Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Law



Interesting post on Australia Incognita calling for the restoration of the 3 hour Eucharistic Fast. I always tell people that the fast is a minimum of  1 hour.

I remember going to stay at a monastery in the middle of winter, it was bitterly cold, the monk who showed me to my room said, "And for the unmortified there is a radiator and for the entirely lax there is an electric fire." I remained mortified until he left and then became entirely lax. It is human nature to choose an easy life especially if it is offered to us. There seems to have been a deliberate trend to minimise and neutralise to replace the bright colours of Catholic asceticism with beige and effete modernism.

The problem is that the piety that willing embraced the older fast from midnight, which was reduced under Pius XII to three hours, is no longer there. The Law has to bend, otherwise it is broken. it is only the willing who obey it. Good law has to be easily kept by most people at best because people recognise it as being good or at worst because it is possible to coerce people to keep it. For many reasons I would certainly like to see the restoration of the old fast but how does one make people want to embrace it? The law alone does not suffice. There is a need restore the piety and reverence that gave birth to the law in the first place.


Many seem to think the answer to the Church's problems is more law and strengthening the penalties for breaking the law but laws that are ineffective or imprecise or disobeyed are bad laws. The Church is ultimately rather powerless, what binds us to it is charity, what makes us obey it is willing loving submission or at least a culture where keeping a particular law has become part of the warp and weft of our lives.

Having dismantled centuries of custom and practice it is impossible to restore it merely by diktat.

28 comments:

Zephyrinus said...

Dear Fr.

Thank you for this most interesting Article.

Rest assured that the Midnight Fast, prior to receiving Holy Communion, is still carried on.

By me.

And others.

in Domino.

Mr Grumpy said...

The trouble is that fasting affects different constitutions in different degrees. My aunt recalls going to Mass as a child in the Forties feeling positively ill with hunger. She doesn't seem to think it did her much good and I tend to agree.

Matt R said...

The 3 hour fast is impracticable if Masses are to be said throughout the day in my view.
My parish has a 1000 Mass, which is the principal Mass, immediately followed by religious edu. classes for youth during the school year. I can't expect the families that travel anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours to fast for three hours...asking families, who have many mouths to feed, from 6-7 am on Sunday is asking alot. Now, perhaps I'm overly critical. I think we need to gradually build up a pious culture, and work our way back up to three hours if that is what should be done.

ORA PRO NOBIS said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your comments.

There is a need to re-catechise the majority of Catholics so that they understand that Catholic laws are not the same as the laws of the Pharisees. The laws of the pharisees promoted outward signs of devotion at the expense of inward conversion. Catholic laws are present to show us the way to God by promoting inward conversion.

The unchatechised (and those liberal dissenters who can still be turned around by good chatechesis) also need to understand that in the same way that a nun shows her obedience to God by being obedient to her Abbess, Catholics show obedience to God by being obedient to the church.

Whilst these messages are not getting out to the majority of Catholics they will never understand that Church laws are there for a reason.

Left-footer said...

Strangely enough, I would more happily accept a Papal or Episcopal diktat, provided it did not violate my conscience, than one produced by a lay committee staffed by people with that certain smile (if you understand me).

Sixupman said...

The 07:00; 08:00; 09:30; 11:00 [High] Masses of my youth have neither congregations or clergy so the 'Fasting' rules have to be adjusted. Of course at the 11:00 there was no Communion distributed.

EFpastor emeritus said...

Like one commentator on this post I still observe the old fast because when Pius X11 introduced the three hour fast it was to help doctors, nurses, and night workers etc. At same time he expressly asked that those who could keep the fast from midnight should continue to do so. In my parish Church in Dublin there was Mass on Sunday every half hour from 6.00am to 12.30 ...the last Mass always being a High Mass. However one could not receive Holy Communion after the 10.00am Mass because the clergy decided, perhaps correctly, that no one would fast so long! Seems that there was wisdom with humanity!
Also there was not the modern emphasis on receiving Holy Communion Whenever one went to Mass.

Of course people are still bound to hear Mass on every Sunday, but obliged to receive Holy Communion at least once a year. A little more emphasis on that might result in fewer sacrilegious Communions.

johnf said...

I agree with Matt R. If a pious culture can build up - and for that we need reverent liturgy, then people will naturally gravitate to the longer fasts.

I understand now that even when fasting from midnight was in force, water could still be drunk. Pity they didn't tell be that on my 1st communion day when my mother had to stop me sucking a wet flannel!

Supertradmum said...

Is it not a question of Love? If I love someone and that Someone is God, there is nothing too hard.

Ttony said...

