Concrete suggestions for the Synod of Bishops

The issue of Communion for those in irregular marriages, and for other sinners as well, is not to be quickly solved.  Rushing to amend the annulment process seems to me a bad idea.

However, there are a couple things that Bishops, with the Pope, could do to make it easier for people who should not be going to Communion, not to go.

First, in the places where the practice is used, could we get rid of row by row Communion?

Some people will feel psychological pressure to go with everyone else.  They watch the rows getting closer and closer, all the while debating, “Should I sit here or stay in the aisle and wonder about what people are wondering about me?  Why I am not going forward?”

Second, lengthen the Eucharistic fast before Communion to 3 hours instead of the ridiculous 1 hour.

Were we to have a longer Eucharistic fast, people could assume that you, mortal sinner that you probably are, may have had a stack of flapjacks before coming to church, rather than all those other things that people might wonder about.

Let’s make it easier for people not to commit sacrilege.

No more row by row!

Three hours!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Absolutely! Three hours is quite reasonable, and aside from giving cover to mortal sinners, it makes the early masses more popular…

  2. mbutton says:

    Amen. The temptation to move with the masses was particularly powerful in my youth.

  3. Sonshine135 says:

    I have always been a supporter of the 1 hour Father, but I see your point in this case. If it helps people to rethink going to communion in grave sin, I am all for it.

    I am very concerned that this synod is quickly turning into something where dogma and long held beliefs MUST change. That is going to leave our head spinning. I hope everyone- laity, priests, bishops, and cardinals takes a deep breath and contemplate what is happening with much prayer.

  4. Excellent thought Fr!Everybody going up to Holy Communion is scandalous ,or are they all in a state of grace?I doubt that most catholics know what a state of grace is because the church doesn’t teach the truth anymore.All it teaches is a fuzzy,woolly,cuddly soft kind of-jesus loves you and we are all saved-religion which is dogma free and guilt free!God Bless .Philip Johnson.

  5. mrshopey says:

    You know, I hate this irregular talk. I am not sure if people should go get Activa to help them or if they comprehend the meaning of dead.mortal. remedy. penance.
    Oh, well.
    Fr said we were irregular but I have been eating Activa and all is fine with me!
    Heaven forbid we use words that accurately describe what situation they are in (fornication/adultery).
    How will they be able to READ anything other than this time period and have it relate to THEM?
    The woman caught in adultery? Nope, not me. I’m just irregular. Gee. thumbs down for dumbing things down.
    Let’s hope the cancer drs don’t take this route.

  6. mrshopey says:

    Maybe we could start your idea by just going to communion, out of turn?
    (I liked the ideas btw, just not the wording – rant off)

  7. Martlet says:

    Bless me Father, for I have made a couple of little mistakes. My emotions got the better of me with my neighbour, so I freed my husband and am now in an irregular but otherwise loving and family-like relationship…

  8. Quas Primas says:

    It’s the faithful among us who would be most attentive to a 3-hour rule, and thereby refrain from reception when our schedules would make it harder to fast (especially at a daily Mass), while I doubt whether it would have much effect at all on those who aren’t as devout or conscientious.

    With the malformation of conscience these days, and the woeful lack of understanding of the Real Presence, I wonder how many people have no concept of being in grave sin, and therefore receive Communion without a second thought.

    In these deplorable circumstances, would the 3-hour rule have much of an effect? Would it even be explained and disseminated well enough for the average parishioner who doesn’t even go to Mass every Sunday?

    And even if bishops and pastors made persistent exhortations, wouldn’t it largely be tuned out as another irrelevant bit of legalism? Not my view, of course, but doesn’t this pretty much sum up the attitude of a lot of American Catholics?

    Apologies if I’m a nattering nabob of negativism, but I just can’t see a 3-hour rule as a guard against unworthy reception on a large scale.

  9. JBS says:

    If only you were there to make such sensible suggestions.

