Rorate Caeli

FIUV Position Paper 10: the Eucharistic Fast

Today I can publish the 10th Position Paper, on the Eucharistic Fast.

On this topic, and on the topic of Holy Days of Obligation, which we will be dealing with in the future, Catholics attending the Traditional Mass are governed by Canon Law, and the provisions of their local bishops, which have changed the legal structure the liturgy works within. The Canon legal situation in 1962 was that we were obliged to fast for three hours before receiving Communion (see Appendix B for the full details); a few years earlier, we had been obliged to fast from Midnight. The seriousness the midnight fast, and even the three hour fast, implied about the reception of Holy Communion, accorded with the seriousness implied by the ancient liturgy itself. These fasts were something which Catholics intending to receive Holy Communion had to think about; every now and then people would not receive Communion because it was not practical to observe the fast, that is, to give the Blessed Sacrament the honour which is its due. (Although, in fact, the exceptions to the three-hour fast after 1957 were extremely generous: see Appendix C.)

By contrast - and I think I can say this without offending anyone - the one-hour fast is not serious. The motivation for it is obvious enough, to make things easier for the Faithful, but it no longer tells us that the reception of Holy Communion is something to be prepared for with care, and undertaken with fear and trembling. It does not accord with the seriousness implied by the ancient Mass.

Since the decision has been taken by the Holy Father to treat the Traditional Latin Mass, from a legal point of view, as a 'form' of the same Rite as the Novus Ordo, rather than as a separate Rite, it does not make sense to argue for a different, binding discipline for the Eucharistic Fast for Catholics attending the TLM, than for Catholics attending the Novus Ordo. Within this context, we must argue for a revision of the discipline for all Catholics of the Latin Rite. And it seems to us that this is an opportune moment to do just that.

The paper suggests restoring the discipline of 1957. We acknowledge that is not the only solution, and that a discipline in force from 1957 (and partially anticipated in 1953) until 1964 can scarcely be called a long-standing tradition of the Church. We offer it because the 1957 discipline has actually been tried before: older readers may even remember it, the canon law and points of ambiguity have already been thrashed out, and it worked. We would welcome a return to the midnight fast, were this practically possible, but Rorate readers know well just how useful the permission for afternoon and eventing Masses have been for the Traditional movement over the decades. A revised version of the three-hour fast is advocated by the canonist Dr Edward Peters. We would welcome comments on this problem. (There is more commentary on the paper here.)

Distribution of Communion at the SCT Summer School, July 2012
This paper is available as a pdf here; the full set can be dowloaded from here.

Comments can be sent to positio AT

The next paper, on the Extraordinary Form and Western Culture, will be published on 15th September.


FIUV Position Paper: The Eucharistic Fast

1      As well as issues pertaining specifically to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, in respects in which it differs from the Ordinary Form, the topics of these papers include those which, at least in principle, apply to the Ordinary Form (such as Liturgical Orientation,[1] or the Manner of Receiving Communion)[2], or which apply to the Ordinary Form to some degree (such as Silence,[3] or Gregorian Chant).[4] In this paper we address something which is connected with the special character of the Extraordinary Form, but which applies to all Catholics of the Latin Rite by virtue of Canon Law, namely the Eucharistic Fast.

A Historical Review of the Fast

     Tertullian tells us that the Blessed Sacrament is taken ‘before all other food’.[5] A fast from midnight is implicit in the practice of celebrating Mass before dawn, which became established in the second century,[6] and this fast became widely established,[7] although in the Middle Ages much longer fasts were often enforced,[8] not only from food and water, but from marital relations.[9] The fast was not required of the infirm.[10] Although contrary to the example of the Last Supper,[11] feeding of the fasting Faithful is suggested by the strongly Eucharistic typology of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.[12]

3      The frequency of reception by the Faithful seems to have declined drastically from the 4th Century, despite periodic exhortations to the contrary.[13] A decisive change came with Pope St Pius X, under whom a decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Council condemned lingering Jansenist errors on the subject and clarified the conditions for fruitful reception.[14] Pope St Pius X also encouraged a much earlier time for First Communions, and introduced more generous dispensations for certain difficult circumstances.  Pope Pius XII introduced a fast of three hours, which was not broken by ‘natural water’ (i.e. water without additives), at first under various conditions in 1953, and then as a general discipline in his Motu Proprio Sacram Communionem (1957),[15] with generous provision for the ‘infirm’.[16]

4      In 1964 Pope Paul VI reduced the fast to one hour, to be calculated from the time of reception, for both priests and faithful;[17] this rule was reiterated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.[18]

The Fast and Reverence for the Sacrament

5      Pope Paul VI’s Instruction on Holy Communion, Immensae caritatis (1973) emphasises the ‘supreme reverence due to so great a Sacrament’, and in a footnote to this phrase gives a long quotation from the Council of Trent, insisting on the necessity for sacramental confession before reception in case the recipient, lay or clerical, should be conscious of mortal sin. The quotation begins:
It is unfitting to take part in any sacred function without holiness. Assuredly, therefore, the more that Christians perceive the sacredness and divinity of this heavenly sacrament, the more must they take every care not to come to receive it without reverence and holiness, especially since we have the frightening words of St. Paul: ‘For those who eat and drink unworthily, eat and drink damnation to themselves, not discerning the Lord’s body’ (1 Cor 11:29). Those wishing to receive communion must be reminded of St. Paul’s command: ‘Let a man examine himself’ (1 Cor 11:28).[19]

6      That irreverence for the Blessed Sacrament has arisen among the Faithful was noted with deep concern by Blessed Pope John Paul II in Dominicae Cenae (1980), where he described two contrasting phenomena. First, while the scrupulosity which discouraged frequent Communion in former times has largely disappeared, members of the Faithful neglecting opportunities to receive Holy Communion are still to be found, due to
a lack of Eucharistic ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst’, which is also a sign of lack of adequate sensitivity towards the great sacrament of love and a lack of understanding of its nature.[20]

7      Secondly,
Sometimes, indeed quite frequently, everybody participating in the eucharistic assembly goes to Communion; and on some such occasions, as experienced pastors confirm, there has not been due care to approach the sacrament of Penance so as to purify one’s conscience.[21]
This is the result of a lack of ‘the good quality of sensitiveness of Christian conscience’.[22] Pope Benedict XVI has also lamented the second attitude.[23]

     Both Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, in the passages just noted, go on to discuss the reception of Communion in the Hand, which they link to the problem of a lack of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament. This issue is discussed in another paper.[24] Our concern here is with the possibility of addressing the problem they identify by another means: by reconsidering the discipline of the Eucharistic Fast.

