Sunday, September 30, 2012


Some traditionalists are proposing that the Eucharistic fast be extended from a measly one hour before the actual reception of Holy Communion to the three hour fast before Mass that came about in 1957. The original fast was from midnight to the time of Mass, which obviously precluded having evening Masses and saw the proliferation of early morning Masses, such as the Midnight Mass of Christmas!

These traditionalists say that imposing the former three hour fast will help develop a more intentional preparation for Holy Communion and see reverence for the reception of Holy Communion increase.

It may also see fewer people receiving Holy Communion at Mass, even though they may well be in a state of grace otherwise.

I can remember as a child in the pre-Vatican II Church when the fast was three hours, that my father who would get us up at 4:30 AM for breakfast so we could have breakfast and then be able to receive Holy Communion at the 8:00 AM Low Mass or the night before he would ask us if we wanted to eat breakfast or go to Holy Communion.
Of course back then you had to fast not only from food but also from water and medicine!

I'm not sure about the three hour fast, for I fear people will either ignore it or we will see fewer people going to Holy Communion or missing Mass altogether if they can't receive Holy Communion.

From a symbolic point of view, we know from Sacred Scripture that it took the Lord three hours to die and three days to rise from the dead. Perhaps the number three could be viewed as dying with the Lord when we receive Holy Communion within the three hour fast or view the number three as the third day and rising with Him on Easter Sunday? Or is that stretching the symbolism?

I think I would prefer that the fast simply be one solid hour before Mass begins rather than before the reception of Holy Communion.

However, I wouldn't be opposed to the three hour fast for people 18 to 59 and for all others from the age of reason to 18 and from 60 on up it would be just the one hour fast before Mass. What about that? I'll be 60 in December of 2013 so this is very appealing to me.

And while we are at it, why not extend the abstinence from meat and poultry to every Friday of the year?

And why don't we recover the ember days of fasting? On an ember day, one observed the Catholic fast, meaning only one full meal and two smaller snacks that combined did not constitute a full meal and no eating between meals. If meat was allowed, it could only be eaten with the full meal.

Ember days (corruption from Lat. Quatuor Tempora, four times) are the days at the beginning of the seasons ordered by the Church as days of fast and abstinence. They were definitely arranged and prescribed for the entire Church by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) for the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after 13 December (S. Lucia), after Ash Wednesday, after Whitsunday, and after 14 September (Exaltation of the Cross). The purpose of their introduction, besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.

From Catholic Culture:

Since man is both a spiritual and physical being, the Church provides for the needs of man in his everyday life. The Church's liturgy and feasts in many areas reflect the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, fall and winter). The months of August, September, October and November are part of the harvest season, and as Christians we recall God's constant protection over his people and give thanksgiving for the year's harvest.

The September Ember Days were particularly focused on the end of the harvest season and thanksgiving to God for the season. Ember Days were three days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) set aside by the Church for prayer, fasting and almsgiving at the beginning of each of the four seasons of the year. The ember days fell after December 13, the feast of St. Lucy (winter), after the First Sunday of Lent (spring), after Pentecost Sunday (summer), and after September 14 , the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (fall). These weeks are known as the quattor tempora, the "four seasons."

Since the late 5th century, the Ember Days were also the preferred dates for ordination of priests. So during these times the Church had a threefold focus: (1) sanctifying each new season by turning to God through prayer, fasting and almsgiving; (2) giving thanks to God for the various harvests of each season; and (3) praying for the newly ordained and for future vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

And while we're at it, why not recover the pre-Vatican II Lenten discipline? It is as follows:

The Law of Abstinence forbids the use of flesh meat and the juice thereof (soup, etc.). Eggs, cheese, butter and seasonings of food are permitted.
The Law of Fasting forbids more than one full meal a day, but does not forbid a small amount of food in the morning and in the evening.
All Catholics seven years old and over are obliged to abstain. All Catholics from the completion of their twenty-first to the beginning of their sixtieth year, unless lawfully excused, are bound to fast.

