ASK FATHER: The priest’s Eucharistic fast in the Extraordinary Form

From a priest…


I mostly do the Extraordinary Form.

I saw in the De defectibus of 1962, it tells priest to fast 3 hours before communion, does that still hold with extra ordinary form Mass or does the hour fast work without offending God. (I know current norms say one hour but didn’t Pope Benedict use the logic of no altar girls for extraordinary form since we have to “use” the 1962 norms…?)

Given Universae Ecclesiae, I say no.  One hour before Communion suffices to fulfill the norm of the Eucharistic fast in the Extraordinary Form, as in the Ordinary Form.  It is commendable to do more, but the law says one hour before Communion (not before the beginning of Mass).

This is not really a matter that pertains to the rubrics for Mass, even though the moment of the priest’s Communion is described in the rubrics.  This pertains to reception of Holy Communion. That law has been changed for all the faithful, priest included.

Similarly, if a Latin Catholic were to receive Holy Communion at an Eastern Rite Liturgy, he would not be bound by that Eastern Church’s laws on fasting, but rather by the Latin law. This would even apply if he were a Latin priest attending or assisting at an Eastern Mass.

In my opinion, the Holy See and bishops of the world should have us return to a longer Eucharistic fast.  I say it should be at least three hours.  That would help, I think, the problem of many sacrilegious Communions.  It would also help to instill greater respect for all that is sacred and would strengthen our Catholic identity.  We need a strong… stronger… Catholic identity in the face of what is surely to come.

I had a POLL on this issue.  Keep in mind that the poll isn’t really about YOU.  It is about what would be good for the whole Body, the Church:

Under normal circumstances, should the Latin Church Eucharistic fast (for people who are obliged) before Communion be lengthened?

View Results

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I voted no. Had severe health issues with hypoglycemia and needing to eat solid food every hour to avoid fainting, and having asked my priest if that was allowed or if I could be dispensed from the fast since it was too hard to time things just right, I was told all I could do was consume stuff in liquid format (ie: juice or sugar water), which would only suffice for like 10-15 minutes max. It was at the point I had to keep an apple and box of juice in my purse “just in case”.

    If people want to fast longer, I thing they can, but it shouldn’t be mandatory.

    [Looking it from the perspective that the new fasting norm isn’t aimed at you, personally, and that it is for the good of the Church (i.e., it isn’t about you) how would you choose?]

  2. slainewe says:

    I voted for the Midnight fast, but how about Midnight fast if the Mass begins at Noon or before, and fast from Noon, or 3 hours, for an evening Mass? [Yes, that presents a problem.]

  3. Imrahil says:

    Dear APX,

    the rules at present say “nothing except water or medicine (for one hour)”. I do wonder how your pastor gets the idea of liquid food. Juice and sugar-water are not “water” in the sense of the law, and if they are justifiable as medicine (as they quite probably are), then why on earth would not solid food (in some quantity) also be? Also I think he can grant dispensations from that rule.

    The present law is not aimed to the unhealthy, but to the healthy (it used to be slightly different, I learn), and I very much vote for that that at any rate be unchanged. Otherwise, for the little it’s worth, I’m undecided between “leave it as it is” (sure, it’s not much of a fast, but I dearly love to Communicate… – see by the way an interesting and undecided article of Dr Peters), “three hours” and “three hours, or else one hour before the beginning of Mass if in Mass, and if you were in time for it”.

  4. Bea says:

    I voted 1 hour
    3 Hours is commendable and should be followed by those inclined to do so.

    I was mainly thinking of those who might have to take meds with food, the elderly, children and those with medical problems such as ulcers, anemia, etc. or those weak people who might miss out on receiving our Lord because they felt they could not comply with the 3 hour fast.

    It used to be after midnight when I was growing up and I would sometimes faint during Mass.
    Of course people with health problems could get a dispensation, which could be avoided by just using the 1 hour fast. Perhaps the 3 hour fast could just be encouraged as a voluntary option for a greater sense of piety for those who can physically take it.

