ASK FATHER: Communion for person just spotted drinking (probably) coffee

From a reader…


I’m an EMHC [Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion] in our Parish. At yesterday’s Mass, I was sitting a pew or two behind a woman who was chugging what I can only assume was a coffee beverage throughout Mass (it was in the cup-size that rhymes with “plenty” from a major coffee chain). She later presented herself to me for communion. As an EMHC, do I have the authority (or responsibility) to charitably refuse to administer communion, since I had reason to believe that she violated the fast? Should I, or should I leave it between her and God?

If I should refuse to offer communion to her and I fail to do so, am I in a state of sin, which should be confessed?

I had pondered this during Mass, and in this situation, I DID administer communion to her because I realized I DIDN’T know the answers to these questions (or even if it was just water in the cup) and, in any case, I DIDN’T know how to charitably do this.  [Water doesn’t break the Eucharistic fast.]

I’m asking you, rather than my Parish priest, because based on his previous track record on other, more serious issues, I don’t trust his judgement in this.

First, those occasions wherein EMHC’s are utilized to distribute Holy Communion ought to be rare.

EMHCs should not take upon themselves any determination of whether or not to admit someone to Holy Communion, unless the priest has instructed them to do so, and unless the situation is obvious, e.g., the person is chewing gum, wearing a rainbow sash during a protests, etc.

Ideally the pastor (parish priest) should regularly remind the flock of the necessity of observing the (paltry) 1-hour Communion fast.  He should take pains to know his flock so that he can take people aside and remonstrate with them as needed (and also praise them for their fidelity and piety – a good shepherd does both).

In such a situation, you should probably give the woman Holy Communion.  Then you should go to Father after Mass and explain the situation, offering the polite suggestion that it might be time to remind people about the fast.  That will also give Father the opportunity to explain the situation to you saying,

“Oh, that was Mindy. She has a rare condition that entails a dangerous lack of caffeine in her blood and commercialism in her psyche, so she has permission to drink the forbidden nectar during Mass…”


Click for your privileges!


If you drink only Mystic Monk Coffee, you get special permissions in the Church, but only if you use my link!

For example, did you know that the drinkers of Mystic Monk Coffee (bought exclusively through Fr Z’s link) have the right to wear the now abolished papal tiara while receiving Holy Communion?  True fact!  Did you know that, when drinking Mystic Monk Coffee, you are granted the privilege of receiving Communion – within a week and under the usual circumstances – on the MOON?  Did you know that Mystic Monk Coffee drinkers using K-Cups are granted an indult to receive Communion in two locations simultaneously when they bilocate?

What are you waiting for?

Mystic Monk Coffee!

It’s swell!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I’ve grown so tired of settling for a single cup of coffee whilst bilocating.

  2. Arele says:

    This is the perfect opportunity to say that we got our first Mystic Monk coffee (and tea, and coffee mugs) in the mail last week, and my husband LOVES the coffee! It smells wonderful in the house too (I can’t drink coffee, but I did drink Mystic Monk Blossoming Jasmine tea this morning – can I still receive Communion simultaneously in two locations??? Important question – what if you bilocate and want the tiara option too?)

    Anyway, now all I have to do is sign up for the Mystic Monk coffee subscription so we can get it delivered regularly! [Hang on. I received a note from the monks that that they are going to discontinue the subscriptions. I’ll double check that.]

    Oh yes, and I will use Fr. Z’s link too.

    PS we are also avid Amazon Prime users (it’s amazing what you can get delivered right to your front door these days) so I frequently search for and buy my Amazon products using the Amazon search link on this website. It’s an easy way to help support this blog that supports me spiritually so well.

  3. romanrevert says:

    The current Eucharistic fast could be more accurately described and enforced with a sign that says “No Food or Drink Allowed during Mass.” [Ironic.]

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    On the facts as alleged, administer.

  5. Scott Tenney Sr says:

    Is there no canonical inhibition against eating and drinking (beyond the Communion rite) in the nave of the church? I’d imagine it would have exceptions for medical reasons (though those would have to pass the paltry one hour test) and nursing mothers but that would be about all.

