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Anne Van Tilburg wrote:

Hi guys,

  • Do priests also have to abstain from food and drink, apart from water and medicine,
    one hour before receiving Holy Communion?

The reason I ask is because our parish priest went inside the presbytery to have a cup of coffee at ten minutes to nine. Mass started at 9:00am. This was the only Mass for that day.

Thank you,


  { Do priests also have to abstain from food and drink one hour before receiving Holy Communion? }

Mary Ann replied:

Anne —

People who are timing a priest and wondering if he ate or drank something too close to celebrating the Mass are being a bit too picky and should probably be a little more charitable.

As for the fast, anyone can have anything ten minutes before a Sunday Mass begins because the fast is for one hour before receiving Holy Communion, not one hour before the start time of the Mass.

I believe in the old from midnight days a priest could eat between Masses — otherwise, with late or evening Masses, our poor priests would fall over.

If black coffee even counts as breaking the fast, if he drank something 10 minutes before Mass starts, he could still receive Holy Communion an hour later, assuming a normal length Mass and a sermon.

The Catholic rule is to avoid taking offense and to think charitably.

Mary Ann

Richard replied:

Hi, Anne —

I found some information for this question on the web:

The Communion fast is defined in Canon 919 of the Code of Canon Law.

Canon 919 §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.

The time of the Communion fast is one hour before receiving Holy Communion, so if the Mass takes about an hour or a little more, it may take no effort at all for the priest and the faithful to comply with the fast rule.

If the priest is breaking the rule by a couple of minutes, I wouldn't take any action to correct him. Sometimes I have to remind myself that Church law is written and interpreted in Rome, a place where law is not regarded with the same detailed strictness that we litigious Americans bring to it.

There's even an explicit rule in the Code that the benefit of the doubt goes in favor of an accused person in any question about interpreting duties or privileges.

— RC

Monsignor Strahan replied:

Dear Anne:

The following is the official regulation regarding fasting before the reception of Holy Communion, with a brief historical reference as well.

Refraining from food and drink for a period of time before the reception of
Holy Communion out of reverence for the Eucharist.

"Formerly abstinence, even from water, was enjoined from midnight. Since 1953 the regulation has been modified several times so that today the fast is for one hour from foods, solid and liquid, including alcoholic drinks. Medicines and water are exceptions. They should calculate the time from the actual reception, not the beginning of Mass (depending on the length of Mass the priest is about to celebrate it could well be that he would not receive Communion until 10 minutes before the following hour).

For the sick, the aged, and those attending them, the fast does not bind. A priest who binates or trinates may eat or drink between the celebrations, even if the intervening time is less than an hour. One may always observe a more severe fast than that which is prescribed."

I hope this is helpful.

Msgr. Strahan

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