QUAERITUR: When does the Eucharistic fast start? Before Communion or before Mass?

From a reader:

Does the Eucharistic fast before Mass begin an hour before Mass starts or an hour before you receive Communion. I’ve heard different answers all my life, and some clarification would be great. Thanks

The Eucharistic fast is for an hour before reception of Holy Communion, not an hour before the beginning of Mass.

Can. 919 says:

“One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion.”

This applies to both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

A drink of water does not break the Eucharistic fast.

You are free to fast longer than one hour. In my opinion, an hour is not long enough. That said, the law of the Latin Church is, for now, one hour before Communion and no one can be faulted for going by only one hour.

An exception to the rule would be if an elderly or sick person in a hospital or nursing home even at home is not in control of when meals can be taken.  In that case, if the priest or other minister comes with Holy Communion even within the hour after eating, it is okay to receive.

We are of both body and soul.  We should be disposed in both soul and body to receive Communion.  Our spiritual preparation for reception of Communion involves dying to self and dying to sin and being in the state of grace.  Our physical preparation involves dying to self and the things of the world through fasting.  This is why one hour, in my opinion, is not adequate.  I, however, am not the Legislator, who has a different view of the question.

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  1. Lucas says:

    I’ve always done the no eating(at all!) before Mass, unless it’s a Saturday vigil or Midnight Mass, then its at least 3 hours.

  2. JohnE says:

    So you could pretty much be eating on the way to Mass and still “fast” for an hour before receiving Holy Communion.

  3. Midwest Girl says:

    Before I became pregnant, I felt the rule of only having to fast for one hour before Communion was too lax as well. Now, I eat often, and typically have to rush from Mass to have snack.

  4. heway says:

    Be careful what you wish for.
    We have a couple in our little parish who choose to fast from midnight the night before.
    Since we are a mission, one never is sure that there won’t be a Mass time change. When the time was postponed to 4 pm, the gentleman complained that he had been fasting for so long….I told him that he had time to break his fast and feel comfortable. I don’t believe that the Lord expects us to do things willingly and then complain to others – who did not impose this upon them.

  5. Alice says:

    Midwest Girl’s experience exactly coincides with my own.

  6. Southern Baron says:

    That’s right, JohnE. I personally tend to aim for an hour before Mass actually begins just because there’s never any guessing of “when did I finish my Mystic Monk Coffee?” But I don’t make it a hard rule, i.e., if Mass is at 11 and I realize I finished that last swig at 10:10, it’s no big deal. I agree with Father that it wouldn’t hurt to make it longer but until the Church changes, I’m willing to join everyone else on this one.

  7. If the fast were, say, three hours, one advantage would be that it would provide a good cover for those who do not receive Communion. True, if we see somebody not lining up for Communion, we have no business speculating about the reason; but maybe a longer fast would take away people’s fear of having others assume they are in mortal sin, and there might be fewer sacrilegious Communions.

  8. Medicine is also exempt from the fast, correct?

    I always wonder about the nutritional supplements I need to take each morning. I can’t function well without them; they have replaced my former prescription for a chronic condition. They are powdered and mixed with water – about 60 calories per glass and lemon flavored, but they have no qualities of a beverage I would drink for fun. So, food or medicine?

  9. Random Friar says:

    It would be better to have no rule of fasting than the 1-hr rule. For practicality’s sake, it just about means you can’t walk into church with your cheeseburger before a Sunday Mass.

    Three hours would be a good start.

  10. Tina in Ashburn says:

    The more you eat, the more you feel hunger. That’s the way blood sugar and food interacts. So those who eat more frequently [carbs especially] may indeed want to rush out after Mass and eat.

    I have a family member who is diabetic. His endocrine doctor explained to him that the more you eat, the more you feel hunger because eating raises your blood sugar. Raised blood sugar triggers the hungry feeling. As his doctor insisted, now he eats only when he is hungry. His insulin requirement has dropped oh…like 400 percent. He doesn’t eat until noon or thereafter, and then dinner.