Restoring the discipline of Pope Pius XII

9     Requiring an extended period of fasting before the reception of Holy Communion is a natural and traditional way to underline the great significance of the Blessed Sacrament, just as Pope Benedict XVI talks of marking it with ‘an exclamation point’ by his own practice of giving it only on the tongue, to kneeling communicants.[25] It would oblige all the Faithful to think more seriously about receiving, requiring forethought, and on occasion some limited, but symbolically expressive, sacrifice. Furthermore, while it will on occasion require some practical adjustments (to the timing of services or meals, for example), it does not present the same psychological problem at the moment of reception as would withdrawal of permission for Communion in the Hand.

  A fast from midnight is the practice most hallowed by centuries of observance, but its reimposition today would clearly create practical difficulties. These would particularly affect those attached to the Extraordinary Form, which is frequently offered at less than ideal times, when priests or churches happen to be free. Instead, we would like to suggest the restoration of the discipline established by Pope Pius XII, of a three hour fast.

  The decline in the frequency of reception of Holy Communion noted in §3 resulted from a deeper appreciation of the supernatural reality of the Blessed Sacrament, coupled with the development of penitential discipline. The Eucharistic Fast was also more emphasised, but these fasts were frequently required before attendance at Mass, at least on Sundays and Feasts, even if Holy Communion was not received,[26] so they posed no additional obstacle to reception. More frequent Confession offered a solution to concerns about the worthiness of communicants, but this required a degree of infrastructure and catechesis which took time to establish.[27]

1     Pope St Pius X saw the greatest obstacle to frequent Communion, in the early 20th Century, not as the midnight fast, but in confusion about the spiritual conditions needed for a worthy reception. Pope Pius XII’s purpose in changing the rules was not so much to make the fast easier, but to make Mass at different times of day possible, facilitating its incorporation into a working or a school day.[28]

1    While the demandingness of Pope Pius XII’s discipline should not be exaggerated, it would mean that, from time to time, for practical reasons reception would be difficult or impossible for some people. This would itself be useful in counteracting the tendency, noted by both Bl. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI as noted in paragraph 7 above, of members of the Faithful approaching Holy Communion just because everyone else is doing so; indeed, to fail to go forward to receive Holy Communion risks drawing attention to oneself, or even of giving scandal.[29] Those unable to receive would instead make a ‘Spiritual Communion’, a practice encouraged by Bl. Pope John Paul II, who quoted St Teresa’s praise of it,[30] and again by Pope Benedict XVI,[31] who asked the participants at the Papal Mass at World Youth Day Madrid to make a Spiritual Communion when general distribution was impossible.[32] This practice fosters the ‘hunger and thirst’ for the Eucharist Bl. Pope John Paul II so desired.


1     Although it might seem a radical proposal, the restoration of the former discipline would be a relatively simple means of underlining the value of the Blessed Sacrament, and the importance of preparation for it. The current problem of casual attitudes towards Holy Communion demands comprehensive catechesis, and the three-hour fast would itself be a form of catechesis, something which emphasised the supernatural reality of the Blessed Sacrament, perhaps more forcefully than a merely verbal exhortation.

1     It should not be assumed that increasing the onerousness of the discipline of the Church will lead to a rejection of that discipline, or even lapsation. A serious form of discipline indicates the seriousness of the subject of the discipline, and more demanding religions have frequently attracted more adherents than laxer ones.[33] A voluntary adoption by members of the Faithful of a more rigorous fast would not have this catechetical power; nor would it gain merit as an exercise of obedience. A public campaign to encourage such a voluntary practice might even invite accusations of Phariseeism.

1   It must be said finally that the current discipline, of a fast of one hour before reception, scarcely impinges on the Faithful;[34] as such it is less likely to be remembered or taken seriously, and insisting upon a trivial obligation seems less than reasonable.[35] To restore a proper respect for the Eucharist, an obligation to fast which demands respect is surely necessary.


Appendix A: Sacra Tridentina Synodus,
a decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Council, under Pope Pius X, 1905 (extract)

1. Frequent and daily Communion, as a practice most earnestly desired by Christ our Lord and by the Catholic Church, should be open to all the faithful, of whatever rank and condition of life; so that no one who is in the state of grace, and who approaches the Holy Table with a right and devout intention (recta piaque mente) can be prohibited therefrom.

2. A right intention consists in this: that he who approaches the Holy Table should do so, not out of routine, or vain glory, or human respect, but that he wish to please God, to be more closely united with Him by charity, and to have recourse to this divine remedy for his weakness and defects.

3. Although it is especially fitting that those who receive Holy Communion frequently or daily should be free from venial sins, at least from such as are fully deliberate, and from any affection thereto, nevertheless, it is sufficient that they be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning in the future; and if they have this sincere purpose, it is impossible that daily communicants should not gradually free themselves even from venial sins, and from all affection thereto.