  10. rtjl says:

    I’m actually considering adopting the practice of only receiving communion after I have gone to confession – whether I judge myself to be in mortal sin or not. That way I can always just say -“Oh no, I’m not going to communion because I didn’t go to confession. I only go to communion if I have gone to confession some time in the previous week.” Some people will probably accuse me of being srupulous but it’s not that at all. It is really about four things. 1. We are not obligated to receive communion every time we go to Mass and that’s a message that needs to get out there. 2. It may give courage to others who, in good conscience, should abstain from receiving. 3. It might encourage me to go to confession more often that I do – which is more or less monthly in Ordinary Time and weekly in Advent and Lent. 4. It might help others appreciate more fully the importance of regular confession.

    It’s just an idea I am toying with. I haven’t decided yet.

  11. Mike says:

    . . . I just can’t see a 3-hour rule as a guard against unworthy reception on a large scale.

    Such a rule, it seems to me, should be part of an larger catechesis of the Eucharist, including the norms for worthy reception. Since a 7-year-old could understand the norms, it’s hard to imagine why this catechesis shouldn’t be a simple one- or two-week proposition; but no one can doubt that, if reforms are implemented, the reaction from clergy and laity alike will be shrill and persistent.

    As OP Quas Primas notes, adjustment to a lengthened fast (should one be imposed) will be an interesting proposition. I’m one of those who sleepily downs a bowl of raisin bran and a cup of instant coffee at 5 am before getting ready for 7 am daily Mass. In the spirit of the 3-hour fast, I’m pondering whether to throw a box or two of granola bars into the trunk now so I can start to develop the habit of getting my breakfast after Mass on the way to work.

  12. Dave N. says:

    I think the practice of row-by-row probably pressures many ignorant but well meaning non-Catholics into coming up for communion because, well, it seems like that’s just what everyone’s doing.

  13. msc says:

    I have little doubt that if a 3 hour fast before communion were to be required it would be widely ignored. I know that’s not a good reason not to do it, but do we want to encourage more people to take communion when they shouldn’t? My wife and I go to a 9:00 a.m. Mass usually, so that would mean either waiting to eat until about 10:30, which is far past a reasonable time for breakfast, or to get up at 5:30 a.m. (when we normally get up around 7:30–we always maintain the hour fast). Yes, I know that I don’t have to receive communion, but I would nonetheless be annoyed at being deprived of needed sleep on a weekend, when I’m almost always sleep-deprived. Or it is possible that attendance at early masses would drop off precipitously. Either way I don’t think the result would be a good one.

  14. msc says:

    I have little doubt that if a 3 hour fast before communion were to be required it would be widely ignored. I know that’s not a good reason not to do it, but do we want to encourage more people to take communion when they shouldn’t? My wife and I go to a 9:00 a.m. Mass usually, so that would mean either waiting to eat until about 10:30, which is far past a reasonable time for breakfast, or to get up at 5:30 a.m. (when we normally get up around 7:30–we always maintain the hour fast). Yes, I know that I don’t have to receive communion, but I would nonetheless be annoyed at being deprived of needed sleep on a weekend, when I’m almost always sleep-deprived. Or it is possible that attendance at early masses would drop off precipitously. Either way I don’t think the result would be a good one.

  15. tcreek says:

    The teaching of Christ and His Church had been clear on marriage, family life and sexual conduct till present day bishops came on the scene. Everything is a now a muddle because of their non-teaching or false teaching. Why would anyone think that the moral clarity of the past will result from this synod? (or this pope?)

  16. JesusFreak84 says:

    A 3-hour fast is still the norm in the East, if memory serves. Somehow, they survive. And as I said on another post, receiving there ISN’T the norm. I see a lot of people who only receive at Easter, after over an hour in Divine Liturgy and 45 min. (ish,) of Resurrection Matins prior. This is one case where what works in one lung of the Church WOULD, I believe, work in the other.