As for the application of fasting and abstinence during Lent:

Fasting and abstinence are prescribed in the United States on the Fridays of Lent, Holy Saturday forenoon (on all other days of Lent except Sundays fasting is prescribed and meat is allowed once a day) . . . Whenever meat is permitted, fish may be taken at the same meal. A dispensation is granted to the laboring classes and their families on all days of fast and abstinence except Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Wednesday in Holy Week, Holy Saturday forenoon . . . When any member of such a family lawfully uses this privilege all the other members may avail themselves of it also; but those who fast may not eat meat more than once a day.

MY FINAL COMMENT: Would following a stricter regimen for fasting and abstinence create a stronger Catholic culture and unique Catholic identity? Would it draw Catholics closer to one another in Christ? And would it make us more conscious of moderation in life and the need to assist the needy?

I think it would increase our Catholic culture and identity and would never detract from the foundation of our Catholic Faith, the Most Holy Trinity and Jesus who shows us the Most Holy Trinity in a tangible way.


Gene said...

Requiring people not to indulge themselves is an outrage! Why, next you'll be telling them not to have sex outside of marriage! How absurd! You are probably one of those provincial rubes who likes the Latin Mass and all that maniple-wearing, chausable-lifting hocus pocus...

Jacob said...

The parishes operated by the FSSP (and I am sure the Institute and other trad groups as well) follow the traditional fasts and abstinences. We abstain every Friday, and observe partial fast and abstinence of Ember Days. It is taught in our CCD classes,and preached from the pulpit. It really is such a help to live your life following the traditional calendar of the Church,you live with the seasons of the year. I highly recommend it.

ytc said...

The problem with our current fasting/abstinence regimen is that, except for, oh, four or five days a year, you don't even have to think about it.

Let's face it: if you don't have to think about it, if you can--or usually can--do it without a conscious effort, it will not work to increase piety and devotion. This is kind of obvious, no? We do not fast and abstain as an end in itself. We do it to remind us of our Lord's Passion, as an attempt to not be gluttons, and to teach ourselves skills in resisting temptations, among other things. When most people can have a biscuit and some coffee in the car on the way to Mass and not even have to worry about breaking the fast, if they even know there IS a fast, there's a problem with the fast.

The current rules, both for the Eucharistic fast and Friday abstinence, are embarrassingly ineffective at doing what they intend to do and, in my opinion, represent one of the single largest failed projects of Paul VI. Not to mention the fact that it is absolutely impossible to know when exactly one hour before the reception of Holy Communion is.

We have so many problems, we know what the solutions are, but we are too afraid to put these solutions into action. It's sad and quite disheartening.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Jacob, agreed! However, all of these things can easily be reintroduced into the revised Roman Calendar too as well as the Octave of Pentecost and Septuagesima. In fact the newly approved Anglican Use Calendar is the revised Roman calendar but with all the above also included--go figure!

rcg said...

I have always held to the midnight until after Mass fast. Seriously, the priest that told me about the new rules back in the day made it seem like it was a relaxation for the ill and infirm. Since that didn't apply to me, I never did the short 'fast' (I mean really. An HOuR is fasting?) Maybe I am a traditionalist, after all.

Anonymous said...

Fasting for an hour before Mass seems to me to ba a do-able realistic approach.
While we might debate the time period, at this time I am of the opinion that it would have the hoped for consequences: increase respect for Holy Communion, introduce an increase in self-disciple, and foster a bit more Catholic identity.

Also, I firmly think that we should re-intorduce Ember Days and abstaining from meat EACH Friday.

Gluttony is out of control in society...and as ususal the Catholic church has the solution.


Carol H. said...

I don't understand why the church is so afraid of requiring stricter fast/abstinence observances. The Hollywood types promote "juice cleanses" for their followers, the stricter fast/abstinence rules seem much easier in comparison.