4. Since, however, the Sacraments of the New Law, though they produce their effect ex opere operato, nevertheless, produce a great effect in proportion as the dispositions of the recipient are better, therefore, one should take care that Holy Communion be preceded by careful preparation, and followed by an appropriate thanksgiving, according to each one’s strength, circumstances and duties.

5. That the practice of frequent and daily Communion may be carried out with greater prudence and more fruitful merit, the confessor’s advice should be asked. Confessors, however, must take care not to dissuade anyone from frequent or daily Communion, provided he is found to be in a state of grace and approaches with a right intention.

6. But since it is plain that by the frequent or daily reception of the Holy Eucharist union with Christ is strengthened, the spiritual life more abundantly sustained, the soul more richly endowed with virtues, and the pledge of everlasting happiness more securely bestowed on the recipient, therefore, parish priests, confessors and preachers, according to the approved teaching of the Roman Catechism should exhort the faithful frequently and with great zeal to this devout and salutary practice.

Appendix B: Sacram Communionem
a Motu Proprio of Pope Pius XII, 1957 (extract)

1. Ordinaries of places, excluding vicars general who are not in possession of a special mandate, may permit Holy Mass to be celebrated every day after midday, should this be necessary for the spiritual welfare of a considerable number of the faithful.

2. Priests and faithful, before Holy Mass or Holy Communion respectively, must abstain for three hours from solid foods and alcoholic liquids, for one hour from non-alcoholic liquids. Water does not break the fast.

3. From now on, the fast must be observed for the period of time indicated in Number Two, even by those who celebrate or receive Holy Communion at midnight or in the first hours of the day.

4. The infirm, even if not bedridden, may take non-alcoholic liquids and that which is really and properly medicine, either in liquid or solid form, before Mass or Holy Communion without any time limit.

We strongly exhort priests and faithful who are able to do so to observe the old and venerable form of the Eucharistic fast before Mass and Holy Communion. All those who will make use of these concessions must compensate for the good received by becoming shining examples of a Christian life and principally with works of penance and charity.

Appendix C: the ‘infirm’ in the discipline of Sacrum Communionem

Sacrum Communionem Section 4, on the ‘infirm’, requires some interpretation in light of Canon law. While this may seem complicated, it does illustrate Pope Pius XII’s great concern not to impose any unreasonable burdens on the Faithful.[36]

        i.            The ‘infirm’ are those for whom the fast imposes a ‘moderately grave’ inconvenience. This may be because of illness, age, a long journey, a temporary or chronic condition, or for any other reason. It includes those who are in danger of becoming ill, are about to undergo an operation, etc., as well as those infirm before Communion, since in both cases the fast imposes a burden on the individual. Those for whom the fast does not impose a grave inconvenience are not ‘infirm’ for the purposes of the legislation (a person with a broken arm, for example).
      ii.            ‘Non-alcoholic liquids’ includes those with nutritional value, such as soups. By contrast, the non-infirm under Section 2 are allowed only ‘drinks’ (taken ‘per modum potus’), for the first two hours of the fast. Solid food breaks the fast even for the infirm.
    iii.            Medicine, even when alcohol is an ingredient (it is dissolved in alcohol, etc.) does not break the fast. Alcoholic beverages, even if taken for medicinal purposes on a physician’s orders, do break the fast.