  17. aviva meriam says:

    I remember the first Christmas Eve Mass I ever attended (3 decades ago): more than a third of the people in the pews did NOT go forward for Communion. The family that brought me to Mass explained that people in “irregular relationships” knew they couldn’t go forward and DIDN’T. Without complaint. (which made it easier for me to sit quietly without embarrassment)

    It is the exception (and not the rule) today for someone to hold back and not go forward for communion.

    And the 3 hour fast would still allow the late afternoon Sunday masses so popular here….
    Anything that makes people stop and think before committing sacrilege is a good thing.

  18. Carolina Geo says:

    Just noticed this on Reuters:

    The pope has appeared to have dropped Latin as the official language of the synod. On the heels of that decision, what makes any of us think that they’ll do something reasonable like stop calling not eating for an hour a “fast?”

  19. jmgarciajr says:

    I agree with the elimination of row-by-row…but how would that be done?

  20. mamajen says:

    I think priests should follow this example from Fr. Finigan as well. Regularly, and not just at special events:

    At weddings, funerals, first Communions and Confirmations, many priests will try to give some guidance on who may present themselves for Holy Communion. A while back, I made a passing remark that I found to be surprisingly effective. After explaining that it is practising Catholics, living in accord with the teaching of the Church and attending Sunday Mass every week who go to Communion, I added that there are always plenty of people who, for various reasons, cannot receive Communion and so there is no need to be embarrassed about remaining in the bench. My hunch was correct: at those public occasions, if you do not explain that there are required dispositions for Holy Communion, people will come up simply to be polite, in case it might be rude not to. Such is the result of our failing to educate the faithful on the proper dispositions for Holy Communion.


    So simple, and yet I have never heard it said!

    I belong to a rather small parish and I do admit to feeling self-conscious on those occasions when I must remain in the pew. But it is a darn good motivator to get to confession ASAP!

    It goes without saying that we are all sinners. If we notice someone remain in the pew we shouldn’t think “There’s someone who has mortally sinned,” or “I wonder what he did?” If anything, we should think “There’s someone who has the proper respect for the Eucharist.”

  21. iPadre says:

    Let’s add to that list:
    • Communion kneeling to strengthen belief in the Real Presence.
    • Communion on the tongue only, to help put an end to Satanists stealing hosts for sacrilegious Black Masses, and to stop the countless fragments of Our Lord’s precious Body falling to the floor and trampled.
    • Restoration of the Communion Plate as an obligation and not a suggestion.
    • Last but not least, strong preaching on the importance of regular reception of the Sacrament of Penance to prepare the souls for meeting Christ in His Sacramental presence.

  22. msc says:

    Carolina Geo: Infandum! Monstrum horrendum! I wonder what Benedict thinks?

  23. Urget_nos says:

    Or, in addition… as a friend described after a month long business trip to Poland, they had one celebration of Mass per Sunday where Holy Communion was NOT DISTRIBUTED AT THAT MASS. The priest offered the Holy Sacrifice, communicated, and concluded the Mass. All present heard Mass and KNEW (except for my friend) that they would not receive Holy Communion at that Mass. And, yes, he described that this large church was very full of people in attendance for that Mass.

  24. AvantiBev says:

    Well no wonder we Catholics have no backbone to stand up against the Sex Revolt and cultural chaos! Seriously? You spend your time in the pew wondering what people are thinking of you if you don’t line up for Communion?! Or do you keep a tally of who is going and who is in the pews?
    How about head down in deep prayer for what a mess our Church and our country is in?

    I remember my Mom questioning me in my early adult years about my not going to Communion when attending a Mass at her parish. She never did so again. I made it clear that it was between God, me and my confessor. Not even your mom’s business people.

    I mean really, pressure to go to Holy Communion or the fast food lines that are SUPPOSED to be “Holy” Communion at Our Lady of the Holy Dry Wall? Come on in ISIS; nobody with guts to oppose you here.

  25. Lin says:

    I agree with iPadre’s list above.

