How long must a priest fast before the Eucharist?

My brother-in-law outlined a very interesting scenario and asked my opinion on it.

It seems one of their parish priests had celebrated the 7:30 am Mass, went to the Catholic school breakfast nearby, and came back to celebrate the 9:30 am Mass.  The question:

Did the priest break the fasting requirement before receiving the Eucharist?

First, some background

The norms for fasting before the Eucharist are there for several reasons.  Most lay Catholics are familiar with the rule to fast for an hour before receiving the Eucharist, in order to remind us of the fundamental difference between spiritual food and normal food.  Also, it provides a period of reflection, appreciation, and concentration regarding the Blessed Sacrament.

This rule has changed over time and for different jurisdictions.  Some men in my That Man Is You! group informed me that the norm required fasting from midnight to Mass time, then that time frame was shortened to 3 hours before Mass, and now it is an hour before Mass.  There were many reasons for this practice to change over time, including availability of reliable travel and later Mass times as contributing factors.

So what’s the answer?

Based on the situation as it was presented to me, the priest did run a risk of running “up to the minute” in violating this rule.  This led me to dig a little deeper and I found my answer.  The Code of Canon Law states:

Can. 919 §1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.

§2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three times on the same day can take something before the second or third celebration even if there is less than one hour between them.

§3. The elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have eaten something within the preceding hour.

As you can see here, there is an exemption for priests that celebrate consecutive Masses right there in Canon Law, sandwiched between the 1-hour rule that we are all bound by, and the exemption for elderly and infirmed.

So I learned something about Canon Law today, and now you did too.

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