[1] Positio 5: Liturgical Orientation
[2] Positio 3: The Manner of Receiving Communion
[3] Positio 9: Silence in the Extraordinary Form
[4] Forthcoming.
[5] The phrase ‘ante omnem cibum’, used by Tertullian (Ad Uxorem II, 5: PL 1, 1296) could also be translated ‘before every meal’, and it has been suggested that the Eucharist was taken before meals as an antidote to poison. See discussions in Fr Alphonse Sammut ‘The Eucharistic Fast in the Light of the Last Papal Documents’ (Rome: Miscellania Francescana, 1959) pp14-15, and Fr Joseph Jungmann SJ ‘The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development’ (New York: Benzinger, 1955 (English Edition)) Vol. II p366, note 34. On this interpretation it would still indicate that Holy Communion was received before, rather than at the end of, a meal.
[6] An annual exception to the rule of morning Masses was made, for some centuries, for Maundy Thursday, which meant that on that day Holy Communion had to be received without fasting: see for example the Third Council of Carthage (397) canon 29: ‘No-one may celebrate the sacrament of the Altar unless fasting, except on the one day the Supper of the Lord is celebrated.’ (‘Ut sacramenta altaris nonnisi a ieiunis hominibus celebrentur, except uno die in quo coena Domini celebrantur.’)  The Council of Braga in 572 condemned this exception: see Sammut op. cit. pp28-29.
[7] See St Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica 3a Pars Q80 a.8 Ad5: ‘That this sacrament ought to enter into the mouth of a Christian before any other food must not be understood absolutely of all time, otherwise he who had once eaten or drunk could never afterwards take this sacrament: but it must be understood of the same day; and although the beginning of the day varies according to different systems of reckoning (for some begin their day at noon, some at sunset, others at midnight, and others at sunrise), the Roman Church begins it at midnight. Consequently, if any person takes anything by way of food or drink after midnight, he may not receive this sacrament on that day; but he can do so if the food was taken before midnight.’ (‘cum dicitur, hoc sacramentum prius quam alii cibi debet mitti in os Christiani, non est intelligendum absolute respectu totius temporis, alioquin qui semel comedisset et bibisset, nunquam postea posset hoc sacramentum accipere. Sed est intelligendum quantum ad eundem diem. Et licet principium diei secundum diversos diversimode sumatur, nam quidam a meridie, quidam ab occasu, quidam a media nocte, quidam ab ortu solis diem incipiunt; Ecclesia tamen, secundum Romanos, diem a media nocte incipit. Et ideo, si post mediam noctem aliquis sumpserit aliquid per modum cibi vel potus, non potest eadem die hoc sumere sacramentum, potest vero si ante mediam noctem.’)
[8] Jungmann op. cit. Vol. II p363-364
[9] Jungmann op. cit. Vol. II p363 note 23
[10] Sammut op. cit. p29; see also below.
[11] Matthew 26.26: ‘whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body’; Mark 14.22: ‘And whilst they were eating, Jesus took bread; and blessing, broke, and gave to them, and said: Take ye. This is my body.’ Cf. 1 Corinthians 11.18-30, on the connection between the Eucharist and the ‘Agape meal’ in the primitive Church.
[12] Mark 6.34-44, Luke 9.11-17, John 6.4-13
[13] Jungmann op. cit. Vol. II pp360-362
[14] Sacred Congregation for the Implementation of the Council of Trent, Decree Sacra Tridentina Synodus, (1905): see Appendix A.
[15] See Appendix B.
[16] See Appendix C.
[17] 21 November 1964 Tempus Eucharistici ieiunii servandi reducitur, (AAS 57 (1965) 186): ‘In view of the difficulties felt in many countries concerning the Eucharistic fast, the Supreme Pontiff, graciously acceding to the petitions of the Bishops, grants that the fast from solid foods be reduced to one hour before Communion, for both priests and the faithful. In this grant is included also the use of alcoholic drinks, observing, however, due moderation.’ (‘Attentis multarum regionum difficultatibus quoad  ieiunium eucharisticum, Summus Pontifex, petitionibus Episcoporum benigne annuens, concedit ut ieiunium quoad cibos solidos reducatur ad unam horam ante Sanctam Communionem, et quidem tum pro sacerdotibus tum pro fidelibus. In hac autem concessione includitur quoque potuum alchoolicorum usus, servata tamen debita moderatione.’) Osservatore Romano, 4 December 1964, 2.
[18] 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 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.’ (“Sanctissimam Eucharistiam recepturus per spatium saltem unius horae ante sacram communionem abstineat a quocumque cibo et potu, excepta tantummodo aqua atque medicina.”)
[19] Council of Trent, sess. 13, cap. 7: ‘Si non decet ad sacras ullas functiones quempiam accedere nisi sancte, certe, quo magis sanctitas et divinitas cœlestis hujus sacramenti viro Christiano comperta est, eo diligentius cavere ille debet, ne absque magna reverentia et sanctitate ad id percipiendum accedat, præsertim cum illa plena formidinis verba apud apostolum legamus: Qui manducat et bibit indigne, judicium sibi manducat et bibit, non dijudicans corpus Domini. Quare communicare volenti revocandum est in memoriam ejus præceptum: Probet autem seipsum homo.’
[20] Bl. Pope John Paul II Letter (1980) Dominicae Cenae 11: ‘deficiente “fame” et “siti” eucharistica, sub qua latet similiter parum sufficiens aestimatio atque intellegentia ipsius naturae huius excellentis Sacramenti amoris.’
[21] Ibid: ‘Interdum scilicet, immo compluribus in casibus, cuncti eucharisticae celebrationis participes ad communionem accedunt, tametsi nonnumquam - ut comprobant periti rerum pastores - habita non est debita cura, ut prius Paenitentiae Sacramentum reciperent propriam ad conscientiam mundandam.’
[22] Ibid: ‘bonum quod subtilitas est christianae conscientiae impulsae.’
[23] Peter Seewald and Pope Benedict XVI ‘The Light of the World: the Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times’ (London: Catholic Truth Society, 2010) p156: ‘There is a great danger of superficiality [in the reception of Holy Communion] precisely in the kinds of mass events we hold at St Peter’s... In this context, where people think that everyone is just automatically supposed to receive Communion—everyone else is going up, so I will, too—I wanted to send a clear signal... This is not just some social ritual in which we can take part if we want to.’ Cf. the quotation from Pope Benedict XVI’s Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) in note 25 below.
[24] Positio 4: The Manner of Receiving Communion, esp. 5-8
[25] Seewald and Pope Benedict op. cit. p156
[26] Jungmann Vol II p366: ‘All through the Middle Ages the precept of fasting was not only strictly adhered to with regard to Holy Communion, but was even repeatedly prescribed for attendance at Mass (as in a synod of Brixen as late as 1453), or at least it was counselled for Mass.’ This is less surprising when one considers the great significance ascribed to gazing on the Host and to Spiritual Communions, discussed by Jungmann in the preceding pages, in the context of very infrequent Sacramental Communion.   Cf. Eamon Duffy ‘The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional religion in England c.1400-c.1580’ (New Haven: Yale, 1992): on fasting before Mass, p42; ‘Seeing the Host’ pp95-102.
[27] Duffy notes the great organisational and catechetical effort required to implement the decision of Lateran IV (1215) that all Catholics should confess and communicate once a year. The existence of the mendicant orders was an enormous help in making this possible, and the development of the parochial system in the preceding centuries was essential: Duffy op. cit. pp53-56; 93-94. Cf. Jungmann Vol II p363: ‘But in the Middle Ages, with the prevailing parish restrictions and the often insufficient organization of the cure of souls, not only was there no willingness, but to a great extent there was no possibility to confess and thus to communicate frequently.’
[28] Sammut op. cit. p101: ‘Evening Masses were beyond doubt the greatest benefit and the most extensive concession issuing from the documents [sc. Christus Dominus (1953) and Sacram Communionem (1957)].’ The three-hour fast facilitated reception at Masses which had to be scheduled after breakfast, such as at day schools and the main Masses in Parishes, as well as evening Masses.
[29] Dr Edward Peters “The Communion Fast: a Reconsideration” Antiphon 11.3 (2007) pp234-244, p243: the current short fast ‘deprives those with troubled consciences of an unobtrusive way to avoid approaching the Body and Blood of the Lord in a state that risks profanation (1 Cor 11:27).’
[30] Bl. John Paul II Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) 34: ‘it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was the origin of the practice of “spiritual communion”, which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. Saint Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you” ’ (‘opportunum est continuatum Sacramenti eucharistici desiderium alere. Inde “communionis spiritualis” orta est consuetudo, quae feliciter complura iam saecula in Ecclesia viget quaeque a vitae spiritalis Sanctis magistris commendatur. Sancta Teresia a Iesu scripsit: “Cum communionem non sumitis neque Missae estis participes potestis spiritaliter communicare, id quod est valde frugiferum... Sic Domini nostri amor multum in vobis imprimatur” ’)  (The internal quotation from St Teresa comes from her ‘Camino de Perfección’ Ch 35)
[31] Pope Benedict XVI Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) 55: ‘Clearly, full participation in the Eucharist takes place when the faithful approach the altar in person to receive communion. Yet true as this is, care must be taken lest they conclude that the mere fact of their being present in church during the liturgy gives them a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist. Even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful. In such circumstances it is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life.’ (‘Sine dubio plena participatio Eucharistiae habetur cum quis accedit etiam personaliter ad altare Communionis recipiendae gratia.(169) Attamen cavendum est ne haec iusta affirmatio forsitan introducat inter fideles quendam automatismum, quasi quispiam ob solam praesentiam in ecclesia, liturgiae tempore, ius habeat, vel forsitan etiam officium, ad Mensam eucharisticam accedendi. Etiam cum non datur facultas ad sacramentalem communionem accedendi, participatio Sanctae Missae manet necessaria, valida, significans et fructuosa. Bonum est his in rerum adiunctis desiderium plenae cum Christo coniunctionis colere per consuetudinem exempli gratia communionis spiritalis, memoratae a Ioanne Paulo II et commendatae a Sanctis vitae spiritalis moderatoribus.’) The passage refers to Bl. John Paul II Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) 34, quoted in the preceding note.
[32] After a storm had rendered unsafe many of the tents used to store consecrated hosts for distribution at the Papal Mass due to take place on 21st August 2011, only a fraction of the congregation, of over a million people, were able to receive Holy Communion. The others were encouraged to make a Spiritual Communion. The Vatican spokesman Fr Frederico Lombardi later commented:  ‘This helped us to remember the precious words from a recent document by the Pope, which warn that, “Care must be taken lest [the faithful] conclude that the mere fact of their being present in church during the liturgy gives them a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist. Even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental Communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful.” In these circumstances we have to “cultivate the desire for full union with Christ,” by making ‘spiritual Communion’ as ancient and beautiful tradition puts it. …the intense desire to be united with Him is also an effective source of communion.’ Zenit, 4th September 2011.
[33] Mark van Vugt and Anjana Ahuja  ‘Selected: Why some people lead, why others follow, and why it matters’ (London: High Profile Books, 2010) p85  ‘Paradoxically, the costlier the rituals associated with a belief system, the more enduring it is. One study of religious communes in 19th century America showed that those making the most extreme demands on their followers—giving up worldly goods, celibacy, shunning contact with outsiders, relinquishing certain foods and alcohol—were the most enduring.’ The authors cite a number of studies bearing out this generalisation.
[34] Cf. Dr Edward Peters op. cit. p241: ‘If, as a millennium and a half suggest, some significant level of corporal fasting is conducive to the worthy reception of the Eucharist, it must be frankly admitted that such a state cannot be accomplished in one hour’s time.’ Dr Peters goes on to suggest (p243) that a three-hour fast be restored, but calculated from the start of Mass, for the sake of certainty about when the fast needs to begin.
[35] Dr Peters ibid. p236: ‘Pointless observances should not be the subject of legislation lest contempt for the law arise.’
[36] For a full treatment, see Sammut op. cit. pp116-7, and pp83-88.


