Sunday, 19 August 2012

Putting The Genie Back In The Bottle...?

IMG_20120505_111755editIt has been interesting to read the responses to the excellent FIUV position paper on the restoration of the three-hour Eucharistic fast, summarised on Rorate Caeli.

As pointed out by Joseph Shaw, many people only read other blog posts on the paper (such as the one by Australia Incognita), and then made all sorts of objections to the three-hour fast which had already been dealt with in the original paper.

Quite a few of the comments on Fr. Ray Blake's post seem to suggest that, since the rules have been relaxed, it would be impossible to reimpose them.

I disagree.

For many years, I observed Friday abstinence as a voluntary penance. Nevertheless, I frequently found myself in situations where I was tempted to ignore it; it would be pointed out that "One can always do the abstinence on another day, or do something else instead." Once the Bishops of England & Wales reintroduced Friday abstinence as part of Church law, it actually became much easier to observe the rule. To put it simply, my friends and colleagues accept that, as a Catholic, I do not eat meat on Fridays. In the "real world" it has become acceptable - it's not just a personal idiosyncrasy, it's Church Law.

True, not everyone will observe the rule. However, this should not be an argument for not having the rule at all.  After all, the majority of people are quite happy with the idea that there are observant, devout Jews who keep the Sabbath and Jewish dietary laws very strictly, and there are other Jews who do not. It is also understood that there are devout Muslims who will not drink alcohol and who pray five times a day... and there are Muslims who aren't so devout. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that there will be some Catholics who choose to ignore the laws of the Church on Friday abstinence - especially as plenty of Catholics currently ignore Church teaching on moral matters. This does not mean that one should not have these teachings. As the Holy Father has pointed out, Truth is not subject to a majority vote.

I seriously believe that reintroducing the three-hour fast would have many advantages.

Firstly, it would help people to prepare for the reception of Holy Communion in an active way - one would have to decide that one was going to receive, and to make the effort to avoid food. Three hours isn't an onerous time to go without food, and one can even survive without water for that time - we are constantly producing water through the process of respiration. Since the three hours is counted from the time one actually receives Communion, the time without food would be closer to two hours before Mass. Even in the morning, this isn't a huge difficulty.

Secondly, it would make it easier for those who could not receive Communion. The obvious assumption to make would be that a person had not kept the fast, and so was not going to communicate. At the moment, with practically everyone going to Communion as a matter of course, there is huge pressure on those who are not in a state of grace to go up anyway.

Thirdly, I think it would encourage those of the Faithful who do currently try to do more than the bare minimum to prepare for the reception of Communion. They will no longer have to fear being considered odd for observing a fast, it will just become accepted as what practising Catholics do.

So, is bringing back the old rule attempting to put the genie back into the bottle? I do not think so. But waiting for everyone to agree that it's a good idea isn't going to help anyone.


Londiniensis said...

I haven't read the paper or any of the comments, so apologies if the following has already been said:

The three hour fast was itself a "relaxation" from the previous requirement to fast from the previous midnight. It never gave us as a family any problems, even when we were going to the 11 o'clock High Mass. Of course, there were no anticipated Saturday evening masses in those days - another pointless "relaxation".

A Church perfectly aware of human psychology through nigh on 2,000 years of hearing confessions suddenly lost its nerve and forgot that "too light winning makes the prize light".

Anonymous said...

"Secondly, it would make it easier for those who could not receive Communion. The obvious assumption to make would be that a person had not kept the fast, and so was not going to communicate. At the moment, with practically everyone going to Communion as a matter of course, there is huge pressure on those who are not in a state of grace to go up anyway."


Kate Edwards said...

You know, I did actually provide a link to the paper.

In the end though, if the bishops did introduce something like this, you can't just say 'go read the paper' (cause look how well that worked on the missal...)!

The reaction I got (and some of the comments on Fr Blake's post on Friday abstinence) from what looked to me pretty much like a no brainer probably explains why the bishops are so reluctant to act on these kinds of things...

Genty said...

One of the latest scientific findings is that fasting for two days a week is good for our health. A report some years ago claimed that at any one time 1 in 4 people in the UK were trying to lose weight, cutting food intake as part of the regime.
Yet another survey in 2010 showed that two-thirds of Britons don't eat breakfast. So, in effect, an overnight fast would not require an alteration in morning habits for most.
Apart from medical reasons, an overnight fast (water permitted) will harm no-one. It was a rite of passage when I made my First Holy Communion. I don't remember anyone falling down from hunger at Mass, whatever their age.
Perhaps part of the reason for the relaxation was because of the great number of people who in those days did heavy manual work. It doesn't really apply in the UK today.

Mulier Fortis said...

Kate - yes, your very good blog post did have the link... it's just rather obvious that the people commenting hadn't bothered to read it!

Genty - yes, the midnight fast would be better, except for the problem that there are now afternoon and evening Masses (particularly for people attending the EF, as, despite Summorum Pontificum, provision is often patchy and at odd times.) When the midnight fast was in force, most people would receive at an early morning Mass.


I think that Catholics should once again take up four year Daniel fasts once again. It has for too long been in the protestant domain. It has been a powerful weapon in spiritual warfare that has been lost to the Catholic church for far too long.

Joseph Shaw said...

Thanks for the post Mac. You make a very good point about people accepting that there are observant and less observant Catholics.

I am very heartened by the general response. The opposition to the idea is predictable enough, but a lot of serious Catholics are fed up with the current rule. It brings the law of the Church into disrepute to insist on a pointless rule.

Kate Edwards said...

What I think this all really illustrates is the chasm in mentality between the traddie hard core (where most do at least a three hour fast anyway) and most other 'serious' catholics - the Spirit Daily crowd may be coming from a particular perspective, but they are actively engaged!

Moreover, while some of the comments were addressed by the paper, many point to the existence of much deeper theological problems I think.

And in the end, regret it as we might, people need to be able to be sold on an idea in 140 characters, not 1600 words!

If we really want to reclaim the older disciplines and traditions, we need to find a way of translating those papers into short pithy grabs that can resonate with a wider audience. Writing papers for Rorate Caeli is a case of preaching to the converted...

Matthew Roth said...

I think the Friday abstinence is a bit of a different animal. It's easy for EVERYONE to observe. Catholic schools for example, can offer fish, peanut butter and jelly, etc instead of meat products. In overwhelmingly Catholic areas (like the Omaha, NE-area ) public schools can do the same (they already do during Lent). That's a pretty easy shift. But it is not so for returning to the three-hour fast, considering there are a number of legitimate arguments against it.
I understand Supertradmum's point on Fr Blake's blog. It is for God, and we should be able to do anything out of love for Him. Can we start small and fast from an hour before the start of Mass? That way we can start small.

Gina said...

I only ate meat on Friday for a very short time back when the relaxation first came into being. Then I quickly realized that, if Christ could give His very life for me, I could refrain from a burger, or a beef Wellington for one day per week. I never gave up the fasting from midnight. It seems so little in the face of receiving so very much!

Annie Elizabeth said...

Reading the document, it's not as hardcore as one might assume: you can have a cup of tea / coffee for the first two hours of the "fast" and water throughtout. TBH I suspect that's more than many harried parents consume on a rushed Sunday morning...

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