefore, break a fast from midnight. When I am sick, I do not receive the Blessed Sacrament as a result, but I still have the 60 minute fast from when I would’ve received the Blessed Sacrament.

  9. pelerin says:

    This post caught my eye and reminded me of an occasion way back in the 70s when I remained in my seat at Communion time having just drunk a cup of coffee before Mass. The nun next to me gestured to me to follow her but I whispered the reason to her. She whispered back that that was quite all right and did not break the fast. I accepted what she said although I think that was the only time as I have always understood that one must refrain from either food or drink except water or medicine before receiving Holy Communion for the hour stipulated today.

    I also found it embarrassing to be told that yes I could go to Communion as I could have used the coffee excuse because I may have been in mortal sin and then would have had the dilemma of having to tell the nun.

  10. Fabrizio says:

    “It’s just brown water.”

    O Lares! (bangs head on wall) anathema sit! 6 months at Castello, stale bread once a day, water twice, and daily recitation of the seven penitential Psalms!!

    All those centuries of civilization and progress. You know they’re gone when people can say, in public, without fear of punishment – or at least social stigma, that COFFEE is… br.. cough…br.. brown water!! (I can hardly bring myself to say it!).

    Blessed Marco D’Aviano pray for us!
    Fallen heroes of Vienna, forgive us and don’t ask God to destroy us because of our blasphemies!

    [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

  11. JonPatrick says:

    Reading this while drinking a strong cup of Mystic Monk blend – no way this could be confused with water! :-)

  12. jamie r says:

    What if you’re taking it to stay awake? Say it’s a particularly early mass or long-winded homilist? If you needed dayquill before mass, surely that would be allowed. Although coffee is a drink that is not water, I’m not certain that it’s a drink that is not medicine. If the choice is coffee or dozing off during the liturgy of the word, would coffee still break the fast?

  13. Faith says:

    Yes, but if you’re going to the 9 o’clock Mass, Communion at the earliest would be 9:15, so you can have your coffee up to 8:15.

  14. Andrew says:

    Milk is just white water. Cheese is just compressed milk. Ergo: cheese doesn’t break the fast.

  15. Supertradmum says:

    The “magisterium of nuns” , as some like to say, told us that ladies do not chew gum. I never have and think chewing gum in Church is not only low class, but unladylike. And as to breaking the fast, there are many seniors who do not realize it still applies to them, unless they have a medical need.

  16. Cheesesteak Expert says:

    Fr. Z – what do you think of the hour long fast? Should the fast remain an hour long, be eliminated totally, or changed to another time frame? It’s got to be more than coincidence that the reduction of the fast preceded the reduction in liturgy, don’t you think?

    [I think one hour is far too little. I have written about that many times.]

  17. Phil_NL says:

    I’m no great fan of fasting, and quite frankly welcome lenient rules about it from the Church, but at chewing gum, of any form of eating or drinking in church I draw a very big black line. With an astonishment about as big as Fabrizio’s, and suggesting twice daily recitation of the penitential psalms during the chewer’s six month’s stay in the Castello…

    The Church is God’s house, where we are invited to His feast, and in my view it greatly degrades that aspect if people are consuming any other type of food during Mass – or in church outside Mass, for that matter. Now I don’t know where this habit sneaked in (among US catholics that is, cause frankly, in Europe the only thing you might see during Mass is a bottle of milk for baby’s or a bottle of water for elderly, in case it’s really hot (think 100 F / 36 C) in Church, but a bit of decorum would be welcome.

    After all, a Church is a place set apart for holy things. Let us behave accordingly, and not mix the mundane and the exalted even further.

  18. BV says:

    Coffee is an aqueous solution of coffee bean solids, perhaps sugar or other sweeteners. It is water bringing with it other matter added for the sake of flavor, energy, etc. One could argue the same for tap water as it contains a form of chlorine, and perhaps other chemicals, added by the local water company. Even water from your local stream, well, reservor contains various minerals in solution. So… …could we not drink tap water, spring water, well water? But only distilled or deionized water?

    Ok ok… …coffee is drunk for the purpose of its taste, or for the energy from the caffeine – all from the substance intentionally added to the water by the drinker. Any old water from the tap or a bottle, when drunk alone, is drunk just for the sake of hydration or refreshment, not because it is a substantive bottle of flavor or energy.

    Hmmm… so what about these new energy waters, flavored or not?

    I think it’s pretty simple… one hour before receiving, just stick to plain water and your medications.