    50 years ago less than 20% went to Communion at a Sunday Mass in our parish. I actually felt VERY nervous about going to Communion because so few went. My grandmother went to mass EVERY Sunday but never went to Communion until after my grandfather died. She never told us why. I found out many years later that grandpa had been divorced before he married my grandma. And grandpa was a Luthern.

    As I have said many time before, we have not had adequate catechism since the fifties!

  26. Will Elliott says:

    Another vote for bringing back altar rails and eliminating row-by-row communion. At my previous parish, communion is distributed at the communion rail. Communicants aren’t prompted row-by-row by the users; instead everyone who wishes to receive moves almost simultaneously into the center and side aisles, and then goes forward toward the communion rail as kneeling space becomes available. It’s basically the same way at my current parish, but we only go forward via the center aisle because the side aisles aren’t wide enough for two-way traffic.

  27. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    The many, many arguments favoring a return of the three-hour fast are set out here:

  28. kat says:

    I hope this is not a rabbit hole. Lately I have been reading, here and even on very “trad” sites, peoples’ comments that reception of Holy Communion should be infrequent, and only after confession (even if not in mortal sin); I even recently read a comment that said St Pius X made a big mistake encouraging frequent Communion.

    I understand the frustration at believing many sacrilegious communions may be taking place and need to be stopped. However, to resort back to a Jansenistic attitude that receiving Our Lord should be rare, and only after confession no matter what life you lead, would lead to the devil’s clapping of hands. Holy Communion, union with Our Divine Lord, is THE best means of obtaining grace to resist sin! The devil knows this, and will use any means, even what may look like a “good”, to prevent us from receiving those graces. This is an evil world. Frequent confession, and daily reception of Our Lord if possible, is the best means to keep ourselves on the right path. Refusing to receive Our Lord, Who loves us so much and desires to be with us, merely to give an example to those who SHOULD NOT be receiving, seems to be biting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

    If you are living in the state of grace, and want to remain that way, Holy Communion will strengthen you to do so.

  29. Lin says:

    Good point, kat! I, for one need the strength of frequent communion. I wish more frequent confession were possible but all parishes in my area have them at the same time on Saturdays, which sure limits availability. I can usually go every couple of months. I would go more often if I could because the state of our world scares me a lot.

    Why do most people feel entitled to communion at every mass? It appears that many Catholics have been advised to follow their own consciences in matters of morals. Most don’t think they sin. We need more catechism and more sermons to put the fear of The Lord front and center. And even that may fall on the rocks! Pray, pray, pray!

  30. mamajen says:

    Yes, kat, I have seen that, too. It’s a worrying trend.

  31. Fr Sean Coyle says:

    When I was growing up in Dublin in the 1940s and 1950s I learned in school, either in kindergarten or in primary school, that row-by-row Holy Communion was strictly forbidden. I never saw row-by-row Holy Communion in the packed churches we had in those days. I caused some consternation in 1981 or 1982 while doing a summer supply in a parish in the New York area where they had row-by-row Holy Communion at one of the Sunday Masses. I told the people clearly that they were not to do that. Some of the ushers were unhappy.

    I don’t know if there is, in fact, any kind of law or directive about this but my memory of what I was taught is very clear. And I know that what I was taught is far more respectful of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the people in the congregation than row-by-row is.

  32. SaintJude6 says:

    I think the 3 hour fast is reasonable. Everyone in our family who is old enough to receive Communion does this. Communion is sometime after 10:00, because it is a High Mass that starts at 9:00 and lasts until 10:30 or 10:45 (longer on Benediction days). Everyone gets up at 6:00 – 6:30 and eats something quick like a bowl of Cheerios or a Nutri-Grain bar to tide them over until lunch. It has just become part of our routine. On Saturdays we can often sleep in and have a big breakfast. But Sunday is not for us, so we are up early.
    My standard reply, should any of my children complain about small sacrifices, is, “Well, Jesus doesn’t look too comfortable up there on that cross, does he?”