Anonymous 5 said...

Fr. McD,

The most telling sentence in your original post is "I'm not sure about the three hour fast, for I fear people will either ignore it or we will see fewer people going to Holy Communion or missing Mass altogether if they can't receive Holy Communion."

I honestly don't think the latter scenario of missing Mass would be a big of a problem as the former scenario, since it would be so much easier for Mass-going individuals just to ignore the fast. The larger questions are as follows:

1) How many people currently ignore the one-hour fast?

2) How many Mass-going Catholics are even aware of the one-hour fast?

3) Why do (or why would) people ignore the fast? (I agree that they do/would; I'm just looking for causes.)

4) Is there any realistic way that the Church can get them to begin complying?

That last is key to the whole thing. My sense is that the hierarchy has both lost and thrown away the moral authority necessary to bring about compliance with the fast. An additional problem may be the anti-Catholic culture that would deride the bishops for trying to impose compliance, which wouldn't help, but the main problem lies with how the bishops have ruled the Church since VII. The bishops can't abnegate their authority to tell people how to live the faith for nearly a half-century, leaving them to find their way in and conform to secular culture, and then expect to step in and reclaim it overnight, especially when they mishandled the sex abuse crisis so spectacularly and thus badly tainted themselves. If they attempted to put teeth into the one-hour fast, let alone imposing a three hour fast or Ember Day observance or whatever, they would be laughed at, yelled at, and ignored. Secular culture would see their preoccupation with fasting as an outrage when there are "real" problems like world peace and women's rights and AIDS they should be addressing. Catholics used to doing things their own way in matters much more serious than this would see it as clericalism and continue to drink their morning coffee right after popping their birth control pills while deciding whether to got to Mass or play golf. And to a large degree the bishops have brought this on themselves--an object lesson in the hubris of a generation's making dramatic changes in things such as liturgy and culture that have centuries-old roots. The devotional practices of the Church don't belong to the current bishops eny more than the Mass does and thus changes should only come gradually, for serious reasons, and after long deliberations. Now it is too late; the jinn has escaped from the bottle.

I would thus argue that the whole fasting issue is symptomatic of a far deeper problem. Thus we should focus on the deeper problem and not the symptoms. It will take time, and probably some persecution of the world 9and consequent winnowing out of a great many so-called Catholics, to fix the problem, if it can be fixed at all.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5

You hit the nail on the head...focus on the deeper problem.
With that in mind...reminding the congregation and each other periodically about even the CURRENT fasting requirements and encouraging a one hour before Mass fast even at this time will go a long way to cause folks to think...and thereby start adressing within themselves their own deeper spiritual problems.

BTW: this blog's author already does do this periodically! kudos to him!

Small steps can lead to big results.


rcg said...

I'm with A5 on this. I understand priests desire for all to take Communion. But with out the proper spiritual preparation what good is it? In fact, one of the worst of all sins the knowingly taking communion with the burden of a mortal sin. If you can't be bothered to go longer than one typically goes between snacks, then aren't we really teaching a form of contempt for the Host? This is part of the same 'salvation on demand' that is a hallmark of our culture.

Henry Edwards said...

I hope it is not true that "priests desire for all to take communion". For this would mean that even priests are oblivious to the widespread sacrilege that currently takes place. Which is certainly not so of all the priests I know.

John Nolan said...

The three-hour fast was from solid food only; drinks (including tea and coffee) could be taken up to one hour before reception, and there was no restriction on water or medicine.

We fall on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament exposed; at EF Masses we receive kneeling and on the tongue, and the celebrant keeps thumb and forefinger conjoined after the Consecration. In most OF Masses the Body of Christ is handled by all and sundry with unpurified fingers and everyone queues up, having been told (erroneously) that they are taking part in a liturgical rite known as the "Communion procession". What a disgrace.

rcg said...

What I meant is they all want everyone to accept Christ, and therefore, this Presence.