  19. acardnal says:

    I agree with you Father Z. Drinking coffee, even black coffee, breaks the communion fast as does chewing gum. And yet I often see folks drinking coffee in their car before going in to Church. . .and Mass ends within the hour! [I would rather imagine you focusing on your own preparation for Holy Mass! o{];¬) ]

  20. HoyaGirl says:

    I fail to see the problem for those of us in the congregation. If you need the coffee to stay awake, then drink it and then abstain from receiving communion. The obligation is to ATTEND Mass not to receive communion. We MUST only receive once a year during Eastertide. It really won’t hurt you to miss receiving on a Sunday or during a daily Mass just because you had some coffee within the hour before Communion. I should know – I’ve had to abstain on a couple of occasions for this very reason. Guess what happened. I had incredible spiritual Communions instead which greatly increased my desire to receive the Host during the next Mass. It made me very conscious of the reality of Communion, and I appreciated the Sacrament so much more when I could receive in good conscience.
    On another note, If you’re embarrassed about not receiving Communion like everybody else, your focus isn’t where it should be. I always pray for those people – like my Protestant husband – who attend Mass but cannot or will not receive. They – for whatever reason – need our support for the sufferings they endure while the rest of us go to the altar to meet the Lord.
    The suffering we feel for not being able to receive the Lord is something we should graciously offer up on behalf of those more needy than ourselves.
    Wow ~ now I need to go walk my talk.

  21. jhayes says:

    Some years ago a hospital chaplain (a priest) came into my room to offer the Eucharist. When I said I had to think about how long it had been since I had eaten, he said that the fast didn’t apply in this situation.

    That made a certain mount to sense to me since, unlike a scheduled Mass, there is no way to know when a priest or EMHC may come into a patient’s room to offer the Eucharist.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    Umm, I made my First Holy Communion under the fasting from Midnight Rule. All my childhood from after that year was under the three hour fast, until I was a sophomore in high school. What is the problem? For years, children and young people fasted just fine and were and are healthy adults to this day. Why can’t people fast for one hour?

  23. Kerry says:

    “…the exception only of water and medicine”. Well there you go, water and medicine. Sounds like a description of coffee. Heh. (Irony off.)

    What kiwitrad said, “How little on can get away with.”

  24. Bryan Boyle says:

    Uh….considering that, at Sunday Mass for instance…distribution of the Eucharist is at about the 40-45 minute point after the Mass starts, you’d almost have to be walking into the church with a cup o’joe in your hand to break the fast (assuming you get there early enough to actually spend time before in prayer, instead of waltzing in after the priest has processed in and push your way into the pew with nary a sheepish ” ‘scuse me” ). Daily Mass is different, I know. But, if you’re driving or even walking to the Church…is it REALLY an issue? One hour before communion, not the start of Mass. Don’t split hairs, else you end up like those pharisees from last week’s gospel…

    Now, as for getting down with chewing gum, cheerios, goldfish, gummi bears, bacon-wrapped fliet mignon with baby red potatoes while in church…that’s a bit much. It’s a house of prayer, not a Jersey Diner.

  25. GirlCanChant says:

    See, I would think people would argue the other way and say that coffee is medically necessary. ;-)

    Also, if my confessor told me he broke the fast every day, I’d probably get a new confessor. I go to Mass every morning, and I don’t have coffee until I head to work. Of course, this might just be because I am not a morning person and can’t bring myself to get up early enough to have my coffee an hour before 7:30 Mass. Eek!

  26. pfreddys says:

    Seriously, though, an hour is such a short period of time I think you really have to work at it not to comply.
    I voluntarily use the 1957 rules. Three hours make sense in that is the time it takes for digestion.

  27. Fr. Thomas says:

    Indeed the general rule (i.e. law) is that one is to fast for one hour prior to the reception of our Lord. However, in a particular case, a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation may deem it necessary to lessen it; remember this is Church practice and not Divine Law. Father Z already mentioned in the case of someone working the late shift may require coffee in order to properly participate in the Sacred Mysteries. Another possibility may be the scrupulosity of the penitent. It could be a number of other facts that led this particular priest to recommend to this penitent to not worry about the consumption of coffee prior to communion.
    As a confessor, I am hesitant to ever second-guess a fellow priest’s counsel in confession if the penitent brings it up; I cannot know why he made the decision he did. Instead, I think it best to deal with the person as I find him or her, bring the penitent back to a state of grace, and aid to the best of my ability their continued journey to the Lord.

