Q. I’ve seen my friends and relatives finish drinking coffee, chewing gum or smoking a cigarette just moments before Mass is to begin. Does this break the hour fast and should they refrain from receiving the Eucharist at this Mass? If so, what do you think is the best way for me to let them know that they are breaking the fast?
A. The custom of the Eucharistic fast began in very early in the life of the Church. Since the fourth century, the Church has called Catholics to fast, in one form or another, prior to receiving the Most Holy Eucharist. Presently, the Code of Canon Law says that “one who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion.”
In 1953, Pope Pius XII wrote that the Eucharistic fast “is in accord with that supreme reverence we owe to the supreme majesty of Jesus Christ when we are going to receive Him hidden under the veils of the Eucharist. And moreover, when we receive His precious Body and Blood before we take any food, we show clearly that this is the first and loftiest nourishment by which our soul is fed and its holiness increased.”
The Eucharistic fast shows reverence to the Lord, and form us in the virtue of piety: the kind of gratitude we owe to the Lord. When we fast before receiving the Eucharist, we ought to fast as generously as we can.
Canon law says those “those who are advanced in age or who suffer from any infirmity, as well as those who take care of them, can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have taken something during the previous hour.” In short, the Church says that each Catholic must discern how to conform, faithfully and generously, to the expectations of the Eucharistic fast. For this reason, it is most appropriate to leave to a pastor, or a parent, instruction to particular Catholics regarding the Eucharistic fast.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.