It is a very strange situation to be in: you’re standing outside of mass greeting people as they arrive, and someone walks in drinking coffee or finishing some food. It’s rare, but it happens. Far more common is chewing gum while walking into mass, something that I see on a regular basis.
These things, to be clear, are not allowed.
While the Church does not require heavy fasting today like it did for centuries, the Tradition has not changed: fasting is required prior to receiving communion. As with the rule of fasting on Fridays, the Church of the 20th century realized that certain age-old rules were irrelevant or burdensome to some, and so looked to the people of God to act as mature adults and choose for themselves what seemed most appropriate. In the case of fasting on Fridays as well as fasting before mass, this effectively meant that most people abandoned the rule completely.
The Church wanted to make the fast clearer and easier, not nonexistent. There is still a required fast prior to receiving communion. The 1983 code of canon law states three directives:
- §1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.
- §2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three times on the same day can take something before the second or third celebration even if there is less than one hour between them.
- §3. The elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have eaten something within the preceding hour.
How did we get here, and why does it matter? All of this is answered in this week’s Catholicism in Focus.