  28. Michael J. says:

    Smoking cigarettes does not break the fast, but chewing tobacco does? Why is that? You do not intend on swalloning the tobacco or its juices, and it does not provide either nutrition or calories, at least that I am aware of. However, who would receive Our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion with tobacco in there mouth? That I would think would be more an act of profanation, than of breaking the fast. Also, you do not owe anyone an explanation as to why you are or are not receiving The Blessed Sacrament. That is not anyone elses business, it is between you, God, and possibly, if it were due to sin, your Confessor when you receive the Sacrament of Penance.

  29. Michael J. says:

    Sorry, typo, swalloning should be swallowing.

  30. Joe in Canada says:

    Michael J.: it’s a curious historical fact that the most ancient documents of the Church do not deal with smoking. I presume Europeans didn’t smoke until tobacco came back from America. Smoking is not mentioned in the Catechism either. Does that mean it is morally neutral? In the 1950s members of my order who wanted to smoke had to get a note from their doctor stating that smoking was necessary for medicinal purposes, and then they needed permission from the Superior General. But not, I think, because everyone decided smoking was morally good; rather it become such a social phenomenon that concern about it was considered quaint.

    I think someone who absorbs the witness of the ages of the Church regarding fasting – and asceticism – will be able to come to a reasonable decision about smoking. Personally I think smoking the way it is practiced today is close to a sin against the body, but when people ask me (usually young people) if it’s a sin, I point out that apart from the legality of it, depending on their age, the Church has not addressed the issue of the morality of it.

  31. jhayes says:

    There are a couple of exceptions in Canon 919:

    Canon 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.
    2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three times on the same day may take something before the second or third celebration even if the period of one hour does not intervene.
    3. Those who are advanced in age or who suffer from any infirmity, as well as those who take care of them, can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have taken something during the previous hour.

    I guess (3 – “suffer from any infirmity”) is the basis for what the Chaplain said to me in the hospital.

    @Supertradmum, (3) also exempts people who are “advanced in age” so it appears that “seniors” are correct in believing they aren’t required to fast if they are senior enough to qualify as “advanced in age”. Starting to get invitations to join senior groups at age 55 probably doesn’t qualify.

    (2) sounds as if the Confessor in the original post could drink even Magic Monk coffee between masses.

  32. Centristian says:

    I was hospitalized recently and an extraordinary minister suddenly appeared in my room to offer Communion just as I had finished lunch. I’m pretty certain (without looking it up) that there is a dispensation from the Eucharistic fast in the case of sick or bed-ridden or hospitalized Christians (certainly it is waived for persons in urgent need or in extremis), nevertheless I decided that I felt myself insufficiently prepared and that it was not necessary to receive communion on, say, Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 pm. Had I not been in the hospital, I reasoned, I would not have received communion on that day, in any case. I received communion only once, in fact, during my 1-1/2 week hospital stay, and that was from a priest, by appointment. I had sufficient time, therefore, to fast and to prepare.

    Alot of modern Catholics, it seems to me, behave as though they have to receive Communion constantly. There are even Catholics nowadays who are actually concerned about how many times in the course of a single day they may communicate. The fact of the matter is that we do not HAVE to receive Communion every single time the opportunity presents itself.

    If I have not fasted or if I am not properly disposed or if I have already received (and I am not in extremis), I would rather not communicate, even if it’s legitimate to. As someone has already pointed out, Catholics are obliged to communicate only once annually, at Easter time. We are not obliged to receive every Sunday, or at every Mass we are present for, or every time a lay minister pops into our rooms and offers Communion.

    That being the case, I would think that, had I consumed something apart from water within the one hour fast period, I would simply abstain from receiving, y’know? Problem solved. And, really, is there anyone in the world who simply, honestly, cannot go an hour without drinking a cup of coffee?

  33. Joan M says:

    3. Those who are advanced in age or who suffer from any infirmity, as well as those who take care of them, can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have taken something during the previous hour.

    I would think that this would refer directly to the housebound who are awaiting someone to bring them Holy Communion. The person may arrive within an hour of the housebound person and his/her carers having eaten. In this case, the fast would not apply. But I cannot conceive of anyone, even of advanced age, not being able to, normally, fast for one hour. Is there any circumstances under which someone would have eaten but cannot endure without eating something else, or drinking something other than water within an hour ? I can only imagine that such a person would be in hospital!

  34. acardnal says:

    I believe you are correct “jhayes” regarding your understanding of Canon 919.

  35. dans0622 says:

    I think the reference to baptism is apt–you can’t baptize with coffee since coffee is not water. That’s about all there is to it.