  5. TopSully says:

    Father Z: “I say it should be at least three hours. That would help, I think, the problem of many sacrilegious Communions.”

    Father, I’m curious why you think that would help. I would think the opposite, more people who didn’t fast quite 3 hours would come forward. [The 3 hour fast would give people an excuse not to go forward.]

    Personally, apart from diabetics and others with medical conditions I don’t see 3 hours as a particularly long time to fast. It would take some extra discipline for me if I didn’t go to an early Mass, since I am a habitual snacker, but that’s easy to adjust. And if I do slip, well there’s nothing that says I HAVE to receive communion every week.

  6. Paul Young says:

    I voted for three hours. Seems to me to strike a good balance between being too burdensome for a weakened body of Catholics and being no sacrifice at all.

    One odd thing that I noticed. The poll results said 1% or 76 people, had never heard of the Eucharistic fast before. Is that really possible? I suppose there might be quite a few non-Catholic readers of the blog, but I was surprised.

  7. Wiktor says:

    One hour for EF Mass is just too easy. A sung mass typically lasts 1 hour 15 minutes.
    Communion for faithful begins at about 1:00 point. One hour fast means that it is sufficient that you don’t eat anything while in the church.
    Not really a fast…

  8. TWF says:

    I voted three hours. Fasting from midnight before is very traditional – it remains the norm in many of the Eastern Churches…certainly among the Eastern Orthodox. (Some of the Eastern Catholic jurisdictions are latinized to various degrees and may or may not have relaxed the requirement in imitation of their novelty loving Latin brothers)… but I think anything beyond three hours would be a difficult burden for the average Catholic in the pew. Perhaps a generation or two of practicing a three hour fast would prepare the faithful for an eventual return to the traditional norm.

  9. KM Edwards says:

    I voted for midnight before.

    The 1 hour before communion is something of a joke frankly. On the longer Easter Triduum and Christmas vigil masses one could technically be eating during mass and be within the limits of the law with a 1 hour fast.

    I know an Eastern Orthodox who receives communion very infrequently. But when he does, he is enduring a very strict fast. Inviting him to share a bite to eat, he will say “I can’t, I want to receive communion and have to fast”. I realize that the purpose of the reduced fast was precisely to increase the frequency of reception of communion. My assessment on this is that the remedy worked a little too well.

    3 hours would be more practical for Masses held in the evening, but as I understand it, evening Masses and vigils are also somewhat of an innovation – not sure if it was Pope Pius XII in 1955 that introduced them or Pope Paul VI in 1969. So, I would also be in favor of turning the clock back to no masses being permitted except in the morning hours from midnight (for an Easter or Christmas Vigil) to 12 noon. For morning masses, a fast from midnight before. For Vigil masses held from midnight to 4 am, perhaps a 12-hour fast.

    This would be long enough to “feel the pain” required to “make the (spiritual) gain” of feeling humbled and poor in spirit before communion.

    Re AFX’s condition: I am surprised at the priest’s advice. If there is a serious medical condition, such as what AFX describes herself as having, I believed the law of the Church permitted exceptions to the law. I’m only a lay person myself, but I would definitely seek a second opinion from another traditional priest on this matter.

  10. acricketchirps says:

    I thought heard they had a vote over at the Fishwrap and decided to agree on the consensus. Now there’s a letter writing campaign to the Holy Father to introduce a rigid 18 minute, 34 second fast before Communion.

  11. I voted midnight.

    I did this because I have noticed that in times and eras when more has been asked of people, many (not all, but more) seem to develop a firmer will to do more not just in the areas requested, but others as well. This seems to promote a stronger faith overall in the Church, and it is probably because people are gaining more graces.

    Being “pushed” to win more grace, within reason of course, can never be a bad thing. :-) If our ancestors could do it, why do we think we are somehow not capable as well?

