18 October 2008

The Eucharistic Fast

The other day, as I was talking to one of the Russian Orthodox clergy here in Oxford, I was interested to hear that the Orthodox, when, during Lent, they receive Holy Communion at an evening Liturgy of the Presanctified, are only nowadays expected to fast from midday (I hope I've got that right). It brought home to me that it is not only the West which, since the time of Pius XII, has felt that a discipline of fasting (which was apparently manageable to a European peasantry that toiled all day beneath the sun at their subsistence agriculture) is too much for our own soft culture.
But enough of grumps. I want to advance, tentatively and nervously, the notion that a Hermeneutic of Continuity might incline us to reconsider our practice of the Eucharistic Fast; which Pius XII first reduced to three hours and then to one hour. And that is one hour before the time of Communion, not one hour before the beginning of Mass. And recent legislation has permitted binating clergy on Sundays to snack between Masses even if that cuts into the one hour. To all intents and purposes, the Fast has been abolished.
When I retired to Devon at the age of sixty, I found myself not infrequently saying three Masses on Sunday morning (trinating! I took it that unreprobated custom and pastoral necessity justified this rather iffy practice). I continued my habit of fasting until after the third Mass ... which meant until about 12.30. And I am one whom gluttony has rendered self-indulgent and unfit. I'm not boasting when I say that I never had any problem with it. And the other Sunday afternoon, while I was talking to the Syrian Orthodox who came to celebrate their Liturgy in S Thomas's, I discovered that they fasted from supper-time the evening beforehand: as, of course, did their priest: who had just driven from Croydon to celebrate a Liturgy that lasted from 12.00 until after 2.00. It can be done.
I do welcome the effective reduction of the Eucharistic Fast from a rigid rule to an option, however horrified our Tractarian Fathers would have been by this. I regard it as one of God's new gifts to his Church. I would never write anything to make others feel guilty or discourage others from going to Mass and receiving the Lord's Body and Blood. But I wonder if some of us could be a trifle more disciplined and Traditionalist.
My own prctice is: when I am de facto observing the old rule that Mass be between Dawn and Midday, I observe the old (Western) rule of fasting from the previous midnight. When I am being modern and saying Mass after Midday, I keep Pius XII's modern rule of a one-hour fast. Is this really so desperately impossible or absurdly illogical? For what it's worth, Pius XII did urge all those capable of doing so to observe the old rule.


Canary said...

I think perhaps a distinction in the fast should be made between week day masses and Sunday masses. For Sunday masses, which typically last over an hour, a one hour fast is meaningless. Also, it is much easier to fast before mass on Sundays because one doesn't have to attend work.

On weekdays, a three hour fast would be unnecessarily burdensome and would prevent many people from being able to receive Holy Communion. It is much harder to fast when one is working - fasting in fact can affect your work productivity.

Fr. Van Windsor said...

I am thrilled to find this Blog! I must say how timely it is to me that you chose to write about fasting. We have been discussing it in my parish, and many "lapsed fasters," are returning to the practice. Our early service has grown in number, and I think one reason may be that people want to maintain a fast, but not too long into the morning.

Growing up I seem to remember Wednesdays and Fridays were fast days in that we abstained from meat. Is that practice still maintained in Anglican circles?

Once again, what a gift this site was to find. Blessings from Arkansas, USA


John F H H said...

A timely post. I remember the introduction of the one hour Eucharistic fast, which, as most people fast several hours between meals, and anything up to 12 between the evening meal and breakfast [that is if they have breakfast in this ever-faster 21st.century!
Ihave tried to suggest in confirmation classes that as a personal discipline which respects the Eucharist one might abstain from the relevant main meal - breakfast for a morning Mass, lunch for an afternoon, or postpone dinner/supper until after Mass in the evening.
I still, for myself, cannot get my head round afternoon Masses: still less those clergy retreats/conferences/residentials which timetable Mass after breakfast; or Mass after lunch, when there is no obvious reason why Mass & meal should not be reversed... I have even known these occur in the Catholic tradition of the C.of E.
As the Eucharistic Fast has never, if I remember rightly, been binding on those under 7 or over 70, who are ill, who indulge in heavu manual labour, I am not sure to whose advantage the shortening was.
Perhaps it is time to restore an emphasis on it: part, perhaps, of the Benedictine Reform of the reform?
As an aside, wasn't it Lord Halifax's butler who would enquire of weekend guests at Hickleton on a Saturday evening: "Communion or breakfast tomorrow, sir?" ?
John UK

Ming said...

"When I retired to Devon at the age of sixty...
I'm not boasting when I say that I never had any problem with it.
... It can be done."
I am now 65 and I must drive for 50 minutes -most of that on an Interstate Highway.
And while I DO fast on fast days and Ember Days and otherwise keep the Eucharistic Fast, I feel weak-kneed enough on Sunday Morning,
that I eat a substantial carbohydrate and drink a hot beverage in Winter before driving at relatively high speed, often with snow on the highway.

Am I rationalizing? Better than risking an accident.

rev'd up said...

Fasting grew out of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and was later incorporated into canon law. I think it most excellent to maintain as strick a fast as possible - for the love of Christ.

Deimater said...

"When I am being modern and saying Mass after Midday, I keep Pius XII's modern rule of a one-hour fast."

I don't believe Pius XII authorised a fast less than three hours. The one-hour fast was an innovation of Mgr Bugnini and his ilk, was it not?

Melancholicus said...

The one-hour fast was introduced by Paul VI, who, on 21 November 1964, said "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." - Osservatore Romano, 4 December 1964, 2. Official source: "Tempus Eucharistici ieiunii servandi reducitur", AAS 57 (1965) 186, trans. CLD VI:566

FJH 3rd said...

So sad, the number of concessions that Paul VI made to various requests from weak willed Bishops around the world. The one hour fast certainly has contributed to the decline in belief in the Real Presence.