  36. dominic1955 says:

    I think we should go back to the from midnight fast (remember, it was for everything, including water) and go back to the older definition of “frequent communion” being once a week or month. It is no longer 1905 and I would think that people would benefit greatly by being re-taught how important the Eucharist is and what a fearful thing it should be to receive it. Also, I think we need to re-draw that distinction between Communion and Mass because even though they are intimately connected, they are NOT the same thing. There is much to be said about simply “hearing Mass” (which, BTW, is much easier to do with a TLM), even multiple times a day. If you equate Communion with Mass, there is really then no “point” in going to Mass if you cannot receive Communion but if you understand the distinction you also get the point of Mass in and of itself.

    As to the hospital case, the fast is trumped for the actual sick person but I don’t think this applies for people that just happen to be there. When I was in the seminary and took Communion to the sick/homebound, I’d never offer the Host to anyone that just happened to be there. I guess I do not see Communion as a devotion to be participated in whenever you feel like it.

  37. Mary Jane says:

    I drink coffee in the car before Sunday Mass, but I’m there an hour early (schola practice) and Mass is at minimum an hour and a half (sometimes two hours) long.

    *My* coffee isn’t just brown water either!

    I remember seeing a Hoops & YoYo greeting card once…Hoops was talking about decaf coffee….he said “It…It’s just brown water! It’s like…like fat-free sour cream all over again!” (Note that I disagree but couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw the similarity between this and what the priest in the QUAERITUR said).

  38. Re: chewing, I don’t think it breaks the Eucharistic fast if somebody is chewing on nicotine gum for medicinal purposes. Maybe it would be nicer to assume that everybody is doing that. Alternately, it’s quite possible that people are cleaning out bits of goo they’ve suddenly discovered in their mouths.

    (Though honestly, why are people looking at other people’s mouths and gullets during Communion? Isn’t there the Lord Present to look at, or your prayerbook? Are faces so fascinating? Isn’t it rude to stare?)

    If you’re sick enough to be in the hospital, you’re sick enough to waive the fast and feel no lack about it. Obviously if you were really IMproperly disposed, maybe you’d want to bypass (ie, if you’d just been plotting your roommate’s murder and were serious about it). But otherwise, I’d regard a surprise visit by Our Lord as a nice lagniappe from Him. (But of course, however the Spirit prompts you is probably the way to go.)

  39. worm says:

    I realize it is about the Lenten fast, but my favorite excerpt on this topic comes from Blaise Pascal’s Provincial Letters.

  40. Cephas218 says:

    I also heard a priest – whom I otherwise respected as very orthodox – state that coffee does not break the fast. I was sure he was wrong, but the philosophical doubt having entered, I tried to resolve it through research, and that unsuccessful, called Catholic Answers call in show. They politely laughed the theory back where it belonged. One answer included – the human body is mostly water too, does that mean cannibalism is ok? I’m not quite sure how anybody can think coffee is the equivalent of water. Then again, when someone said it, I doubted too. Maybe it’s a little like “look at the emperor’s new clothes!”

    On the other hand, an hour does seem awfully arbitrary. At times I’ll be 2 or 3 hours after a heavy meal, and, pardon the explicitness, it still feels like it’s inside, but technically I’ve kept the fast. Coffee would be long gone, even within a half hour or so. It seems an hour doesn’t really convey the spirit of the law very well. What to do?

  41. Centristian says:


    “On the other hand, an hour does seem awfully arbitrary. At times I’ll be 2 or 3 hours after a heavy meal, and, pardon the explicitness, it still feels like it’s inside, but technically I’ve kept the fast. Coffee would be long gone, even within a half hour or so. It seems an hour doesn’t really convey the spirit of the law very well. What to do?”

    The Eucharistic fast is a matter of discipline, not digestion. The Church could remove the fast, altogether, if it saw fit. I suppose the Church could say that, instead of fasting, “You can’t watch rubbish on TV for one hour before Communion,”. The point isn’t that we be emptied of food, but that we make a sacrifice according to the Church’s prescription.

  42. jhayes says:

    Dominic1955 said, “It is no longer 1905 and I would think that people would benefit greatly by being re-taught how important the Eucharist is and what a fearful thing it should be to receive it.”

