Q. When our family members get together, Mass attendance always seems to come up. Most of them don’t go, and they cite reasons such as hypocrites who do attend (especially cheating husbands) and priests who have abused children. They know that I go to church every week and I feel that I should speak up, but I don’t know what to say. Can you tell me in simple words how to explain it, or should I just keep my mouth shut since they are probably not going to change their ways anyhow? (Erial, N.J.)
A. The obligation to participate in the Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is one of the commandments of the church. For some people, this is enough. They understand Mass attendance as a rule of membership; just as with any other organization, for the privilege of calling themselves Catholic they agree to be guided by a certain code of conduct.
In your own situation, though, I think a different approach might be more persuasive. Best of all would be for you to tell your family what you feel you get from going to Mass — that it helps to calm you, comfort you, center you; that it guides you and strengthens you in the way you live your life during the rest of the week; that you value the Eucharist so much that you wouldn’t deprive yourself of it no matter how unfaithful any other Catholic had been.
Personally, as a believer in Jesus, it means a lot to me that the Eucharist was the one way Christ said he wanted his memory kept alive. When Christ was about to die, he could have said this to the apostles, his closest friends: “I don’t want you to forget me when I’m gone. So every once in a while, go into your room, close the door and say in private the prayer I taught you.”
He did something else instead. He said this: “Come together and support each other’s faith. Tell stories about me and share your memories of me. And then have a meal together. I will actually be the food for that meal, and this will strengthen you to live the way I taught you — until the day when we’ll all be together again in the kingdom of my Father.”
That’s the Mass — and that’s why I like it and need it.
Q. I have been trying to find a current reference to the rules for the eucharistic fast. I’ve checked the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the documents of Vatican II and can find no help. I also brought up the U.S. (Conference of) Catholic Bishops’ website, but there is so much on it that I became frustrated.
When I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, I had to memorize these rules, but unfortunately I have forgotten them and I think that after Vatican II these rules changed, but I am not sure. Can you help me? (Detroit.)
A. The rule for the eucharistic fast is contained in the church’s Code of Canon Law. Canon No. 919, Section 1, states that “a person who is to receive the most holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy Communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.”
In 1957, Pope Pius XII reduced the requirement from a complete fast after midnight to a fast of three hours. In 1964, Pope Paul VI changed it to one hour, intending to encourage Catholics to receive the Eucharist more frequently.
The reason for the fast is to remind the faithful of the sacred and special nature of the eucharistic food; whereas earthly food provides physical nourishment for a time, the body and blood of Christ nourish the soul toward life eternal.
Canon No. 919, Section 3, clarifies that “the elderly, the infirm and those who care for them can receive the Eucharist even if they have eaten something within the preceding hour.”
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.