  12. Mary Jane says:

    I voted yes, 3 hours before. At the moment I personally couldn’t fast for 3 hours before the receiption of Holy Communion (I am expecting our 4th and dealing with morning sickness)…but under normal circumstances (looking at the big picture) I think 3 hours is a good rule.

  13. akp1 says:

    I voted one hour (I would go for two hours if it was an option) Three hours is difficult for many people, people who just need to take medication with food, people who are hypoglycaemic, and others who need to go to an early Mass and who have no real reason not to fast. (Btw APX I have stabilised my hypoglycaemic hunger by eating eggs (protein) for breakfast without any complex carbs. It’s changed my life, I’m no longer ravenous all day. It’s working for my Mum & my son too).

    [One of these days, people will figure out that this poll is NOT really about the circumstances of INDIVIDUALS.]

  14. wmeyer says:

    I voted for midnight before, which is my habit, but I attend a morning Mass. For daily Mass, and for vigil Mass, I’d favor the three hour fast. With a one hour fast, I could wolf down a bite, head out the door, drive to church and arrive 20 minutes before Mass, easily fulfilling the obligation. But that seems not to be a sacrifice, at all.

    Also, clearly, health issues are exceptional cases. I have had hypoglycemia all my life, though it seems to have reduced with age. Even so, for a morning Mass, it would seem that if I survived sleep without a snack, another couple of hours should not be severe, even when the condition was worse.

  15. wmeyer says:

    I meant to mention, too, that at 65, I do still fast, despite the rule about 59.

  16. sirlouis says:

    My response depends on what principle underlies the Eucharistic fast. Supposing it is to incur some penance so as to gain proper humility in approaching the Sacrament, then the longer the fast, the better. On the other hand, if the principle is to show respect for the Sacrament by not mixing it with other, profane “foods,” then a fast corresponding to the time food usually remains in the stomach after eating seems appropriate. From what I read, that time is two to five hours in normal cases. One could then argue that three hours is “about right,” or that it ought to be twice that, to be on the “safe side.” If it were six hours, then effectively it would become midnight for most communicants at most Masses, but would allow a person who had lunch but skipped dinner to receive at an evening vigil.

    On either principle, those with intractable medical problems do as much as they can.

  17. APX says:

    Reclaiming the Sacred,

    Times have changed. Now we have evening vigil
    Masses, midday Masses, evening Masses. Our Sunday High Mass Mass starts at 12:30 pm and there isn’t time to move it earlier because there are three other Masses ahead of it. Some people have to work Sundays and can only go to Mass in the evenings. Unless we return to the early morning Masses before most people go to work, fasting from Midnight would not be practical. Why restrict such graces received from worthy reception of Holy Communion in a manner that it would cut down on devout reception?

    Furthermore, do people really think that people who don’t already observe the current fasting laws are going to observe an even more rigorous fast? [So, let’s just continue to signal to everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, that we don’t take it seriously. Is that it?]

  18. JBS says:

    The rules on everything from fasting and abstinence to holy days of obligation are now so reduced or confusing that it’s impossible to fashion a Catholic culture that incorporates them. And the moment one opens the discussion on changing any sort of physical Church discipline, such as kneeling or fasting, someone immediately introduces the issue of prohibitive ailment, as if the Church would require the sickly to do the impossible.

    Before making any disciplinary changes in the future, the Vatican and the episcopal conferences need to employ juries of simple laymen, randomly selected, to review the intelligibility and spiritual desirability of each proposed rule.

  19. “Fasting from midnight before is very traditional – it remains the norm in many of the Eastern Churches…certainly among the Eastern Orthodox. (Some of the Eastern Catholic jurisdictions are latinized to various degrees and may or may not have relaxed the requirement in imitation of their novelty loving Latin brothers).”