    “Fearful” reminds me of leafing through the Book of Common Prayer while waiting for a funeral to start in an Episcopal church. I noticed that here were two versions of an exhortation for the priest to give announcing that he would celebrate the Eucharist on a certain date. The regular version warned of the dangers of receiving unworthily but the alternate version warned against holding back unnecessarily from receiving

    When I looked it up just now, the first included phrases like this

    “Which being so divine and comfortable a thing to them who receive it worthily, and so dangerous to those who will presume to receive it unworthily; my duty is to exhort you, in the mean season to consider the dignity of that holy mystery, and the great peril of the unworthy receiving thereof…”

    While the second encouraged persons who hesitated to receive

    “I bid you all who are here present; and beseech you, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, that ye will not refuse to come thereto, being so lovingly called and bidden by God himself. Ye know how grievous and unkind a thing it is, when a man hath prepared a rich feast, decked his table with all kind of provision, so that there lacketh nothing but the guests to sit down; and yet they who are called, without any cause, most unthankfully refuse to come. Which of you in such a case would not be moved? Who would not think a great injury and wrong done unto him? Wherefore, most dearly beloved in Christ, take ye good heed, lest ye, withdrawing yourselves from this holy Supper, provoke God’s indignation against you.”


    I think both are correct. People should not receive communion casually, but they should not hold back from this encounter with the Lord.

  43. Supertradmum says:

    We should go back to the three hour fast. There is no reason the vast majority of people, including children, could not do this. Millions of Catholics managed it and even before I was of the age to take Communion, we all did what my parents did. Fasted and abstained on the days given for such. There were never two rules in the house. Same in my house. What mom and dad did, children did. It is a discipline, and makes one prepare for the Great Gift of the Eucharist. And, it is a Law of the Church.

  44. priests wife says:

    I’m not a theologian- so I just ‘default’ to the laws of the Church (and specifically my rite)-

    but isn’t there something ‘gross’ receiving the Body and Blood of Christ with a full belly (a fry up right before you leave for Mass is legal!) and coffee breath? Light pangs of hunger during the Mass remind us of our hunger for God- and we will be more likely to stay with fellow believers at fellowship afterwards- so no need for going crazy greeting old friends during the kiss of peace. You’ll see them at coffee and donuts

    [I think this side tracks the issue. The point of this is the law of the Latin Church and the question of whether or not consumption of coffee breaks the Eucharistic fast. As we can see that is a pretty interesting question by itself!]

  45. pelerin says:

    I really am curious to know what exactly is meant by ‘those who are advanced in age.’ How advanced is advanced? I only discovered quite by accident that fasting was not binding after the age of 60 which I had long passed!

    I am not looking for an excuse – I have to leave home an hour before Mass begins so no problem with the one hour fast – but I would like to know for the occasions when I am away from home and have to attend a Sunday evening Mass straight after a meal and consequently refrain from receiving Holy Communion.

  46. dominic1955 says:

    I don’t know if I would take the advice of heretics in this matter, simply because their “right use of the Lord’s Supper” is not the same understanding that we are supposed to have for the Mass.

    Drawing from our own (East and West) tradition, it used to be that people communicated comparitively infrequently but assisted at Mass/DL fairly often. When St. Pius X said that “frequent Communion” was now to be understood as daily, I think those people had a much better grasp of what Communion really was and could really profit from this change. Now, everyone seems to remember the frequent Communion thing (even going so far as to consider it some sort of “right”) but has pretty much forgotten the dispositions one is supposed to have if they are to communicate frequently (daily).

    Thus, I think it would be good (all around) to reinstitute basically a much less frequent communication. We complain about Communion in the hand, priests not using the canonical digits, etc. but what is worse that the legions of people who go to receive Communion unprepared, apathetically and/or in mortal sin?

    Besides, making a spiritual communion and just hearing Mass is “going to the banquet” of the King in the truest Catholic sense, along with hearing Mass and worthily communicating. To someone like the Anglicans for which “The Lord’s Supper, commonly called the Mass” was some sort of spiritual communal meal and not the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary offered for the living and the dead as Trent says then it makes sense that to refuse to “partake of the feast” in the literal sense of eating the bread and drinking the wine would be an affront. In our sense, this would not be the case.

    Of course, people should communicate when they are worthily disposed and see fit to do so but it would be good to make those requirements a little less “meaningless” (what kind of ‘fast’ is an hour long, really?) so as to highlight the importance of what Communion really is and means.

  47. Supertradmum says:


    My parents are 89 and 84 and they fast. My uncle is 80 and he fasts. I am 62, and I fast. My grandmother fasted until she was 91, and then couldn’t the last four years of her life for medical reasons. My great-grandmother fasted from midnight her entire life, and died three days before she turned 100. It is a medical decision as to who is “advanced” in age.