  6. Bosco says:

    I am a Type 2 diabetic with barely controlled blood sugar levels and if I keep the fast before reception of the Holy Eucharist I’d be in a very bad way come Communion time. [Then, obviously, you have an exemption.]

  7. Rachel K says:

    Reminds me of our ex-parish priest, formerly the rector of a seminary, who occasionally took a cup of tea onto the altar to sip during Mass. Fr Z, have I shocked you? Because I don’t think I have ever got over this.

  8. Del says:

    I enjoy a subscription to Mystic Monk Coffee. I have not heard anything from the Monks about discontinuing subscriptions.

    I think it would adversely affect their revenues, if they discontinued regular sales to their regular customers! It seems like they should want more subscribers.

    I like my coffee subscription. It’s swell!

    [I’ll double check on the coffee question.]

  9. msc says:

    I’m confused: fasting does not normally involve not drinking. Of course, there’s a difference between a pint of beer and water, but I don’t see how coffee violates a fast, unless it’s a milky latte.

  10. de_cupertino says:

    I thought tea and coffee didn’t break the fast, unless you put milk in it.

    Of course in the middle ages, Monks brewed good strong beer to get through the long lenten fast, for liquids would not break the fast.

    Is this apocryphal, or is the use of the word fast different between “Eucharistic fast” and “fast and abstinence”?

  11. Andrew says:


    “I’m confused: fasting does not normally involve not drinking.”

    So put your steak into a blender with some broth and drink away. All food can be dissolved and consumed as drink. I love this loophole. I wish I had thought of it years ago.

  12. Paul M. says:

    de cupertino asked “is the use of the word fast different between ‘Eucharistic fast’ and ‘fast and abstinence’?”

    The law does not call the “Eucharistic fast” a “fast” (ieiunium). Instead, the law requires those who are to receive Holy Communion to “abstain” (abstine?, abstin?re) from “any food and drink, except for only water and medicine” (quocumque cibo et potu, excepta tantummodo aqua atque medicine). Canon 919 § 1.

    This requirement is stronger than the requirement for the Lenten ieiunium, which allows for “only one full meal a day” along with “some food in the morning and evening” without restricting or even mentioning drink. ap. con. Panitemini III.2. We call it a “fast” instead of “abstinence” because we usually think of “abstinence” in the context Friday abstinence: i.e., no meat.

    msc said “fasting does not normally involve not drinking”

    The Eucharistic “fast” does require it (see above discussion), so if you have coffee or tea, with our without milk, 45 minutes before Communion time and you’re not excepted from the requirement (see c.919 § 2-3), don’t get in line.

  13. de_cupertino says:

    Paul M, thanks! That clears things up completely for me.

  14. JonPatrick says:

    To make matters worse, if the communicant in question was drinking coffee and it was in the cup size that rhymes with plenty then it is likely from the chain that supports same sex “marriage” and other destructive social policies.

    PS I recently tried the Mystic Monk Ethiopian and it was wonderful, very aromatic and not quite as strong as the Mystic Monk blend I had been using (unfortunately on a business trip and have to drink the regular swill, shoulda brought some MM K-cups with me!)

  15. xylkatie says:

    I’ve seen a coffee drinker in the pews before, and it is a shocking thing to see and should not be encouraged. More frequent (but less bothersome, somehow) sightings have been made of bottles of water. I never remember being explicitly told that there should be no food or drink in the nave, but the message was still clear that it was Not Done. In fact, it was Not Done to the point that mothers never considered bringing dried bits of food in plastic bags for their children to graze upon during mass.

  16. catholicmom3 says:

    My dear brother attends Mass in AR. He is not Catholic but feels entitled to receive communion. He says he does believe in the real presence. It is his weekly habit to stop at the nearby gas station and fill up with an extra large coffee, which he proceeds to bring into the Church and sip throughout Mass. He then presents himself for communion. He has been doing this for several years and has never been told it is wrong by anyone. But then again between the “please welcome your neighbors kick-off” and the zippy Broadway editions of Gather, it doesn’t seem that out of place. Of course when I visited, I had to politely admonish him and his Catholic wife, which was met with laughter.

