Dear Father | Fasting helps expedite our inner reform

Does the Eucharistic fast begin an hour before the start of Mass, or an hour before one actually receives Communion? Why do we fast before Communion, anyway? 

Catholics are asked to fast for an hour before receiving Holy Communion. In practical terms, on a typical Sunday, Communion is distributed about 40 minutes after Mass starts and it takes, on average, 20 minutes to go from your front door to the front door of church. So, you could eat breakfast right before leaving for church and still fulfill the legal requirements for the eucharistic fast.

The law for the eucharistic fast is similar to the laws of Lenten fast. People over 60 are exempt, the consumption of medications doesn't break the fast, and the fast is reduced or eliminated for the sick in nursing homes and hospitals. Priests celebrating more than one Mass are obliged to fast only before the first.

Before 1964, the fast was much more severe; the faithful were required to fast from midnight until they received Holy Communion. This is the origin of the word "breakfast" -- it broke the eucharistic fast. By making the fast so easy to observe, the Church removed an obstacle that might inhibit the reception of Holy Communion. Clearly, she desires her children to receive the true Living Bread from heaven as much as possible.

So, why fast at all? We fast not to change God, but to change us. He is perfect; He doesn't need to change. We are, sadly, very imperfect and have great need of reform. God's grace changes us, and fasting disposes us to receive it.

It's instructive that the great history of the first Catholics, the Acts of the Apostles, describes the faithful neither as just fasting nor as just praying. Rather, it always describes them as praying and fasting, never one without the other. Again, the fasting isn't done so that God will feel sorry for us and be moved to fulfill our desires but to better dispose us to receive the abundant grace that God will most certainly send in answer to our prayers and through His holy sacraments. The seed will be given; the soil must be enhanced. That being the case, is one hour really enough?

Much of the Mass before Communion, from the Penitential Rite to the "Lord, I am not worthy...", is preparation for the Eucharist. The fast is just another part of that. I know of many families who fast from midnight each Sunday and have a big, formal family meal after Mass. Without exception, it sharpens their focus on the sacrament and sanctifies their "break-fast" repast, at which they discuss the lesson of the homily and the meaning of the feast celebrated. The Church only requires an hour, but certainly encourages greater self-penance in those who are able. The one hour that the Church requires is the minimum; greater graces accrue in those who aspire to the maximum.

Msgr. Mitas is pastor of St. Angela Merici Parish in Florissant.

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