  48. Supertradmum says:


    By the way, I have had cancer and am still on meds, and have no thyroid gland at all, and am on meds, and I fast from midnight still if I go to a morning Mass, which I usually do. It is easy to create a habit. Thomas Aquinas states it takes only three months to create a good habit, but one year to break a bad one….

  49. buffaloknit says:

    I have a (humorous?) coffee comment to make regarding the ‘syrup’ or concentrate used in making cold-brew coffee. For a number of reasons-mainly the extremely low-acidity-I drink exclusively cold-brew coffee made with a Filtron system (it is great!). My mom has a ‘Toddy” which is basically the same, but has a different shape and is glass.

    Question: how much coffee-concentrate must I add to my hot water before it becomes ‘coffee’ and ceases being ‘merely brown water?’

    Finally: I think a related issue is vitamin water-which another commenter brought up calling it, ‘new energy water.’ The brand-name Vitamin water product, made with the (horrible and unhealthy) Stevia/Truvia extracts, has 0 calories. Other flavors of vitamin water are extremely delicious, contain sugar and are about the same calories as a medium soda. This is a ‘sometimes drink’-like soda or cookies-in that it is DELICIOUS but does contain-I don’t know-a rather small number of vitamins, thus the name. I think vitamin waters are regulated as foods and not drugs/supplements by the FDA-I could be wrong, however if you enjoy drinking vitamin water, one should be careful not to overdose on the vitamins contained in this drinks (it’s also not good to eat a handful of vitamin pills).

    Finally, let’s classify more edge-cases! Are *true* energy drinks, either sugar+caffeine, or caffeine+water-(those amazingly unhealthy tiny bottles one sees in the check-out aisle in stores)- are those medicines or food-liquids? They contain the amount of caffeine one would find in a ‘caffeine’ pill (which may or may not have actual medical uses), are have nothing to do with coffee. Where do those fall? (other than being a generally bad idea in all cases).

  50. jhayes says:


    The exception says “those who are advanced in age or suffer any infirmity.” a medical condition would be covered by “suffer any infirmity” so I think “advanced age” is something apart from a medical condition.

    I don’t know what age that is, but my guess is that it is not any less than the 60 years defined for the lenten fast

  51. Supertradmum says:


    You misunderstood my comment. I was responding to a person who admitted they were over 60. After 60, advanced age would be a medical condition, as some people are old early and some late.

  52. thymos says:

    Fr. Z.,

    you mention “fasting for Lent.” Is that the fast we have in place for Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday?

  53. No “brown water” here!


  54. Fabrizio says:

    “Al vetro”! iuxta morem romanum!

    “brown water”, sheesh!

    Erubescant, et conturbentur vehementer, omnes inimici mei ;
    convertantur, et erubescant valde velociter.

  55. Fabrizio: iuxta morem romanum

    Cosa fa er Papa? Eh ttrinca, fa la nanna,
    taffia, pijja er caffe, sta a la finestra, …

  56. Paul C Md says:

    The best way I find to answer borderline exceptions is to see how big the number of them can be…..like flavored peach or strawberry no-calorie carbonated water, vitamin water, caffeinated water, diet drinks like Diet Coke with zero calories, Diet Pepsi, Diet Mountain Dew….are we so in a bind that regular plain water isn’t available and liquid is crucial? Is this the last Mass you can attend after work or do you have other priorities with your remaining day so need to attend THIS Mass at THIS hour (guilty!).

    I guess it comes down to what Fr. Thomas said, the degree of personal suffering that will be involved in the yes or the no. Do cannon lawyers look at the letter of the law or the spirit of the law?

  57. anncouper-johnston says:

    A couple of weeks ago I was a bit short of the hour fast, so when it came to Communion time I stayed in my place and put my arms crossed over my chest (the usual indication here that you aren’t intending to receive). I usually go up on my small mobility scooter, but occasionally people come to me. I have in the past caught the eye of a priest and signalled to him that I am not receiving (using a move of the hand similar to that you would make if you didn’t want the waiter to put any more on your plate – obvious to the priest but not so dramatic as to alert everybody else) but this time I suddenly had the priest and MC beside me and couldn’t but receive – I’d done as much as I could. The priest was new to the diocese. I hope someone has explained to him the significance of having your arms crossed over your chest, or there are going to be some misunderstandings …..