And yet the Bishops reintroduced the Friday abstinence, without consultation or anything remotely democratic: by diktat. I don't know how many Catholics are observing it beyond my family - more than we might expect is the right answer.

Impose the right thing and then watch how, with difficulty and misunderstanding, but with the right will, people begin to reconform themselves.

Left-footer said...

Supertradmum - absolutely. Amen!

Ttony - good point, and your last sentence is, I am sure, correct.

servusmariaen said...

I don't know. I only knew the 1 hour fast from childhood (i'm 46) then a few years ago when I began assisting daily at the traditional Mass, I started keeping the fast from midnight. Even though now I only have access to the Novus Ordo, I still keep the midnight fast. I find that it has increased by Eucharistic piety and devotion. I think when laxity is introduced (1 hour) then people have difficulty even keeping that much. It's the same with the idea of Saturday Vigil Mass for those who work Sundays. It became common for everyone to go on Saturday evening. I mean look at the Russian Orthodox. They haven't relaxed their Eucharistic or Lenten fast and it hasn't hurt them. We make too many concessions in the west for the flesh I'm afraid.

Mike Cliffson said...

A system used eg in Spanish education in the 60s, a time of rapid development is to set impossible goals, eg for all schools to have Y in three years.....for all techers of maths to be..X 20% after one year %0% in two years time, and so forth, and have the inspectorate chivy a bit, then compromise.
Aim at the moon at least youll hit paris!
You get somewhere, even with the old adam, and we've got more than that!

Victoria said...

If fasting from midnight was made obligatory the media would love it. I can imagine the headlines telling of young children, elderly, pregnant women or labourers who have fainted or vomited because of the terrible fast imposed on them by elderly men in dresses.

Great post father.

JARay said...

I don't think that my English comprehension is slipping, but....."for all techers of maths to be..X 20% after one year %0% in two years time, and so forth,"!
What on earth is this supposed to mean?!
I am truly, left wondering!

GOR said...

The opposition of people to an extended fast - or any fasting - is indicative of what we have become. Today it is all about immediate gratification. We want everything now, immediately, this instant – with no waiting. We cannot abide having to work for something, to sacrifice, to save, to give up some things for something - or someone – else.

While much of the recent economic troubles and shenanigans can be laid justly at the feet of people in power – governments, regulators, bankers, etc. – the real cause lies in ourselves and our desire to ‘have it all’ and have it now.

Young people want to have everything - and more – that their parents had. And they want it immediately, not recognizing that their parents worked hard for years, and made many sacrifices to get where they are today. So they undertake more debt than they can handle and bewail their lot when they get into trouble, expecting others to bail them out.

We need to recover a sense of sacrifice, of ‘offering up’, of taking up our cross – just as Our Lord invited us to do. We learn to do that by willingly giving up or going without things available to us – which is what fasting is about – but doing it for Him.

gemoftheocean said...

ttony, I for one, am NOT bothering with the new diktat outside of Lent. I refuse to be led by the nose to conform to this diktat which was done solely so the bishops of England could pat themselves on the back to 'look good' for the pope.

I had always kept the 'no meat' on Fridays faithfully when I was a youngster, not knowing that it was not a universal law. The Mexicans and Spanish, for instance, never had to conform. So some rich ranchero in Mexico could chow down on a steak and not be troubled by having a 'grave sin' simply by where he lived, but some kid in Appalachia was bound? NUTS TO THAT. Either it should apply to all or none. Now, I happen to like fish on a Friday, and often will have that, but frankly if there's a bacon sandwich that happens to call, I'm going to answer that call.

Arbitrary diktats like this just cause less respect in me. I'd respect it more if it applied to the WHOLE CHURCH. Everyone, or no one.

Joseph Shaw said...

The 1957 fast didn't need to be kept in full if it imposed a 'moderately grave' inconvenience on the communicant. No one is going to be vomiting or feeling faint.

Please read the original article which you'll find on Rorate Caeli.

The argument that we can't reintroduce rules because not everyone will obey them is surely a counsel of despair. If you wait till the 'culture' has already been restored you'll be waiting forever. These rules are intended to support and shape the culture, and they are powerful tools. Indeed they are pretty well the only tools which can be used effectively from the distance of the Holy See or the Bishops' Conference.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Joseph, The problem is that the change in law brought about a different culture.
The change in fasting law made possible later Masses, now in many parishes the most popular Mass times are in the evening. The expectation has grown since Pius X that every Catholic (in a state of Grace) will go to Holy Communion whenever possible.
Genies(?) come out of bottles more easily than they go in, the law can certainly help but there need to be many other factors too, especially good liturgy and catechesis.

Dymphna said...