  17. Doug R says:

    xylkatie: I agree with you regarding giving young kids Cheerios during Mass. Once our kids were past the bottle stage, we never even considered taking food to Church for them. And they’ve been making up for it by eating me out of house and home ever since. ;-)

    Fr. Z: I totally agree with you that EMHC’s are overused (I know they are in our Parish – we schedule 10; 11 if we don’t happen to have a Deacon for the Mass; I’ve seen all 11 used with fewer than 100 people in attendance on some holy days). On the other hand, in our Parish, I know that if I don’t do it, somebody else will, and after some of the things I’ve observed over time, I know that at least I’m going to try to do it with a properly. So the question is, how does one try to (A) reduce the reliance in one’s Parish on EMHC’s and (B) improve the level of training for those who are EMHC’s?

  18. msc says:

    Andrew: don’t be ridiculous. The usual definition (not ecclesiastical) of fasting is to go without food, not to go without food and water. I said there was a difference between, say, beer and water: beer obviously has nutrients and can fill one up. On the other hand, fluids with no nutritional value, such as coffee, would seem to me to be allowed under most definitions of fasting. And you steak milkshake would be considered as much food as soup would be….

    I was glad to read what Paul M. said: thanks for the clarification.

  19. oakdiocesegirl says:

    It seems to me the fasting & abstinence rules were codified long before anyone knew the cause of diabetes or started counting calories for weight control. As a physician , I do tend to equate valid food & drink with “calories”. So, for example, a zero calorie diet soda would not count as breaking a fast; whereas a sugary soda would. Black coffee & tea, having no calories & no nutritive value, are simply caffeine delivery vehicles, so to me they are more akin to Medicine, & thus would not count as breaking the fast. Also, some people cannot swallow even their blood pressure pills without a thicker liquid than water; yet they probably don’t think of themselves as having a medical condition which allows them to otherwise break the fast. It probably would be helpful, in this modern era when virtually everyone knows what a calorie is, for the Church to revisit this subject & issue a more definitive guideline. I say this because I am all for fasting & abstinence as the Church teaches, without getting neurotically scrupulous about it.

  20. dcs says:

    If it’s a choice between a child screaming and a child eating in church, I will take eating in church any day. Our youngest is hearing-impaired and frankly, it’s not fair to subject our fellow parishioners to his shrieking. If cheerios or pretzels or crackers keep him mostly quiet, then that’s what we’ll do.

  21. dcs says:

    Here’s a simple guideline: if something is a liquid, not medicine, not used to take medicine, and can’t be used to baptize someone, then don’t drink it. Coffee and tea don’t have any calories but they’re not valid matter for baptism.

  22. xylkatie, I wanted to address your plastic baggie / grazing comment.

    My husband and I have three children three and under. My husband and I both sing in the scholas/choirs and my husband directs the men’s schola. Our EF parish’s Sunday High mass usually runs between and hour and a half to two hours long. We are up in the choir loft trying to pray, sing, and keep the little ones quiet. We’re working on transitioning to “no snacks during Mass”, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do…if a cracker will keep the 20 month old from crying all through Mass, then a cracker is what comes outta the plastic baggie. :)

  23. Sorry Fr Z…just realized I went down the rabbit hole!

  24. mtwelle says:

    While I studying in Rome several years ago there was an interesting debate about coffee and the Eucharistic fast. I had the pleasure to meet Cardinal Burke in a small group setting and we had a friendly group discussion. One of the seminarians that was with us raised the issue of whether liquid that contained caffeine, such as coffee or espresso (esp. espresso), was considered medicine –so that there was no break in the fast. The issue was evidently a hot topic at the North American Pontifical College at the time. As I recall Cardinal Burke opined that, and he stressed strongly that this was his private opinion, unmodified coffee or espresso would count as medicine if the person would not function properly without it.

    Now I’m no expert in Cannon Law but my basic intuition is to trust Burke, even if it is private opinion.

  25. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Black coffee & tea, having no calories & no nutritive value, are simply caffeine delivery vehicles, so to me they are more akin to Medicine, & thus would not count as breaking the fast. ”

    Not so fast. Regular brewed coffee and steeped tea both have 2 calories (decaf has zero). In addition to caffeine, brewed coffee has between 20-675 mg per cup of CGAs – chlorogenic acids, such as caffeoylquinic acids, feruloylquinic acids and p-coumaroylquinic acids. The chemistry is really cool. I would say that it is barely a nutrient, but nutrient, it is. By definition, a nutrient is anything that is metabolized and of benefit to the system.. Carbonated water, by contrast, is not metabolized to any great extent, so, if anything did not break the fast, that would be an example. Also, one could eat as much paper as one wished without breaking the fast.