  1. Fr. Jordan, TOP1:04 PM

    I have argued for years that we should restore the three-hour fast. Once we consider that, in the days when Mass was always in the morning, Catholics on an average went to morning Mass within three hours of rising, the three-hour fast differs little in practice from the venerable fast from midnight. Fasting during sleep doesn't really count as an exercise in abnegation.

    As a pastor of a parish, though, I wonder increasingly how many Catholics would take such a restored fast seriously and how many would simply ignore it. I suspect that some today would take a restored three-hour fast as seriously as they take the obligation to attend Mass on holy days of obligation and receive Communion in a state of grace. In other words, those who could derive the most spritual benefit from a restoration of the three-hour fast wouldn't observe it, anyway.

    Having thus voiced my (occasional) pastoral discouragement, I wonder how faithfully the restoration of Friday abstinence is being observed among the Catholic population in England and Wales. That might give us an idea of how successfully a restored three-hour fast would go over.

  2. 'Sinner' wrote: I think it is reasonable to expect a midnight fast for Masses taking place before noon, but then a three hour fast for those after.

    In practice, few "Masses before noon" would be any later than 9 AM, so this would amount merely to saying, "Have breakfast after Mass rather than before if you go to a morning Mass" which is not too hard to expect of people.

  3. That is an interesting suggestion. Remember, though, that in the old days there were Masses at 10 and 11am, but people didn't often receive Communion at them. It partly depends on how far back you go.

    'Pastor in Valle' writes:

    " At Westminster Cathedral, Communion was distributed between Masses in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Here in the seminary at Wonersh, Communion was distributed before the early morning 'Community Mass' until about 1925. Thanksgiving was made during the Mass itself, at which, often hymns were sung. There was a later High Mass in addition, and the entire college were expected to assist at both but communicate at neither."

    I'm not sure at what point breakfast came in.

