Reflections by Jennifer Geach
The Eucharistic Fast
19th November 2018
In this fallen world of ours, it is hard to achieve a good without some unanticipated and unintended adverse side effect. So the relaxation of the rules of fasting, (which even in my life time involved abstaining from food and drink for three hours before Mass, and in previous dispensations involved neither food nor water from midnight) had the benign intention that people should receive our Lord more frequently but may in the event have led to there being less opportunity. For when a priest had to fast from midnight, he had a motive for saying his daily Mass early in the morning, so that he might break his fast. Absent that motive, it is often the case that even where there is a daily mass, it is at a time when many workers cannot attend: even 7.30 am is too late for many people working in shops, and 9.00 or 10.00 is impracticable for any whose time is not at their own disposal. It may be that parishes and communities should find out when people can get to Mass, so that our hard working priests may be deployed to the best advantage.
For the Mass is not just something “nice to have”: it is the sun and centre of Christian living. In the Liturgy of the Word, we are nourished by God’s message of love to us: and in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we re-present the great sacrifice of Christ on Calvary: the one perfect satisfaction for sin, the only perfect offering to the Father. Even if it is not possible to receive Our Lord physically, being present at Mass is a most colossal privilege, for we are witnesses to and partakers in the great blazing forth of love – love from the Son to the Father, love from the Father to us, on whom he bestows the Holy Spirit, because he sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in his Son. In the Mass this is made a visible and concrete reality, so that while still on earth we are sharers in heavenly things.
But the effect of having daily Mass at times when workers cannot possibly attend is not only an immediate deprivation for individuals: it also erodes the practice of the faith altogether. For if devout Catholics, who love our Lord sincerely, are supposed to be satisfied with a weekly Mass, then those who are less serious will find it easier to slide away from even weekly attendance, for they will not have the example of the more devout to keep them up to the mark. It is noticeable that communities where the faith flourishes are communities where attendance at daily Mass is not confined to women, and elderly men: in Malta and Poland, for example, daily Masses have congregations which are a cross section of the whole community. May all of our parishes and communities find ways of making attendance at daily Mass more possible, so that souls aflame with the love of God may reform and protect our Mother the Church, and bring more souls to Heaven.