  33. Phil_NL says:


    Sorry, but this is the wrong solution to the problem. Are we really so weak-spined that we cannot withstand a little bit of peer pressure? Are we really still having parishes where the gossipers rule? And do we want to accept that?

    What we need is not an easy excuse not to go to communion, but people who simple lead by example, and if need be do stick out. And frankly, it isn’t that hard. Especially in more urban parishes where people have other things on their mind than wondering about the state of their neighbour’s soul, but even if you happen to be in unfriendly territory, well, the Lord didn’t ask to do only the stuff that’s easy, right?.

    Moreover I believe it is much, much more a point of poor catechesis and force of habit than anything else. Adress those, before burdening everyone else with a fast so some people can get an easier out. There may be other reasons for doing so, but this is the wrong one.

    The only thing I would concur with is that if row-by-row communion is ‘guided’ by ushers, that the ushers need to go. Telling people to go when they shouldn’t is indeed inviting to sin, so that is something that needs to be avoided for the sake of the ushers themselves.

  34. Phil_NL says:


    Our priest uses very similar words every Christmas. It looks to be quite effective.

  35. govmatt says:

    I agree with Fr. Z that these are helpful suggestions to lessen the psychological pressure to unworthy reception.

    However, if you asked the ordinary Catholic in the pew at St. Anywhere’s Catholic Community (or even the Cathedral Church of an excellent archbishop where I attend Mass) about worthiness to receive communion, they would have no clue what you’re talking about. There will be some folks who know that they shouldn’t but trust in Christ’s “mercy” to get them through… but, I’d wager the other 3/4 of the folks who are receiving unworthily (in charity, they may have gone to confession for the hour it’s available the night before… or maybe they just aren’t sinners… good for them!) would really have no idea that there is a worthiness/sinfulness component to the reception of communion.

    (In a sense it’s like low-information voters. I’m happy that they’re exercising their duty to vote, but if you have no idea about the issues… you are not appropriately exercising your responsibilities)

    Thus, even if we were to move away from pew-by-pew crowd control and educate our friends about the fast, the reality is, most folks are still going to think they’re entitled to walk up and get Our Lord put in their hands.

    Some people may have more effective catechesis and priests who really try to make sure their flocks avoid damnation. But at St. Anywhere’s Catholic Community where the guitars are loud, the fellowship is touchy, and people are baffled why mass attendance is down… this is not a problem that is solved easily.

  36. Urget_nos says:

    The commenter ‘kat’ may be likening the additional suggestion made above to have a possible adoption of the practice seen in Poland, of ‘one of the Sunday Masses offered be without distribution of Holy Communion’ with encouraging less frequent reception of Holy Communion. It seems instead that it is an antidote to the defection from the Faith of those Catholics struggling with a sinful situation who by going to that Mass can fulfill their Sunday obligation, work on their relationship with God and His truth, and not feel judged. Who of your fellow Mass-goers is to judge you at the ‘sinners Mass’, right?

  37. jacobi says:

    The one hour fast is plain stupid, meaningless, even hypocritical since you can be munching in the car and still be within I hour.

    But the simple solution is for priests to stand up, look the congregation in the eye, and state quite simply and clearly that to receive Holy Communion one must be free from mortal sin, examples being, depriving labourers of their just wage, greed, pride, sex outside a valid marriage, abortion, irregular Mass attendance, etc, etc.

    That is not Jansenism (or any other liturgical swear word), it’s just plain common sense.

  38. jflare says:

    I would be interested in knowing how people would go to communion without having a row by row arrangement. I recall once in Germany, I attended Mass at a church where they didn’t do anything row by row. I almost didn’t go to communion myself because I didn’t wish to bother the people around me who were trying to pray.
    It may be that there’s a degree of peer pressure involved with row-by-row arrangements, but not going that route seemed rather needlessly chaotic.

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