  4. NIANTIC1:45 PM

    I keep the three hour fast prior to the start of Holy Mass. I think this is the minumum that should be asked of Catholics. We have to remind ourselves of Who we receive in Holy Communion.
    The one hour "fast" is a joke and allows one to stop for doughnuts and coffee on the way to Mass..... All designed by the modernists to dumb down Catholics and insult Our Lord in the process. The last few Popes may "lament" all they want but if they are really serious then the three hour fast, together with communion received on the tongue only, should be mandated by law in all places at all Masses. No exceptions. At the same time bishops and priests ought to remind people that one must be in a state of grace in order to receive. This is not a matter to be handled with kid gloves, "sensitivity" and niceties.May it be so soon.

  5. In the parish of my youth: Masses at 08:00 & 09:30 - Communion available; 11:00 High Mass - no Communion. [Our Lady & St. Joseph, Carlisle, UK.]

  6. apstemp3:21 PM

    @ Niantic,

    I also keep the 3-hour fast, only breaking it for coffee, but never breaking the hour fast if I receive. This often means that all I get is a cup of coffee on Sundays until two in the afternoon depending upon my duties to my family and others, and nothing 'til lunch on weekdays, depending upon the workload.

    I would happily give up the coffee as well, if the Church tightened the discipline.

    On the subject of papal lamentations, it struck me while reading Pope Paul VI's reiteration of respect
    for the Sacrament, while lessening the fast, that actions DO speak louder than words.


  7. Law won't fix what culture can't: legislation will simply be ignored. I don't think we can recreate the juridical culture that became too brittle to live without more juridicalism. The fasting and abstinence customs of the Eastern churches proved more resilient in part because they did not take such a juridical approach.

  8. The 3 hour fast or doing without breakfast prior to receiving holy communion should be the minimum requirement for any seriously minded Roman catholic no matter what form of Mass. The great difficulty in finding a TLM only makes the three hour fast more awkward. Why oh why is there not an obligation for equal status being given to both forms? Is the TLM inferior?

  9. The paper is really quite fine. One of the things which troubles me about the present state of affairs is knowing how much chewing gum comes into church in peoples' mouths and ends up at some point during Mass stuck to the under side of the pew. For most people, who are "going out" for anything whatever, the gum chewing habit has to do with a breath odor fixation. I'd love to see the challenge this presents in terms of catechesis taken on fully. Reverence on every side is the essential variable in the equation for success.

  10. I've got a general question. Are these papers presented to anyone who has influence or authority over these things? I don't know how many of such individuals have read blogs or a particular magazine (most don't I assume).

    I find them very well-written and respectful (even if I don't always agree with certain arguments)and think they are even more effective because they draw on authoritative sources all the way up to the present day.

  11. Bringing back the three hour fast would be a good thing, as well as bringing back meatless fridays. But outside of the truly devoted, they won't likely be obeyed. I see everybody receiving communion at mass, but I see very little at confession. You can blame the atrocious cathechesis of the last 50 years, but people don't care in general. Going to mass is something that people do out of habit or tradition. Mass is not the center of their lives.

  12. Minimally Catholic6:42 PM

    @Fr. Jordan, TOP

    With all due respect, the doubt you expressed is based on a very static model of human behavior.

    All change (including restorative changes like the present topic) comes with an acceptance curve marked with initial resistance by many. People do eventually come around to acceptance with the right instruction.

    Our Church hierarchy is infected with a similar disease that is deathly afraid to repair any of the liturgical ruptures inflicted by the 60's radicals.

    This fear of being "unpastoral" gives a very small group of lunatic fringe liberals absolute veto power over every tenant of the so called "reform of the reform" ... which is why this approach is so flawed.

    God does not call our Pastors into meekness. Be bold.

  13. Minimally Catholic6:56 PM

    Can someone confirm something for me. Was the Pius XII fast of 3-hours counted from the beginning of Mass or from Communion? I didn't see this point expressed clearly in this paper. Sorry if I missed it.

    I fast from the night prior for Masses in the morning ... and 3-hours from the beginning of Mass for Masses in afternoon/evening.

    I started this devotion a few years ago, and I am very fond of the practice. There is a great spiritual reward for approaching our Eucharistic Lord without my earthly needs being fully satiated.

  14. Minimally Catholic,

    The answer to your question is in Appedix B. That's because it is more complicated than one might imagine. I must say I was surprised at how complicated, and forgiving, Pius XII's rule was.

    Three hours from reception for laity; three hours from the start of Mass for priests. (Perhaps because of the widespread practice of reception by laity outside Mass?)

    Furthermore, the three hour fast is from 'solid food'; non-solid food can be received by the 'infirm' for the first two hours, and 'drinks' by everyone for the first two hours.

    I think your point about the 'acceptance curve' is well made. The abolition of this (and other) disciplines had a disastrous effect on Catholic culture. The damage can't be put back by a stroke of the pen, but we can re-establish the basis upon which the cultural restoration can take place.

    If we say 'Oh no we can't restore the disciplines because the culture has gone' we refuse to use one of the most powerful means for moulding culture which are at our disposal.

    Sure a lot of bad catechists need to be cleared out. But what about the good ones? How can they teach children about the importance of the 'laws of the Church' if there aren't any, to speak of? How can they explain the honour due to the Blessed Sacrament if the laws of the Church don't accord it a proper honour?

  15. Fr. Jordan,

    I think the Eucharistic fast will only be taken seriously if Friday fasts are enforced.

    Personally I'm not too keen on fasts that just happen to correspond to how people normally do things. It kind of defeats the purpose. The old rule of fasting from midnight, OTOH is a bit problematic since it gives people who can go to a 9am mass a serious advantage over someone who can only go to a 6pm mass (e.g. TLM might be at that time or "the English Mass" might be at that time or the reverent mass with Gregorian chant might be at that time).

    IMO, a more meaningful fast would simply be to skip one full meal. That way, both the early mass goer and the late mass goer have to change their habits and both will face about the same burden.

