Q. Does taking a cough drop less than an hour before receiving the Holy Eucharist break the Communion fast?
A. There is a rich history of fasting throughout salvation history. In the Old Testament, Moses fasted for 40 days on Mt. Sinai in preparation to receive the Ten Commandments (Ex 34:28). The people of Nineveh fasted after Jonah urged them to repent, and because of this, God held back his punishment (Jon 3:7-10). Jesus himself fasted in the desert as he was tempted by Satan (Mt 4).
Fasting and self-denial are done in everyday life to achieve goals. For instance, self-denial is necessary in improving health, or achieving in sports. St. Paul observes this when he says, “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” (1 Cor 9:25). This imperishable crown, union with God for all eternity, is the goal of every Christian, and self-denial, with the help of God’s grace, aids the Christian in achieving that goal.
The act of fasting mortifies sinful inclinations and strengthens the will. Pope Paul VI said, “through ‘corporal fasting’ man regains strength, and the wound inflicted on the dignity of our nature by intemperance is cured by the medicine of a salutary abstinence.” Due to our fallen human nature, we still have sinful inclinations within us, and fasting is a remedy to help cure that evil.
The Gospels tell us that St. John the Baptist “prepared the way of the Lord” through prayer and fasting. He and his followers prepared their hearts spiritually for the coming of Jesus through the denial of the comfort of food and drink. As Catholics, we fast for one hour prior to the reception of Holy Communion as a small sacrifice, which prepares our hearts to receive the Lord.
The Code of Canon Law states, “One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion” (Canon 919). This discipline of the Church does not apply to those who are sick or elderly. For instance, those who suffer from diabetes may need to eat something for the good of their health at any given time, even if it is within an hour of receiving Communion. And so, as long as a person takes a cough drop for a medicinal purpose, it does not break the Communion fast.
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