    I have to take regular medication and sometimes in the rush to get out to Mass I suddenly remember I need to take it and grab the nearest bottle of mineral water, which may be flavoured. I hope that does not break the fast as it is not primarily the flavour which features but the water – the supermarket lists it under mineral water – if I go back to get the plain stuff (which I prefer, to be sure about the fast) I know I will make myself late for Mass.

  58. Cecilianus says:


    As a Greek Catholic (that is, one of those annoying members of another rite that tend to criticize the very presuppositions of your Latin debates :p) might I suggest a different way to think about the problem?

    The question concerns the interpretation of St. Thomas would call a positive law of the Church, which is apparently a bit ambiguous. What is not ambiguous is the natural, moral need to fast before Communion (and frankly, the idea of not eating for an hour being called “fasting” is downright laughable – although our bishops have caved an imposed this joke of a minimum requirement, we are still told by all of our priests that the fast starts at either midnight if you are lax or at Great Vespers around 5:00 p.m. Saturday night if you are devout). Since Latin priests have the ability to dispense anyone from fasting for good reason, shouldn’t this question be a matter between a person and his spiritual director? A good spiritual director should simply tell someone not to drink coffee in church unless he has a very, very, very good reason. A good spiritual director will be laxer for those capable of less and stricter for those capable of more, even ordering his children under obedience to fast from midnight if it is good for them. But questions like this should be taken up with one’s spiritual director, not posed as an abstract question “what is the minimum I can possibly do” as if the purpose of these laws were to let us get away with as little as possible. My answer to the question “does coffee break the Eucharistic fast” is “has your spiritual director permitted you to drink coffee within the hour of receiving Holy Communion?”

    The point of the Christian life is not to do as little as the rules require.

    As a side note, I’ve never been urged to receive Communion when I choose not to. And nobody should. Plenty of people probably receive Holy Communion without proper preparation. In order to receive Holy Communion worthily, one should have confessed all one’s sins the night before, fasted since Great Vespers, and also some temples (especially those of the Old Believers in Russia) will insist on all communicants praying a long Canon before receiving (by “long” I mean it takes me an hour just speaking the words rather than chanting, on the rare occasion that I actually pray it). I’m never received Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin, but by these standards I certainly haven’t received worthily every week – I don’t go to confession every Saturday. And I suspect most people don’t either. And so some people don’t receive because for whatever reason they are not properly disposed. It’s sickeningly wrong to make them feel uncomfortable for doing so – a sin of disrespect against the Holy Eucharist.

    I go to Liturgy twice on most weeks (usually Ruthenian and Melkite, sometimes one or the other and then Latin as well), and only receive Communion once, at whichever church I feel like. Nobody has ever told me to receive again anyway. And if someone were to ask, I wouldn’t feel obligated to explain myself.

  59. oldCatholigirl says:

    I have been trying for many years now to get to Mass every day, if possible. When I had a full day’s work to do outside the home and the only Mass available was at 8:00 a.m., I was grateful for the one hour fasting rule. I’m definitely a breakfast eater, and it would have been hard (and expensive) to buy a proper breakfast “on the road” every day. It would also have been hard to get up at 4:30 in order to have breakfast three hours in advance. And it would have been dreadful to never receive Communion.

  60. fxkelli says:

    It seems pretty Phariseetical (if that’s even a word) to pursue that direction of excuse. While I would doubt someone would be cast into the fires of hell over it (of course that’s God’s call not mine), it would seem the intention of the rule is violated, so why even go there?

  61. Miriam says:

    I actually did not receive one day at daily Mass because I had gone to McDonald’s to pick up a cup of coffee for later and lost my mind and had a sip.


  62. Mary Jane says:

    Energy water has come up a couple times in the comments, along with flavored water, carbonated water, diet soft drinks (zero calories), etc. I think Fr Z got it in his post when he said “it’s a drink that is not water” (that is, coffee).

    The Church didn’t say “One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of zero-calorie-drinks and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion.”

    The Church clearly says “water and medicine”. Unless there is a medical reason, only water and medicine are allowed. If it’s not plain water or medicine, don’t take it (unless you will abstain from receiving the Eucharist).

  63. KristenB says:

    I am a phlebotomist- and I always abide by the rules that I have to hold patients to when it comes to fasting- which is NOTHING BUT WATER. Medication is fine, but that’s it.