Human beings can for three weeks without eating. Surely Catholics can survive a mere three hours. However, it's a moot point. Most Catholics don't even observe the one hour fast so they'd cheerfully ignore the three.

gemoftheocean said...

Dyhmphna, I do keep the one hour fast, as it applies to *everyone.* Most of the time you are safe on a Sunday if you just refrain from eating 15 minutes before Mass starts. Not exactly over taxing.

James C. said...

I like what the SSPX church does where some of my cousins go here in America. They have signs up in the vestibule explaining that current Church law states that the Eucharistic fast is 1 hour, but that all are encouraged to follow the 3-hour fast or another longer fast best suited to their piety.

The Bones said...

Comment from Mike

I well remember the time when our parish church had its last Sunday Mass at midday - and yet the fast was still observed. (Midday was, I understand, the last time at which Mass could commence, according to Canon Law at that time - there were of course no afternoon/evening Masses then).
Here are some - I think - practical ideas for tackling the situation we have today. If you have a long car/bus/train/boat journey, pack some fruit, sandwiches and bottled soft drinks. Think of it as a picnic. Toddlers of course exempt from fasting, but youngsters of Holy Communion age need to be introduced, for all their tender years, to the idea of sacrifice by the fasting requirements you accept as binding. It is surely part of your educating them as Catholics. Now the idea of going to an evening Mass and existing ALL DAY on one (or more) picnic/s is perhaps going too far. Therefore, for an evening Mass, how about observing a 'Midday Fast'.
I think Father is right in that we have become soft in respect of things like fasting. Read about the early saints; one I was reading about used to observe a Lenten Fast. Yes, exactly that - he just stopped eating (water only I presume and hope) and didn't eat again until Easter! He was a very holy man and I rather think he was a bishop - in the days when holiness of that order was quite normal among the episcopacy! Don't forget John the Baptist's locusts and wild honey. St John Vianney was very abstemious in this respect - no trencherman he! And science is now beginning to recognise that fasting is actually good for you, if applied within sensible limits. Imagine that. Fasting and Catholicism being mutually beneficial!
We've lost something valuable (had it taken away from us, more likely) and we need to get it back.

Mike

Kate Edwards said...

Father - First thanks for the link and advancing this debate!

But I have to disagree on your view of the law.

The real problem, it seems to me, is that Catholics seem to have absorbed the 'born again' idea of instant salvation and sainthood by virtue of belief in God (and in the case of many Catholics, an extremely thin layer of belief at that!). That's why funerals have become canonisation ceremonies, and why even 'practising' catholics reject the authority of the bishops when they actually require us to do things.

Some small minority will do more than the minimum. But most of us will only willingly embrace an ascetic practice if we are firstly given a good reason for doing it, beyond a vague 'it is good for you' (as the monk in your heater example suggested), and secondly are actually required to do it.

So in the case of the Eucharistic fast, we need catechesis accompanying any change in the law that talks of the necessity of fervour in receiving in order to obtain grace and so forth.

But we also need to recover, I think, the old fashioned notion that we are not in fact all saints, always acting out of love of God. Rather, sometimes we need to be compelled to act out of fear of God.

St Benedict's rule for example, traces a progress in humility such that 'the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God which casts out all fear; whereby he will begin to observe without labour, as though naturally and by habit, all those precepts which formerly he did not observe without fear; no longer for the fear of hell, but for the love of Christ and through good habit and delight in virtue.'

We all need laws which we observe first because we taught to do so on pain of sin if necessary, and only gradually come to embrace, even love.

Joseph Shaw said...

Fr Blake writes: 'The change in fasting law made possible later Masses, now in many parishes the most popular Mass times are in the evening.'

The change which made this possible came in 1957: the three hour fast. We are suggesting that the rules introduced in 1957 be restored, precisely because it would not be feasible to do without evening Masses at this juncture.

Yes of course things are difficult to restore. Yes of course other things need to be done as well. I see no argument here against doing one specific thing which will aid the restoration: restoring some sense to the law of the Eucharistic Fast.

It is precisely because there is no one magic bullet which will solve all our problems that we cannot afford to refuse to use powerful tools like Church disciplines. We need to use all the means at our disposal.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Alright! I agree Joseph, the problem with one hour fast is that it doesn't show.

Matt R said...

Joseph, I agree with your last point.
However, I can tell you there are some folks who will read your last comment and see only the bit about reintroducing the rules of 1957.
That's another reason people will resist. I know a number of people who feel that devotees of the EF Mass wish to stay locked in the late 1950s and early 1960s forever.

Joseph Shaw said...

Maybe. But they'd be even more unhappy about us pushing for the restoration of the discipline of the 1940s...