My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
So many times as a priest I have heard the following: “I don’t want to be Catholic anymore. There are just too many RULES.” Or similarly, “I just don’t understand all of those RULES we have to follow, especially since Jesus didn’t make them.”
I always cringe a bit because most of the time what the person really means is, “I want to make up my own rules to follow and you’d better not tell me what to do!” Christ himself was obedient to his Father; why should we think that we don’t need to be obedient to his church?
Regarding all of those rules, think about the laws of the road. What would driving be like if we had none? Chaos! But imagine a young person today saying, “I don’t want to drive anymore. There are just too many rules.” I think that the key to understanding and embracing any rule or law is to understand the spirit behind it. If we just stare at the letter of the law, it will seem pointless. But when we look behind it to search for its meaning, it will begin to make more sense. And this is especially true when it comes to the teachings of our faith.
One of the laws, or rules, of our faith that is very much misunderstood today is the eucharistic fast. In short, any Catholic receiving Communion should ordinarily fast from all food one full hour before receiving Communion. (Yes, the church still teaches this, yes we still believe this!)
For those of you a bit more seasoned by life, you might remember when the fast was from midnight. That must have been interesting! But for the past 50 years, the church has asked each adult Catholic to fast for just one hour before receiving Communion. But what is the purpose behind this? What’s the point?
I think that the spirit behind this discipline is to have each of us do something special, something tangible before we receive the Lord of the universe in Communion. You know, we humans can sometimes take things for granted – or worse, even get used to things. For example, the miracle of the holy Eucharist. But if we do something like abstaining from food for one hour before Communion, we remind ourselves that we are about to receive something very special.
Believe me, nothing makes us stop and take notice more than not eating! Another way of looking at this is that we are doing penance — fasting from food is a penance; it is doing without something in order to say we are sorry for our sins. Fasting one hour before Communion is another way of saying, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Now, if a person is ill, or in need of nourishment, by all means he or she should eat. The eucharistic fast does not bind in such a case. And medicine and water never break the fast.
If you accidentally forget during the hour fast and drink a cup of coffee, do another penance or activity to prepare yourself to receive the Eucharist. Try doing this, and you will see how it puts your mind and your body in the proper place for Mass. And, yes, to knowingly and intentionally break the hour fast is a sin. Why? Because, by our actions, we are saying, “The Eucharist is nothing special I have to prepare for.”
I think that most of us can do this for our Lord — a small sacrifice in thanksgiving for all that he has done for us. May God bless you.
Fr. Girotti, who serves as vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia, is author of “A Shepherd Tends His Flock.”