    That means:
    No Coffee
    No Tea
    No Juice, Vitamin “water”, Energy drinks
    No Gum or Tic-tacs
    No food of any kind

  64. Tina in Ashburn says:

    In this whole discussion of what exactly breaks a fast, and of what does a fast consist, nobody has brought up that old story about the kid, the snowflake and the nun. I don’t know if it is an urban legend or a cautionary tale: on the way into Mass, a child catches a snowflake on his tongue. The accompanying nun sees him and reminds him that he now cannot go to Communion.

    Told this in my youth, this story was held up as an example of crazy scrupulosity and severity. Today now that I see where permissiveness has led us, I’m not so sure.

    With all this permissiveness, ambiguity, subjectiveness, what-can-we-get-away-with-ness, wouldn’t it be simpler to return to a very objective “nothing in the mouth during the Communion fast”? Simple. Eat, take your medicine, brush your teeth, drink EARLY. Otherwise, discipline yourself and abstain. For sins and physical debris, clean up, move em out, make way and prepare for the coming of the Lord.

    What irony that we had a fast-from-Midnight without any exceptions once. Then a 3-hour fast with no exceptions. Now the fast is one hour to to reception of Communion with exceptions and excuses, so that for some, a fast is barely recognizable. How weak, lazy, and concupiscent can we get?

  65. Supertradmum says:

    Oh,no and I just had a rather heated discussion as a priest gave a group of women a free pass on not fasting on their retreat days, as they can’t seem to plan the Mass any later after lunch. Why do priests do this? They do not have the authority for such decisions, surely, and some of the ladies in the group then added that their confessors said fasting is not important if one was going to miss Communion. Why is fasting such a problem? One very young and very fit lady said she could never fast more than an hour and was glad she was born after the changes…. Priests playing with rules does not help the laity be disciplined about anything…

  66. Supertradmum says:

    ps and let me clarify, that it is not the priest’s schedule which is determining the Mass time, but purely the scheduling the group has decided upon, which is completely arbitrary and could be changed. Hence, the discussion…

  67. mystic mistakes says:

    I was doing “vocation vacations” to different monasteries… I was at the Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside CA USA … I was passing through the retreat house coffee break room where they have coffee, tea, milk, and cookies always available. The Sunday Mass began at 11 am that day. Eucharist was served about 20 minutes into the mass, so I thought that at 10:20 am I could have a coffee mixed with milk and hot cocoa.. my favorite mocha mix. I also ate 2 cookies.

    At every mass before and since I pray for the world, with some specific requests and some general requests like “LEAD ALL SOULS TO HEAVEN” … I would say the rosary after the mass then I went back to the coffee break area in the retreat house. As I returned, my guardian angel advised me… “Today, because you broke the fast by having food BEFORE the START of the mass, … that my prayers that day would NOT be answered… ((( they all are heard tho… )))” That was in 2003… Ever since then I NEVER have any food of any type prior to 1 hour before the start of the mass.

    Later at a different monastery, I chose to do a penace/fast and gave up all coffee, tea and hot chocolate to aid another person R.L. who has had lots of “spiritual attacks”. I have been coffee free since 2004.

    Back in 2004 I was told by my guardian angel, that because I had extended my Friday Lenten Fast to the week beyond Easter into Divine Mercy Sunday, that my prayers that day WOULD be answered…

    Jacinta, Francesco, and Lucia of Fatima might advise us today… Prayer, Penance, & Fasting… so that we might have God… “LEAD ALL SOULS TO HEAVEN…”

  68. LorrieRob says:

    I drink a strong coffee with milk immediately upon waking at around 6am-straight out of the Kuerig machine. I very often don’t get to bed before midnight. It really helps me feel awake and safe on the short drive to the daily 7am Mass. I try to observe the 1 hr rule prior to receiving but often probably only get 45-30 minutes. I view this as equivalent to medicinal though it isn’t really. This seems different to me than a beverage you drink for flavor..I enjoy it but that part could easily wait…I could drink it black because it’s the caffeine I need at that point. Seems like a technical violation at most. I do not believe it violates the spirit or intent of the fast.

  69. discipulus says:

    Father Z.

    One thing I have been questioning for a while, would any food particles of residue break the fast? I usually try to brush my teeth beforehand, but too often I find residue or particles that I can’t get rid of (without making a sticky mess). Keeping in mind that God does not ask for the impossible, I imagine that it wouldn’t (please correct me if I am wrong).

  70. discipulus says:

    Sorry, supposed to say “food particles OR residue”.

  71. leonugent2005 says:

    I really hope that they don’t make the fast longer than one hour because my ability to fast is so bad that it’s likely that I wouldn’t be able to do it.

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