A Future Pope on Fasting from the Eucharist

Re-blogging an article from Parishable Items blog by Fr. Victor Feltes. Image and post credit: Fr. Victor Feltes.

personal reflection: I thought of this deprivation as something that might make us all really think about what it is we are missing in these days… if one sees these days of not having to go to Mass or not having to go to Communion as kind of a “relief” or something, perhaps it will awaken something in us that asks “why do we feel like that?” For those who know what it is we are missing and feel it deeply, it is another awakening too… you often don’t really realize what it is that you have until it is taken away… this could have a really deeply rooted effect on many of us…

JM

A Future Pope on Fasting from the Eucharist

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church (of which 98.6% of the world’s Catholics are members) there is only one day each year when no Masses are to be celebrated – that is, Good Friday. That day’s liturgy contains a Communion service in which presanctified (previously consecrated) Hosts are received and eaten by the faithful. However, in the early Church, there was no consumption of Holy Communion on Good Fridays by the faithful at all. This tradition was noted by the esteemed theologian Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) in his 2002 book “Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion.”

In passages relevant to our present-day, Lenten reality, Cardinal Ratzinger reflects upon the spiritual value that could be found in the practice of Catholics in full communion with the Church abstaining for a time from consuming Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist:

“When Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving the Communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for Him, the righteous and gracious One. Against the background of his sermons and writings, which describe the mystery of the Church as a communion with the Body of Christ and as the Body of Christ, on the basis of the Eucharist, in a really marvelous way, this gesture is quite shocking. It seems to me more profound and fitting, the more often I ponder it. Do we not often take things too lightly today when we receive the most Holy Sacrament? Could such a spiritual fasting not sometimes be useful, or even necessary, to renew and establish more deeply our relation to the Body of Christ?

In the early Church there was a most expressive exercise of this kind: probably since the time of the apostles, Eucharistic fasting on Good Friday was part of the Church’s spirituality of Communion. Not receiving Communion on one of the most holy days of the Church’s year, which was celebrated with no Mass and without any Communion of the faithful, was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Passion of the Lord: the sorrowing of the bride from whom the bridegroom has been taken away (see Mark 2:20). I think that a Eucharistic fast of this kind, if it were deliberate and experienced as a deprivation, could even today be properly significant, on certain occasions that would have to be carefully considered—such as days of penitence (and why not, for instance, on Good Friday once more?), or also perhaps especially at great public Masses when there are so many people that a dignified distribution of the Sacrament is often not possible, so that by not receiving the Sacrament people could truly show more reverence and love than by doing so in a way that contradicts the sublime nature of this event.

Spiritual hunger, like bodily hunger, can be a vehicle of love.

Such fasting—which could not be allowed to become arbitrary, of course, but would have to be consonant with the spiritual guidance of the Church—could help people toward a deepening of their personal relation to the Lord in the Sacrament; it could be an act of solidarity with all those who have a yearning for the Sacrament but cannot receive it. It seems to me that the problem of people who have been divorced and remarried, yet equally the problem of intercommunion (in mixed marriages, for example), would be less of a burden if voluntary spiritual fasting was at the same time undertaken in visible recognition and expression of the fact that we are all dependent upon that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord effected in the ultimate solitude of the Cross. I would not of course wish to suggest by this a return to some kind of Jansenism: in biological life, as in spiritual life, fasting presumes that eating is the normal thing to do. Yet from time to time we need a cure for falling into mere habit and its dullness. Sometimes we need to be hungry—need bodily and spiritual hunger—so as once more to comprehend the Lord’s gifts and to understand the suffering of our brethren who are hungry. Spiritual hunger, like bodily hunger, can be a vehicle of love.”