Fasting from Eucharist

Mass with Pope Francis on Rio’s Copacabana beach in 2013, most of the 1+ million people could not receive because of the vastness of the crowd

Happy Solemnity of the Annunciation, when the Yes of Mary permitted the Eternal God to take on our flesh and blood and soul.

Don’t forget, Pope Francis asked all Christians around the world to join as one and pray the Our Father today at (your) noon! “…and deliver us from evil…”

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I have been reflecting lots on what are the hidden graces present in the absence of public Masses. Today, I received a gift from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. All one needs to do is quote from him, and it suffices,. No commentary needed…

In his book Behold the Pierced One (pp. 97-98), Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) wrote:

When Augustine sensed his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and undertook public penance. In his last days he manifested his solidarity with the public sinners who seek for pardon and grace through the renunciation of communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in the humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for him who is the Righteous and Merciful One.

Against the background of his sermons and writings, which are a magnificent portrayal of the mystery of the Church as communion with the Body of Christ, and as the Body of Christ itself, built up by the Eucharist, this is a profoundly arresting gesture. The more I think of it, the more it moves me to reflection. Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?

The ancient Church had a highly expressive practice of this kind. Since apostolic times, no doubt, the fast from the Eucharist on Good Friday was a part of the Church’s spirituality of communion. This renunciation of communion on one of the most sacred days of the Church’s year was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Lord’s Passion; it was the Bride’s mourning for the lost Bridegroom (cf. Mk 2:20).

Today too, I think, fasting from the Eucharist, really taken seriously and entered into, could be most meaningful on carefully considered occasions, such as days of penance—and why not reintroduce the practice on Good Friday? It would be particularly appropriate at Masses where there is a vast congregation, making it impossible to provide for a dignified distribution of the sacrament; in such cases the renunciation of the sacrament could in fact express more reverence and love than a reception which does not do justice to the immense significance of what is taking place. A fasting of this kind—and of course it would have to be open to the Church’s guidance and not arbitrary—could lead to a deepening of personal relationship with the Lord in the sacrament. It could also be an act of solidarity with all those who yearn for the sacrament but cannot receive it.

It seems to me that the problem of the divorced and remarried, as well as that of inter-communion (e.g., in mixed marriages), would be far less acute against the background of voluntary spiritual fasting, which would visibly express the fact that we all need that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord performed in the ultimate loneliness of the Cross.

Naturally, I am not suggesting a return to a kind of Jansenism: fasting presupposes normal eating, both in spiritual and biological life. But from time to time we do need a medicine to stop us from falling into mere routine which lacks all spiritual dimension. Sometimes we need hunger, physical and spiritual hunger, if we are to come fresh to the Lord’s gifts and understand the suffering of our hungering brothers. Both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love.

Amen.

2 comments on “Fasting from Eucharist

  1. Br. Joe says:

    Thomas, this was a perfect selection to address the ambiguities and distance we are feeling in our lack of ability to receive the Lord in the Eucharist. God bless you for your editorial wisdom.

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