Questions and Answers
I have always heard that “liquids do not break the fast.” Then, why can’t I have a cup of coffee just before Communion?
First of all, let us be reminded of the necessity of doing penance, in different ways and at different times. Because we are sinners, justice requires each of us to make recompense to God for the honor we have denied Him by our sins. Because we have misused our goods, our souls and bodies—as well as those of others—we must strive to restore the order we have disturbed by our sins.
In order to help us fulfill this requirement, Holy Mother Church, knowing our weakness and laziness, binds us to fast and abstinence at certain times of the year and on certain days. In general, “fasting” is a noticeable reduction of our intake of food and drink. “Abstinence” refers to the abstention of eating meat. The ecclesiastical regulations for both have changed throughout the centuries.
With these preliminaries out of the way, and to answer the present question, we have to distinguish between the penitential fast and the Eucharistic fast.
The penitential fast is the one that was traditionally required by the Church during the seasons of Lent and Advent, and on Ember Days, Rogations and the vigils of certain feasts. It developed gradually in the Church and widely varied in its practice. For example, in the times of St. Gregory the Great (7th century), it consisted in the so-called “black fast,” which included both fasting and abstinence in one penitential practice: only one meal, at evening, without meat, dairy products or eggs (but in some places fish and seafood were allowed); moreover, during the Holy Week the only foods permitted were bread, herbs, salt and water…
Later, as the centuries passed, the Church, mindful of the discouragement to which our weakness may lead us, relaxed this strict practice by means of new laws and dispensations. Today, under the present rules (1983 Code of Canon Law, canons 1250-1253), the Church commands, under pain of sin, fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence on all the Fridays in the year. According to these rules only one full meal is permitted, but two “collations” or noticeably smaller meals are allowed. Fasting refers only to solid foods; all liquids are allowed. Hence, “liquids do not break the fast”—that is, they do not break the penitential fast that we should practice in Lent and, if possible, on the other days in which it was traditionally required.
But the Eucharistic fast is subject to a different set of rules, which have also widely varied throughout the centuries. Since the 3rd century, it required abstention from any food or drink, even water, from the midnight before receiving communion. Such requirement was maintained even up to the 1917 Code of Canon Law (canon 858), which allowed only two exceptions (for people in danger of death, or to prevent desecration of the Blessed Sacrament), and permitted those who had been ill for more than a month and with no expectation of prompt recovery, to receive communion sometimes even if they had taken water or some medication. Later, in 1953, Pius XII allowed to all the taking of water and medication, and in 1957 reduced the fasting time to three hours before communion. In 1964 Paul VII further reduced the time to one hour.
The present legislation (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 919) requires, under pain of sin, to keep the fast for at least one hour before communion, while allowing the intake of water or any medication even within that hour. Notice the “at least,” which means that that is the minimum required by law to avoid committing a sin, but a good Catholic should aim at greater perfection, even—if possible—at keeping the more strict previous regulations to atone for our sins and the sins of the world.
Please, notice especially that the only drink allowed is water. Now, in the common estimation of men, coffee is not water—we do not wash our hands with coffee! Therefore, drinking coffee, tea or any other drink that is not water, within that hour before communion, does actually break the Eucharistic fast.
Thus, in conclusion, coffee does not break the penitential fast of Lent, but it does break the fast required to receive communion.
To what, precisely, does the precept of loving our enemies oblige us?
“Enemies” are those who hate us, or who have injured us and have not made any kind of reparation, or towards whom we feel adversary for some reason (natural dislike, envy, etc.).
There is a special divine precept of loving those enemies, not as such, but insofar as they are capable of eternal beatitude and, in fact, destined to it. Their enmity is an evil and it has to be rejected as such, but the persons who are our enemies must be loved for the gifts that God has bestowed upon them—they have to be loved because of God. The precept is “special” in the sense of having been particularly promulgated by Our Lord (Mt 5:44), because of the difficulty of putting it into practice. In fact, it is not different than the precept of loving our neighbor.
Therefore, we must not hate them, that is, we must neither desire them any evil nor take any complacency in whatever evils may befall them. Even if enemies, they do not cease to be children of God, called to beatitude; to hate them is a sin, incompatible with the love for God.
We must not take vengeance upon them, that is, we must not repay evil with evil, for that intention proceeds from hatred or other disordered motive. In theory, it is permissible to desire some evil, some punishment or suffering, to come to them, but only if we are prompted by pure motives of justice or charity—that is, either for the deterrence of the evildoer and the restoration of the order of justice, or to help him to correct himself and come back to God. But, in practice, on account of our own weaknesses, it is very difficult for us to act solely for such pure motives. Therefore, it is better to abstain from desiring any evil to anybody.
We are obliged to show towards our enemies the common signs of charity that are given to any man (for example, to answer a greeting or a question) or to all those who are in certain conditions (for example, to show mercy to the poor).
In certain extraordinary circumstances, when special signs of charity are due in such a manner that denial or omission of those signs would be interpreted as hatred or enmity, we may be even obliged to show such special signs of charity, those which are not due to anybody (that is, those which are not demanded by their condition or state, or custom), but given only out of liberality and special friendship.
We are obliged to forgive our enemies sincerely, as the lack of forgiveness leads us back to hatred of enmity—but we are not obliged to accept them again in close friendship and to give them the special signs of affection that we would have freely given before.
Finally, the offender is obliged to seek reconciliation, as soon as possible. But he is excused from it if he has the moral certainty that forgiveness will be denied, causing a greater alienation of spirits, or if the offended is not willing to accept anything but the greater humiliation of the offender.
What shall we do to transform all our actions into prayer?
St. Paul answered this question when he wrote: Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God… All whatsoever you do in word or in work, all things do ye in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Augustine tells us to convert our life, our actions, our occupations, our meals, even our repose, into a hymn of praise unto God’s glory: Let the harmony of thy life ever rise as a song, so that, thou mayest never cease to praise… If thou wilt give praise, sing, then, not only with thy lips, but sweep the chords upon the psalter of good works; thou dost give praise when thou workest, when thou eatest and drinkest, when thou liest to rest, when thou sleepest; thou givest praise even if thou holdest thy peace. St. Thomas briefly expresses the same thought: Man prays so long as he directs his whole life toward God.
It is love that directs our whole life towards God. The practical means of giving all our actions this direction is to offer each of them to the Most Blessed Trinity in union with Jesus Christ living in us, and in accordance with His intentions.
Because of our fallen nature, our intentions and our thoughts easily tend toward sin and if we were to follow the bent of our own sentiments, our works would be of sin. Therefore, we must renounce our own intentions so as to unite ourselves to those of Jesus. Upon undertaking any action, we should renounce all our sentiments, all our wishes, all our own thoughts, all our desires, in order to enter, according to the word of St. Paul, into the sentiments and the intentions of Jesus Christ.
When our actions endure for some time, it is useful to renew this offering by looking upon a Crucifix, or better, upon Jesus living within us, and to raise our soul to God through repeated ejaculations. In this manner our actions, even the most commonplace, will become a prayer, an elevation of the soul to God, and we shall thereby comply with the teaching of Jesus: We ought always to pray and not to faint.