This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.
Except for water and medicine, Catholics must refrain from all food (including gum) and drinks for at least one hour before receiving Holy Communion (unless some physical/medical needs require otherwise).
For many Masses, Communion is late enough to only require a 15-minute fast before Mass.
We may fast longer. The rule used to be fasting for three hours before Communion, and before that, the rule was fasting from midnight until Communion,1 which would “break fast” (hence the term “breakfast”). Some people choose to continue to offer the greater sacrifices that were previously required.
Out of respect for Jesus (whom we’re about to receive into our bodies via Holy Communion), we both:
- make sure there is no regular food in our bodies so that only Jesus is present in our digestive systems (giving Him special treatment) and
- offer up the small sacrifice of our hunger as a preparation for getting to have God “enter under our roof.” (Matthew 8:8)
Remember that our salvation was won for us through an act of suffering. Our Savior wills for all men to be saved, but for certain souls, He wills that they come to Him through the prayers and sacrifices of others. That is what St. Paul means by stating:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.Colossians 1:24
Whether we actively allow ourselves to suffer (e.g. fasting) or we passively receive unexpected suffering, it can be offered as a sacrifice to God, offering Him worship, thanksgiving, and praise, and pleading for our good and the good of others. This is called active or passive “mortification.”
Actively mortifying ourselves (bodies and minds) also gets us in the habit of turning suffering into sacrifices, so that when faced with passive suffering, we’re more likely to see and use it as an opportunity to help more souls to go to Heaven.
Jesus also underlined the importance of fasting to improve the effectiveness of your prayers when He explained to the disciples that the demons they could not exorcise required prayer and fasting:
This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.Mark 9:29
Consciously offer the fast to God. Many times we fall into a rut of just happening to not eat during that time instead of intentionally sacrificing what food we could be eating. The more consciously we offer our pre-Communion fast to God, the more we dispose ourselves to receive the graces He is offering us at Mass.
While children who aren’t receiving Holy Communion don’t need to fast, it’s a good practice to not give them food during the hour fast, so they get practice before being obliged to fast. Yes, this means no Cheerios during Mass. I know this can be a tempting way to pacify kids, but I think helping them to learn self-mastery is much better in the long run.
What About You?
- In what ways have you noticed fasting affecting your disposition to receive grace (during Mass and/or at other times)?
- In what ways have you noticed fasting affecting your dispotition to accept suffering and offer it as a sacrifice?
- Do you have any special practices with regard to fasting?