    As for Cardinal Burke’s opinion, he would, certainly, be correct if he were speaking of caffeine pills, but coffee is more than caffeine and water, so it would not be the equivalent to taking the pill with water. There is no medically necessary function of coffee that cannot be replaced by a caffeine pill and water, if the only reason one drinks coffee is for the caffeine. Anyone can function for a short time without coffee, unless you have a deficiency in an esterificated quinic acid compounds which must be taken at regular interval :)

    The Chicken

  26. lampada says:

    @ The Chicken. Not everyone is going to have a caffeine pill on hand for Mass- coffee is more readily available. It is good to remember that medicine comes in many forms. Motrin for children might taste more like candy but it’s still medicine. Are we going to say that the inactive ingredients for that make it automatically non-fasting material? Also, many medicines must be taken with food. Are we going to start saying what kind of food and how much?

  27. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Not everyone is going to have a caffeine pill on hand for Mass- coffee is more readily available.”

    I was referring to Cardinal Burke’s idea of coffee as medicine. Clearly, if coffee were looked on only as medicine, it would make no sense to drink it during Mass when a pill would be licit – if one were actually using coffee merely for the caffeine. The fact is that coffee is a gourmet drink in the sense that one can be a connoisseur of coffee, but try that with a pill. No one says that they are a connoisseur of aspirin. The only reason that coffee is more readily available is because it has a social aspect to it and a taste that puts it, squarely, in the beverage category and not the medicinal one. If coffee were merely liquid caffeine in water, who would drink it?

    “Are we going to say that the inactive ingredients for that make it automatically non-fasting material?”

    Most of the modern formulations of kid’s pills use sugar substitutes that are not absorbed by the body as a nutrient, thus, they do not break the fast.

    “Also, many medicines must be taken with food. Are we going to start saying what kind of food and how much?”

    I believe that many medicines must be taken with a meal. If one is eating merely to take a pill, that is bad dose management by the doctor or pharmacist.

    I know that some would like to claim a special exemption for coffee, but I’m not seeing it. As I said, above, soda water, I can see. With coffee, one is drinking the distillate from a bean. It is very similar to the idea of chicken broth.

    The Chicken

  28. The Masked Chicken says:

    Should read:

    If one is eating merely to take a pill, that possibly is bad dose management by the doctor or pharmacist.

  29. Martlet says:

    It seems to me that posters are focused on the “what” rather than the “why” people are drinking/eating at Mass. When my year-round allergies play up, for example, I am faced with a choice of coughing until I retch or drinking something thick and sugary to coat my very itchy throat, or sucking on a throat lozenge. Water won’t touch it. I’ve seen allergists and an ENT specialist, and there is nothing more to be done – although I would be helped immensely if people around me didn’t use quite so much perfume or cologne. So, as an EMOHC myself, I would never refuse Holy Communion to someone I had seen eating or drinking. I would assume that, like me, they have good reason to be doing what they do. However, on the instruction of the priest, we ARE to refuse Communion to anyone who comes up to receive while chewing gum! And yes, it happens. More often than I could ever have imagined.

  30. I think the Church is pretty clear on this one: “any food and drink, except for only water and medicine” doesn’t leave a lot of room for confusion. If caffeine is really medicine for someone (I have a very hard time seeing how this is possible) then they should consult their priest and get the “ok” to have it during the hour-long fast before receiving the Eucharist. They should also take extra special care to make sure they don’t scandalize others by drinking their, um…medicine…in the pew during Mass.

  31. teejay329 says:

    Oh my goodness people…get up earlier to have coffee or just wait until after Mass. Don’t cherry-pick the rules folks. As that kid replied on the test…just get up and deal with it. Jesus was in the desert for 40 days…FORTY DAYS…without a skinny no-whip venti latte. We can wait a few hours. We all know what is right in our hearts. Don’t let Satan convince your brains otherwise.

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