From a reader…
A few year’s ago, I started trying to observe the older eucharistic fasting discipline of taking no food or water from midnight until the reception of Holy Communion the next day.
I am curious to know how this discipline was applied to Midnight Mass.
I know that Christmas Eve is traditionally a day of fasting, but the multitude of gastronomic traditions for this day would seem to indicate that a total fast from food was not observed in most Catholic cultures.
Does this mean that the relevant midnight for the Midnight Mass Eucharistic fast is the midnight that occurs simultaneous with the start of the Mass? Or, are these foods vestiges of a time of infrequent communion?
It think there is a little of both going on there, with traditional foods of Christmas Eve – like sette pesci – and the Eucharistic fast for Midnight Mass, starting at … well.. midnight.
St Pope X promoted frequent Communion, but at the time, the Eucharist fast required was from midnight, abstinence from all food and drink. In 1953 Pope Pius XII issued an Apostolic Constitution Christus Dominus which allowed water. In 1957 Pius with the Motu Proprio Sacram communionem reduced to fast from food and drink to three hours before reception of Communion. In 1964 Pope Paul VI reduced the fast from food and drink to one hour before Communion. In 1973 Paul dispensed the sick and their caregivers from even the one hour Eucharistic fast. Immensae caritatis said that the infirm or elderly should fast for at least 15 minutes. That’s now mitigated, too.
On this trajectory, one might expect someone like Francis, who seems to allow divorced and remarried adulterers to receive Communion, to issue a decree that would require people to eat up to the moment of Communion.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law – now in force – says:
can. 919 §1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.
§2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three times on the same day can take something before the second or third celebration even if there is less than one hour between them.
§3. The elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have eaten something within the preceding hour.
In any event, the older, traditional Eucharistic fast before reception of Communion (not attendance at Mass) was from midnight onward, no food or water. That is not so rough when Mass is early in the morning. It was tough on the priests who had later Masses, such as at noon. Remember that the old practice for the timing of celebration of Mass was that Mass should not begin earlier than one hour before first light (not the same as dawn) and not later than one hour after noon (1917 CIC c. 821 §1: “Missae celebrandae initium ne fiat citius quam una hora ante auroram vel serius quam una hora post meridiem.”). However, there was an exception for the 1st Mass of Christmas: “§2. In nocte Nativitatis Domini inchoari media nocte potest sola Missa conventualis vel paroecialis, non autem alia sine apostolico indulto.”
But the old “black” fast from midnight before the 1st Mass of Christmas at midnight, would mean that you couldn’t eat, essentially, anything for the whole day. Right?
Nope. I haven’t found anything to the contrary, so this is how I read the situation on Christmas Eve. The fast from midnight onward, meant that you fast from midnight onward until Communion. Hence, you could eat pretty much right up to the last tick, 2359h 59s. Once midnight arrived, you couldn’t eat anything… during Mass… until Communion. No bringing in that flask and having a nip during the sermon. No bringing in a sack of White Castle sliders and snacking during the Canon.
As matter of fact, there was once a bit of a problem inebriation at Midnight Mass.
Not recommended… unless perhaps the celebrant is….
… no, not even then.
Meanwhile, a shot of a Midnight Mass from a 1944 noir film Christmas Holiday with Deanna Durbin, who has something of a conversion during the Mass. At the end of the clip, she says something pertinent to this post.