The present fast, of one hour before the reception of Communion, is, it is fair to say, widely ridiculed. The canon lawyer Dr Edward Peters, a man of considerable erudition and seriousness, and by no means a paid-up traditionalist, cannot contain his disdain for the present discipline;
[I]t is an exercise in rank legalism to consider abstention from food and drink for an hour as any kind of “fast,” let alone as one intended to help prepare for the inestimable event that is the reception of the Eucharist. Even a moderate meal cannot be digested in one hour; in normal cases hunger does not set in for several hours after eating. For practical purposes, then, most people perceive no “fasting” within one hour of eating and drinking, and indeed, most could continue eating and drinking until walking out the door for Mass yet still manage to “fast” for an hour before communion time at a Sunday Mass. Pointless observances should not be the subject of legislation lest contempt for the law arise.
|Ecce Agnus Dei! Fr John Hunwicke celebrates Solemn Mass at the SCT Summer School|
It is an important matter that the obligation of a one-hour fast is so easy it appears pointless. Actually it is a characteristic of tyrannies that they demand pointless actions, as a way of humiliating their subjects and establishing habits of robotic obedience. That is not what is going on here, but by trying to make things easier for the Faithful the Church has unwittingly wandered into the territory of creating meaningless obligations which, in their own way, are more of a trial to take seriously and observe, than an obligation whose purpose can readily be perceived.
The paper argues for the restoration of the discipline in force between 1957 and 1964 (when the one-hour fast was introduced); this is the 'three hour fast' established by Pope Pius XII to make evening Masses possible. The traditional discipline, of a fast from midnight, is obviously incompatible with evening Masses, and evening Masses are, today, a fact of life, perhaps especially for Traditionalists who have to fit round everyone else. In many ways it would be great to restore the culture of morning Masses, but that depended on numbers of priests and places of worship we are a long way from having today.
If we are to demonstrate, to ourselves and to others, the seriousness of the Blessed Sacrament, the supernatural reality which this wonderful sacrament contains, then we must restore a correspondingly serious discipline of preparation for it.