    I suspect a majority of the Eastern Catholic Churches have changed their canons on fasting from midnight to an hour in the post-Vatican II climate. I know my Ukrainian Catholic Church has. But the truth is, I don’t care what the canons say in that regard. It’s shameful that orthodox Christians are no longer required to show respect for the Eucharist in the way always have in the East. It used to be that fasting from midnight was a universal norm, from which, if necessary, a Christian could deviate with the approval and help of his priest. If there’s a legitimate excuse, it can be lifted; why not keep it as a goal to strive for?

  20. msc says:

    In my weakness I voted for one hour–we go to 8:00 a.m. mass and if I’m to be at all alert and get something out of the homily, I need a couple of cups of coffee in me (preferably with cream). Yes, I could simply take a couple of caffeine tablets, but that seems to break the spirit of the thing anyway. So I’m unwilling to ask others to do what I can’t. I’m open to being convinced, but I don’t see that it would necessarily make those who are not suitably reverent towards communion view it more seriously.

  21. TWF says:

    “Many people are unable…” As Father pointed out this is not a good argument. We are discussing the universal norm of the Latin Church, not individual circumstances. It is a universal norm to hear mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation…if you are unable to do so, you do not sin by not attending. Likewise, if a three hour fast was reintroduced, those who are simply not able to fast for three hours would not sin by not doing so… It is really very simple. There is absolutely no reason why the average person couldn’t fast for three hours… it wouldn’t even be difficult for a morning mass.

  22. wolfeken says:

    slainewe — you raise a good point, and that was kind of Pius XII’s justification for the relaxation. In other words, the fast always began at midnight for Mass, when Mass was only permitted in the morning. When Mass was permitted to the offered in the afternoon or evening, the midnight fast discipline was changed to a three hour fast. But it should be noted the midnight fast was still strongly encouraged by the pope if possible.

    Of course, it’s all optional now, and a lot of traditional and even conservative Catholics observe the old rules on a voluntary basis. Midnight fast for a morning Mass; three hour fast for an afternoon or evening Mass.

    It’s good to at least see almost everyone above recognizing the current one hour law is an utter and absolute joke. Not eating on the way to, or during, Mass shouldn’t even be called a fast.

  23. Chon says:

    I think it would be good if we refrain here from saying what our personal fasting practices are. Why risk losing our reward? (If you aren’t sure what I mean, see Mt. 6:16-18…actually, the whole chapter). Please note I am not accusing anybody of anything. I am merely sharing an idea.

    [I don’t think there are any problems with expressing a preference. However, we should subordinate our preferences to what is truly best for the Church. I, for one, think that a longer Eucharistic fast is for the good of the whole Church.]

  24. Chon says:

    I agree a longer Eucharistic fast is best for the whole Church, and that there is no problem expressing a preference. However, I do think there can be a problem with saying what one actually does. Saying something like, “I do not eat meat for all of Lent,” is different from saying, “I think it would be good if we went back to the practice of not eating meat during Lent.” The desert fathers had very strong teachings about not telling people what you actually DO about fasting. This poll is not asking us what we DO personally. It is asking for our preference, which is a good awareness-raising activity.

  25. Marie Teresa says:

    I voted from midnight … it seems the three hour fast might go the way of the one hour fast. Many, many Catholics seem unaware that a fast exists at all.

    A fast from midnight the night before would seem to make more of a difference in the mindset of Catholics as a whole.

  26. Legisperitus says:

    I voted for the 3 hours, but only because of afternoon Masses, vigil Masses, and the Sacred Triduum. If we could do a liturgical reset to 1950 on those matters, I’d be in the midnight category. (But then again, how exactly is that to be applied to a Midnight Mass??)

  27. magister63 says:

    Another example of the utter absurdity and lack of supernatural focus of the Novus Ordo church. We drive 45 minute to Mass each Sunday. We could stop by the Burger King drive thru on the way, eat a huge breakfast in the car, and roll into the church parking lot, through the trash in the can there, and walk into church and fulfill that ludicrous and disrespectful precept. For some of the high Masses there, it may even be possible to bring some tater tots into church if they are done before the Gospel!

