By Fr. CLIFFORD HOWELL, S.J.
" HOLY COMMUNION AFTER BREAK FAST" " was a headline published by THE CATHOLIC HERALD over an article which I wrote in June, 1950. At the time it seems to have caused the raising of eyebrows, but was in fact a presage of
things to come.
For THE CATHOLIC HERALD can now use the same headline again, applying it not just to one place on one occasion— the Corpus Christi procession in Innsbruck—but to any place on any occasion.
This is so because the Holy Father in his Motu Proprio has now decreed that the law governing the Eucharistic fast shall henceforth be uniform.
The length of the fast no longer depends on the time by the clock, but only on the time when Mass is celebrated.
" Priests and faithful are bound to abstain for three hours from solid foods and alcoholic beverages, for one hour from nonalcoholic beverages, before Mass or Holy Communion respectively. Water does not break the fast," This applies to the morning, the evening, to Midnight Mass, to all occasions and all persons. No need to submit one's case to a confessor for this.
"The sick. even if they are not bedridden. may take non-alcoholic beverages and genuine medicines, both liquid and solid, before Mass or Holy Communion respectively, without time limit." Here again there is no explicit mention of recourse to a confessor, but 1 am inclined to think it would he needed, to prevent all sorts of folk from judging themselves to be sick, Doubtless the moral theologians will clear this point up for us soon.
This universal " three-hour " rule completely solves the difficulties which have faced such people as nurses and workers on night duties ever since their special privileges were withdrawn by "Christus Dominus in 1953. The " threehour rule then conceded applied only to evening Masses; nightwofkers who could come only to morning Masses had to abstain from all food from midnight, although they might have to do six or more hours of work.
But now they may eat the meals provided for them in the early hours, and nevertheless receive Communion at any time which is at least three hours after their last solid meal.
The strict letter of the law would permit anyone whatever to do the same; it is not necessary to be a night worker. Thus it would be lawful, for instance, to have breakfast on a Sunday morning, finishing at 8 a.m., and then go to the II o'clock Mass and receive Communion.
I give the example just to show how liberal the Holy Father has been, and not in order to encourage people to do it.
The Pope adds: "We fervently exhort the priests and the faithful
Continued on Page 8 who are in a position to do so. to observe the old form of Eucharistic fasting before Mass and Holy Communion."
On the other hand this " threehour rule," already obtaining in the evening. makes it no easier for factory workers to receive Communion at week-day evening Masses. If they finish at 5 p.m. (and often it is later) they can hardly get home, wash, change and finish their meal before 6.30 p.m. Which means 9.30 p.m. as the earliest possible time for Communion.
Masses are usually at 7.30 or 8 p.m., as 9 p.m. is too late for others. This explains why many factory-folk do in fact come to Mass at 7.30 or 8 p.m. and set refrain from Communion. They cannot receive unless they defer their meal till about 9 p.m.-and after four or five hours of work since their mid-day meal they are hungry and find it too hard to wait so long for food.
It does not solve the difficulty to put the Mass at 6 p.m. with the idea that the workers could go to Mass and Communion on their
way home. Office-workers may well come then; but factory workers will not. They are still dirty and in their overalls and, very understandably, will not come to church like that. They want to go home and wash and change first.
EVENING MASS Experience has shown that, though the concession of evening Mass has enormously increased the Mass-attendance on holy days of obligation, the increase in Communions has not by any means been proportionate. We may perhaps be permitted to hope that some day, when the time is ripe, the present general " three-hour rule" may he further mitigated to become a " one-hour rule" for the evenings. That would remove every obstacle.
Another extremely important concession in this new Motu Proprio concerns the frequency of
evening Mass. By " Christ us Dominus" Bishops were empowered to grant evening Masses in certain circumstances. Fr. Gerald Ellard, S.J., the American liturgist, calculated that jf any Bishop made use of the faculty to the utmost limits of his power, he could grant evening Mass on 156 days in the year. I have not heard of any Bishop anywhere who actually went that far.
But now the Bishop's.powers are greatly extended. He can grant evening Mass every day if he sees fit. The Bishops may permit the celebration of Holy Mass in the afternoon each day, as long as this is required for the spiritual good of a considerable number of the faithful."
Thus an increase in evening Masses is not automatic: it depends entirely on the judgment of the Bishops. Before granting any increase they w ill have many factors to consider. including, among others, the effect upon such things as parochial evening services and missions which offer opportunities for instruction not available when there is Mass. May the Holy Ghost assist them in decisions, which will not be easy to make.