Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fr. Scalia explains why we need to fast before Mass

I read this in a church bulletin this week. It was so good I had to post it.
Duc in altum (Lk 5:4)The Eucharistic Fast

Growing up you may have heard mom say, “Don’t eat right now — you’ll ruin your dinner.” To us boys especially it made little sense. We ate like horses, so we could not understand how eating at 4:30 would possibly prevent more of the same at 6:30. But mom knew. She knew that if we were filled with junk food we would certainly not finish a healthy dinner. But she understood something more important still: there is a difference between eating and dining. If she allowed us to graze through the kitchen any time we wanted, then we would miss the human, civilizing nature of a family dinner. We would come to the family dinner as animals approach feeding time: just another occasion to stuff our faces. We would ruin our dinner.

Mom’s admonition is a good way to understand the Eucharistic fast. Mother Church requires that we abstain from food and drink for one hour before communion (including candy, breath mints, gum, but not water and medicine). She does not want us to ruin the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps this was clearer years ago, when the fast obliged us for three hours before communion or from midnight the night before. Even with today’s modest requirement, the purpose remains the same: we have to make some sacrifice and separation from the world before we approach the Lord’s Table. If we do not, we will rush in and out of Mass and the reception of Holy Communion, just fitting it in to the rest of our errands and outings on Sunday. To prepare us for a meal fundamentally different from any other, Mother Church has us fast.

And just as moms do not want their children coming to the table with an already full stomach, so Mother Church understands the spiritual danger of approaching the Eucharist with a sated belly. When we are physically satisfied, we lose sight of our deeper, more profound spiritual hunger. The Eucharistic fast seeks to provoke a physical hunger to remind us of our spiritual hunger and the insufficiency of the world’s food. After a 10:30 Mass at one parish, I heard a husband say to his wife, “Let’s go eat breakfast.” I expressed surprise that they had not eaten anything yet, since they certainly had plenty of time to do so before Mass. He responded, “Father, how can you hunger for the word of God on a full stomach?”

The Eucharistic fast also helps us understand the purpose of fasting in general. We do not fast because the created world and/or the body are evil (as some heretical sects have believed). Rather, we fast to detach ourselves from created goods so that we can strive for spiritual, eternal goods more freely. We have all experienced the competition between the body and the soul. As the soul strives for holiness and virtue, the desires of the flesh (as Scripture calls them) lead us in the other direction. Fasting is a way of disciplining the body — again, not because it is bad — but so that it will be more peacefully subject to the aspirations and directions of the soul.

We typically associate fasting only with Lent. And, of course, we do fast particularly during that sacred season. But we should integrate some form of fasting into our lives throughout the year. In this regard, all Catholics should know and observe the discipline of the Friday mortification required by canon law. Every Friday throughout the year we are required to perform some act of mortification or self-denial. On Fridays during Lent it must be abstaining from meat. On Fridays during the rest of the year we may eat meat provided that we offer some other sacrifice — e.g. abstaining from alcohol, sweets, TV, etc. In this way we associate ourselves with our Lord’s sacrifice and we cultivate that interior freedom from the world’s pleasures that enables us to seek more generously the Kingdom of God.

— Fr. Paul Scalia


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful explanation!

What do you think of all the smokers?

Dymphna said...

He is a very good preacher. I sympathize with smokers, actually.

mark said...

how is smoking at all relevant to the article? Do you mean not smoking for an hour before mass?

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

I think she means not smoking from midnight to early Mass?