  16. Fr. Jordan, TOP said...”I suspect that some today would take a restored three-hour fast as seriously as they take the obligation to attend Mass on holy days of obligation and receive Communion in a state of grace”.

    With respect Father, I would suggest that your argument that your congregation would simply ignore a restored fast is a council of despair. The reason that so many intuitive Catholics nowadays are so heterodox is largely because no one has told them clearly and definitively (and from the pulpit ), otherwise.

    I remember the brutal way in which change was imposed on the Faithful in the post Vatican II period and I am not suggesting we go back to such. But it is the duty, is it not, of pastors to teach Truth and appropriate custom, and if this duty is ignored, well....................

    Notice I have moved tactfully into the third person. Nothing personal!

  17. Anonymous11:52 PM

    I made my first Holy Communion under the then binding eucharistic fast of three horus, though people were still encouraged to fast from midnight, whenever possible. THe presnt-day discipline indtroduced in 1964 by Paul VI is not a fast at all, as anyone skilled in mathematics recognises. Nearly all the faithful recieve Communion during Mass (except for the bed-ridden, for whom no fast is requried), and Mass lasts at least an hour! So, a Catholic of the Latin Rite can eat up till the steps of the church, right up until the beginning of Mass, and still receive COmmunion. ONly eating during Mass itself breaks this ''fast''. It is such an obvious nonsense, that i was not suprised to hear from priests in HOlland, only a few years younger than I, that they had never even heard of a the notiong ''eucharistic fast''. Since Paul Vi was an intelligent man, i cannot belive that he too did not realise the consequences of introducing such a ''non-fast''.

  18. I tend to hypoglycemia, especially in the AM. I could never accomplish an overnight fast. Maybe three hours.

  19. Three hours is a reasonable segue.

    Traditionalists can't fast from midnight when a traditional mass is at 2pm (as in my town).

    Mandatory kneeling would also help preserve the respect for the Lord's body.

    There has to be a "Marshall Plan" of realignment with Tradition.

  20. Wasting away in Novusordoland12:40 AM

    For some years now, I have attempted to follow the 1953 discipline: midnight fast, except when mass is in the afternoon or evening, and three hours in those cases. As I generally have to attend the N.O. (albeit an essentially by-the-book N.O.), and so have reasonably normal mass times (the Sunday mass which I usually attend is at 11:00, while the available daily masses are mostly early morning and late afternoon), this has not proved excessively difficult.

    The only really difficult days are Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday. The latter would not be an issue were the vigil being held in the middle of the night (as it really ought to be, if it is not to be anticipated to Saturday morning as in the past), rather than at twilight. The best solution on these days, IMO, is to take the main meal at midday (even if it means family members eating apart, rather than together), and have only a light meal or collation after mass. Even for those not following the stricter form of the Lenten fast, this avoids eating too heavily so close to bed time. While this would be difficult for many modern families as everyday practice, it's manageable if it's only one or two days out of the year.

    I can say that, on the occasions where the stricter fast has impeded me, I have been very conscious of the stigma attached to not receiving, especially at N.O. masses.

    One clarification I would like is how the change from midnight to three-hour affected the Midnight Mass of Christmas. Presumably, under the midnight rule, the beginning of the Eucharistic fast then coincided with the beginning of mass. If that's true, did Pius XII effectively increase the length of the fast in that case? If he did, was it intentional or inadvertent?

  21. A. M. D. G.2:10 AM

    Ann said...
    I tend to hypoglycemia, especially in the AM. I could never accomplish an overnight fast. Maybe three hours.

    Ann, there were exceptions made for cases such as yours. The Church is not a wicked step-mother. Take heart things before the liberalizing changes of the '60s and '70s were pretty darn good.

  22. A. M. D. G.2:15 AM

    ... I would like is how the change from midnight to three-hour affected the Midnight Mass of Christmas. Presumably, under the midnight rule, the beginning of the Eucharistic fast then coincided with the beginning of mass. If that's true, did Pius XII effectively increase the length of the fast in that case? If he did, was it intentional or inadvertent?

    Good question Wasting away in Novusordoland. The fast was two hours prior to midnight Mass. The three hour fast actually lengthened it! I don't have the time to look up and cite this post, but I believe it is 100% accurate.

  23. Peccator5:35 AM

    The three hour rule, if obeyed, would have a disasterous effect on the rock concert Masses such as the horrible World Youth Days. Which is reason enough to bring it back.

  24. Why not restore the 1953 discipline? Retain the midnight fast, but water no longer breaks it. 3 hrs kicks in for any Mass started after 9 o'clock after all

  25. Joshua: in 1953 you needed your spiritual director's permission to take advantage of the three-hour fast. And there were complicated rules limiting what evening Masses could be permitted: no more than one a week in any given church, with the permission of the Ordinary etc..

  26. I don't think water ever broke it, but I'm not an expert?

    I also think a short (maybe ten minutes) fast after mass should be imposed. NIANTIC is spot-on about doughnuts and coffee before mass, but it seems like folks race after mass for their social hour, and mix the host with their sweets without reflecting on what they have just received.

    I'm all for the social hour after mass, don't get me wrong.

  27. On Christmas:

    My understanding is that when the midnight fast was the only law (in other words, before Pius XII instituted the three hour fast option), a midnight Mass for Christmas day would carry a four hour fast.

    As an example, when England was permitted midnight Mass for Christmas to be offered on Christmas Eve, the four hour fast applied:

  28. Veritas2:48 PM

    I made my First Holy Communion in 1958 when the 3 hour rule was in place.

    In the Catholic Primary School that I attended, those of us who wished to receive Holy Communion at Mass (which was always in the morning) were expected to bring sandwiches for our breakfast to eat after Mass.

    This discipline (which was easily monitored by the teachers) meant that all the children in the school were instructed in the discipline of the 3 hour fast.

