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Respecting a Communion Fast in the East

Date: January 16, 2022
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: If I were to go to an Eastern Catholic Church and receive communion, would it be wise to follow their fasting rules? If an Eastern Church has a three-hour fasting rule, am I as a Latin only obligated to fast for one hour since I'm bound to my rite? I think the courteous thing is to do it their way out of respect for their tradition. – S., Newport, New Hampshire

A: Although this question does not refer to ecumenism but to different liturgical disciplines within the Catholic Church, the Ecumenical Directory could help us to shed light on this subject.

This document reflects the laws found in Canons 844 of the Latin Code of Canon Law and Canon 671 of the Eastern Code. Hence, under the headings, “Sharing in Sacramental Life, especially the Eucharist, and, a) Sharing in Sacramental Life with members of the various Eastern Churches,” it states:

“122. Between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches not in full communion with it, there is still a very close communion in matters of faith. Moreover, ‘through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in stature and ‘although separated from us, these Churches still possess true sacraments, above all—by apostolic succession—the priesthood and the Eucharist ....’ This offers ecclesiological and sacramental grounds, according to the understanding of the Catholic Church, for allowing and even encouraging some sharing in liturgical worship, even of the Eucharist, with these Churches, ‘given suitable circumstances and the approval of church authorities.’ It is recognized, however, that Eastern Churches, on the basis of their own ecclesiological understanding, may have more restrictive disciplines in this matter, which others should respect. Pastors should carefully instruct the faithful so that they will be clearly aware of the proper reasons for this kind of sharing in liturgical worship and of the variety of discipline which may exist in this connection.

“123. Whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, it is lawful for any Catholic for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick from a minister of an Eastern Church.

“124. Since practice differs between Catholics and Eastern Christians in the matter of frequent communion, confession before communion and the Eucharistic fast, care must be taken to avoid scandal and suspicion among Eastern Christians through Catholics not following the Eastern usage. A Catholic who legitimately wishes to communicate with Eastern Christians must respect the Eastern discipline as much as possible and refrain from communicating if that Church restricts sacramental communion to its own members to the exclusion of others.”

Furthermore, the Eastern Code declares:

“Canon 713.1: The Divine Eucharist is to be distributed in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, unless a just cause suggests otherwise.

“2. Concerning the preparation for participation in the Divine Eucharist through fast, prayers and other works, the Christian faithful are to observe faithfully the norms of the Church sui iuris in which they are enrolled, not only within the territorial boundaries of the same Church, but, inasmuch as it is possible, everywhere.”

If we take these two documents together, we find that it could be argued that, strictly speaking, Latin-rite Catholics who attend an Eastern Catholic liturgy would be bound by Latin-rite rules, and hence, to the one-hour fast.

However, if the Catholic Church highly recommends that Catholics who, for a just cause or need, attend a non-Catholic Eastern Church, follow the liturgical discipline of that Church with respect to communion, then, at the very least, he or she should show the same level of respect toward our fellow Eastern Catholics and follow their rules for fasting before communion.

There may be occasional exceptions, for example, seeking any Catholic Mass while away from home, but I believe that generally, the best rule to follow is to follow legitimate local custom.

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