  28. Imrahil says:

    As for what the dear TWF said,

    Likewise, if a three hour fast was reintroduced, those who are simply not able to fast for three hours would not sin by not doing so…

    – certainly not; but would they be able/allowed to Communicate? And if so, would they be without going through much asking for dispensation, argumenting around for themselves one way or the other, and without the at least internal accusation that they are all to ready to give themselves leeway?

    By the way,

    I certainly agree that the one hour is not much of a fast; and we may well debate whether it deserves to be called a fast at all. However, if some say it is “nothing really” and the like – it is not the situation as it should be for this to mean only the way to Mass; it is not around here; and for those who suffer living in diaspora, or under severe traffic conditions, so that this does be true: I’m inclined to think suffering that very condition counts as a sacrifice too.
    At any rate, I’ve more than once had to pay close attention not to eat to fulfil even this rule, or had to abstain because I didn’t. I don’t complain; I only say that, little as it is, it is not nothing.

    Dear Chon,

    I don’t think anybody here is sharing their personal practices in order to gain the applause of the World (in the sense of the Gospel). They are highlighting where they come from, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And if some would not say no to an encouraging approval from Christian brethren, there’s nothing wrong with that either, nor does Our Lord forbid us to do so.

  29. APX says:

    I think getting rid of EMHCs, CITH and bringing back COTT and kneelers and good Catechesis would do more to signal how serious we take Communion than a longer fast.

  30. FrG says:

    I voted three hours. Can we have a three hour fast from foods, with one hour fast for liquids? A cup of coffee, at least, before Mass seems merciful.

  31. Chon says:

    Imrahil: Since “only God knows the hearts of men,” I have no idea what motivations people have when they announce their fasting practices to the world. That’s why I was careful to say I was not accusing anyone of anything, and used the word “risk” rather than something more definite. You are kind to assume the best of people’s motives. I wish all readers of this blog would have the same loving practice.

    Nevertheless, Jesus specifically tells us, “When you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” I was merely pointing that out, because it’s very important. The monastics from the earliest centuries have warned us not to tell our fasting practices to others. Need I say why? I think most blog readers here know why.

  32. Chon says:

    I forgot to say that, months ago, I voted for the fast from midnight. However, if we do that, it would be good to add something like bagels to the ubiquitous after-Mass donut offering. People will be really hungry. I know lots of people even now who don’t come to fellowship after Mass because they don’t want to assault their systems with a donut. The healthy food after Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Orthodox Churches is a model I would love to see in the Latin churches. Such good fellowship and relationship building come from those weekly gatherings. We do have one Latin parish in town that does that, and it’s wonderful.

  33. Imrahil says:

    Actually, by the way, I can’t help to have a “situation as it should be” before my eyes, which always seems to contain a happy family sharing Sunday breakfast together and then going to Church as a group, and as this is an ideal, none of them has sinned mortally and so they can receive Communion. Just saying…

  34. Mary Jane says:

    But Chon…

    If bagels are provided alongside donuts after Mass, then won’t we know – just from watching the food line – who has been fasting since midnight and who has fasted for three hours and perhaps even who has just fasted for one hour? One could watch who in the food line picks up two bagel and slathers them with cream cheese, who picks up just one bagel, and who picks up the donut…


  35. MarkG says:

    Maybe bring back the midnight fast for 1 month per year. That would help to break people of unprepared habitual Holy Communion just because everyone goes at every Mass. The Saturday night Masses would have pretty short Holy Communion lines.

    Maybe increase the fast to 2 hours for the rest of the year and see what happens.
    The 3 hour fast allowed non-alcoholic beverages up to 1 hour.
    So, maybe the 2 hour fast could allow non-alcoholic beverages up to 1 hour also.

    Maybe the fast for weekday Masses could be more lenient than for Sunday Masses. Like keep 1 hour for weekday Masses. That would encourage more attendance.

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