    I’m not speaking for anyone on doctor’s orders – that’s what he found out for himself with his own doctor. There is also a big impact with the intake of more fiber-rich digestion-slowing foods and general avoidance of blood-sugar raising carbs.

    So it is entirely possible to fast longer for Mass without keeling over. I just have to have my coffee before that hour is up if its morning.

  11. muckemdanno says:

    De facto, there really is no fast required. Mass is about an hour long, and the Communion is at the end of mass, so unless you are actually eating during the mass, you cannot fail to meet the “fast.”

    They really need to make this fast real, or eliminate the rule.

    “If you want the law to be respected, make the law respectable.” – Frederic Bastiat

  12. uptoncp says:

    My personal preference is to keep the older midnight rule for masses within the times that would have been permitted when it was in force; for evening masses I follow much the same principle as Southern Baron above.

  13. ContraMundum says:

    Fr. Paul at St. Williams in Greenville, TX (where I was a parishioner before I had to move) regularly gives homilies that are about 30 minutes long. If you’re not snacking in the pews, you’re guaranteed to have satisfied the minimum requirements for the fast!

  14. JacobWall says:

    My humble and un-knowledgeable opinion for almost everyone involved (pregnant women, people taking medication and those who would rather fast longer) is this:

    Talk your parish priest, the one who gives you communion, about it. Whatever your case is.

    Your priest will be able to inform you about exceptions. He will also be able to support you if you choose a longer Eucharistic fast – e.g. let you know if changes take place (such as the ones heway mentions,) support you if for any reason you need to revert to the 1-hour fast and later support you re-reverting to the longer fast.

    Tell your priest that you really care about practicing a more complete Eucharistic fast. If you don’t tell him, he may think you are talking to him to try to “get off the hook,” and simply tell you it’s not necessary. If you tell him you care, he is more likely to support your attempts even if he usually doesn’t endorse a longer fast.

    I say all of these things simply out of my limited personal experience. I am a part of two parishes (one in Canada, one in Mexico.) In both cases, the parish priests don’t endorse or encourage longer fasting. But since I’ve told each of them that it was important for me to practice the longer fast, they both support me in this practice.

    My wife and I choose to do this together, with the approval/support of our priests. Now that my wife is pregnant, it’s a case like that of Midwest Girl and Alice; she often doesn’t find it feasible to practice the longer fast, so she sometimes does the 1-hour fast. (She still has to think about it because we go to short weekly mass [usually 45 minutes] and Sunday masses which are just under 1 hour because of scheduling; another mass follows directly on its heals.) I support her in this, as does our priest, and when the pregnancy and recovery is over, she’ll have support going back completely to the longer fast, not only from me, but from our priests since we talk to them about it.

    I hope that this approach (talking to your priest) would also have the effect of letting parish priests know that more and more people want the longer fast. It will also help them know that pregnant women, etc. need special support, arrangements and encouragement. Perhaps they’ll let their bishops know about growing interest in the longer Eucharistic fast, and hopefully good things happen from their.

    In any case, I agree with heway that people who willingly choose to practice the longer fast shouldn’t complain about it. But again, if the person in question had been in closer communication with their priest about it, no complaining should’ve been necessary – it would’ve been a simple fact of communicating that they person could go and have a good solid brunch and start their fast at 11. It shouldn’t be an issue of complaining, struggling, demanding or griping; it should be a matter of communication (from the side of the person practicing) and support (from the priest.)

    I love many of the ideas we read about here in Fr. Z’s blog, but if we want them to be reality in the Church, we have to take what we read in the blog and put it into practice in daily parish life. This means talking to our priests about them.

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  16. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Some time ago I called for the restoration of a 3-hour fast, prior to the start of Mass. See http://www.liturgysociety.org/JOURNAL/Volume11/11_3/Peters11.3.pdf

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