    IMO, returning to the 3 hour fast for everyone would be most desirable and would make a huge difference. It would take time for attitudes to be changed - but even the Council of Trent took time to be correctly implemented.

  29. Catholics know they are not supposed to eat before receiving Holy Communion, whether it is one hour or three hours or twelve hours. The idea of a fast, a small discipline and sacrifice, is understood by all, but ignored by the vast majority. Why is that? Because no one ever preaches about the importance of the fast. Compare the situation with contraception. Only the most obtuse Catholic is unaware of the Church's position on artificial contraception. So why do Catholics practice contraception as much as Protestants? Well, when was the last time you ever heard a priest preach from the pulpit about the evils of contraception? In the last 40 years, I have heard only ONE homily at a Novus Ordo Mass even addressing the matter. If the clergy don't think contraception is a grave enough matter to bring up with the faithful... well, you get the idea.

  30. Drill Sergeant6:24 PM

    Assuming there is no health issue or complication involved, seriously, we can do extensive fasting folks, even if that means one day a week to not eat most of the day and have a big, hearty early Sunday dinner.

    Let's not forget Muslims fast completely for more than 12 hours ever day in the summer heat during the month of Ramadan now. Being put out 1 day a week is not the end of the world.

    With all due respect, Muslims and Orthodox Jews have been putting us to shame lately in austere observances for God. Time for us to get tough again.

  31. Self denial - huh6:28 PM

    I can't believe the amount of whining about self here. I wonder if any of you could cross the U.S. in a conestoga wagon, or the Atlantic in a slave ship, or make it past infancy in any century but the 20th. I guess it's harder to go w/out water when all you have to do is turn on the tap (and probably the leading cause of death in the elderly is dehydration which is why we are all so concerned about being "hydrated") versus carrying it from a river or a well (unless the wind wasn't blowing and there was no water) or collect it in a stone - and it is SO much harder for kids (and adults) to hold their water (out the other end)for one hour now that there's indoor plumbing in every church! Imagine what the obese western catholic would do if the Lenten fast were brought back.

  32. What a pathetic civilisation of Catholics we are not to be able to fast from midnight. What we need is a return to the entire pre-1957 disciplne of The Latin Mass and all of its requirements both direct and indirect. No wonder there is so much confusion everywhere in the church of the Latin Rite. People stand, kneel, sit for Communion; two forms one Rite; people stand, sit, kneel at variance at various times in both forms of the mass. No unity, no harmony, no discipline, no social cohesion.

  33. Pace Dr Williams, not all Catholics know of the obligation to fast before Holy Communion.

    Exempli gratia: on the day of my eldest son's First Communion, we walked to church with another family whose grandmother took a bag of sweets and offered them to the First Communicants. Luckily I was slightly to the rear and saw what was happening. "NO!" did the trick just in time and averted a rather serious problem. How on earth could you tell a child that he couldn't make his First Communion in such circumstances? What on earth would you do?

  34. Peter6:49 PM

    What other position papers are coming up? Wasn't one planned about Holy Week?

  35. Sunshine State10:26 PM

    I agree that the three-hour fast before communion is a wonderful way to show reverence for receiving our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The midnight fast may not be practical and healthy for those attending afternoon or evening masses.

  36. John Scott2:16 AM

    For what it's worth on your excellent Roman Catholic website, I as an Eastern Orthodox Christian fast at least from midnight the night before Holy Communion. Properly, I fast for 12 hours and prepare myself for Holy Eucharist with specific and ancient prayers from Saints of the Church, as well as my own personal prayers. This helps me immensely with the proper understanding and reception of the miracle of the Eucharist. Taking Communion is a huge "deal" for me - it always happens with great joy, and sometimes literally with fear and trembling. I can not imagine receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord after a virtually meaningless one-hour fast, which is so pedestrian that it requires no effort and makes no impact on me whatsoever. I thought this was quite a sacrifice, until I became friends with an Ethiopian family who, though E. Orthodox, follows the Oriental Orthodox customs of their nation. They enter the temple barefoot, do not eat directly AFTER communion (I don't remember for how long), and are reluctant even to SPEAK, being careful to cover their mouths if it is necessary to do so. There is no question that they - and we - are deeply aware and humbled by the miracle in which we have just been given the grace to take part. None of my business, of course, but based on my experience as an Orthodox Christian, I think the Roman church could do worse than to return to its ancient practise. Dare I say that men in particular seem to be challenged and uplifted by greater demands of faith and asceticism of this sort?

  37. Tradiate4:29 AM

    I'm a little puzzled by this whole subject.

    The 3 hour fast is a great way to prepare for receiving Holy Communion, but if people do not appreciate just WHO they are receiving, it may just become legalism.

    First things first! How can there be veneration of the Holy Eucharist;

    1) when Our Lord is given out by every Tom Dick and Harry "Extraordinary Minister", in the hand, standing etc. etc.
    2) when people attend Mass dressed immodestly with no regard for the offense this gives to God.
    3) when people are chatting away during Mass in complete disregard for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (have they ever even heard of the term?)
    4) when liturgical music is sung like a campfire sing along (or worse)

    ...where is the reverence? A 3 hour fast is not going to fix all that.

  38. Joshua,

    Doing some reading, it seems you are absolutely right: water was part of the midnight fast before 1953.

    As a side-note I found this interesting passage from Isaias on fasting:

    Then shall thy light break forth as the morning [by fasting], and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up

  39. Catholics have lost sight of the fact we are receiving Our Blessed Lord in His wholeness. Fast from midnight is the least we can do for such an immense blessing. Anything less is frankly wishywashy.

  40. A. M. D. G.3:54 AM

    Tradiate said...
    I'm a little puzzled by this whole subject...

    You are not puzzled – you are spot on!


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