|The prerequisites for the reception of Holy Communion are 1) being in the state of grace, 2) having fasted for one
hour (for the sick 15 minutes if possible, no fast if fasting is not
possible), and 3) devotion and attention.
1. State of Grace. As St. Paul notes in his letter to Corinth, reception after
examining oneself is a prerequisite for worthy reception, otherwise Communion has the
opposite from the desired effect of union with our Lord. This is why, out of respect for
Christ and our own good, the Church obliges us to be in the state of grace when we
receive. It should be noted, however, that some Catholics have the mistaken notion that
they cannot go to Communion unless they go to Confession first. This is incorrect. Both
the theology of the Church and her law oblige Confession ONLY when there is mortal sin.
Confessions of devotion, however, are highly recommended. Thus, two errors are to be
avoided, liberalism and rigorism.
1 Cor. 11:27-29
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to
answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the
bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats
and drinks judgment on himself.
Can. 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or to
receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is
present and there is no opportunity of confessing; in this case the person is to be
mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of
confessing as soon as possible. [This is a truly exceptional permission that needs to be
properly understood. It requires moral or physical impossibility to go to Confession and
the necessity to receive Communion - such as a priest who MUST celebrate Mass.]
1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and in number all
serious sins committed after baptism and not yet directly remitted through the keys of the
Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which one is conscious after diligent
examination of conscience.
2. It is to be recommended to the Christian faithful that venial sins also be confessed.
2. Fasting for One Hour. By ancient tradition Christians
abstain from profane food prior to receiving the sacred food of
the Eucharist. Until the pontificate of Pope Pius XII the
Eucharistic fast was from midnight. Pope Pius reduced it to three
hours, and after Vatican II, Pope Paul VI reduced it to one hour.
The current Code of Canon Law states,
1. One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain
from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and
medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy
2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three
times on the same day may take something before the second or
third celebration even if the period of one hour does not
3. Those who are advanced in age or who suffer from any infirmity,
as well as those who take care of them, can receive the Most Holy
Eucharist even if they have taken something during the previous
The Eucharistic fast is before Holy Communion, not the
Mass. It is a fast from food and drink, water is alright, as is
medicine. The moral theology tradition teaches that to be food it
must be a) edible, b) taken by mouth, and c) swallowed. In
addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, candies, breath mints,
lozanges and anything that is put into the mouth to be dissolved
or chewed meets these conditions once the dissolved contents are
swallowed. Chewing gum does not break the fast, but it is
disrespectful of the Sacred Liturgy and once the juice is
swallowed the fast is broken. The tradition also teaches that the
fast is strict - one hour, that is, 60 minutes. Given that until
recently the fast was from midnight, this seems very little to ask
3. Devotion and Attention. Given the infinite value of the
Lord, it should be evident that we should receive Him with great
devotion, attending to our reception of Him and not to other
matters. St. Paul states,
1 Corinthians 11:28-29
Let a man examine himself, and so
eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
For any one who eats and drinks
without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment
While this certainly applies first and foremost to belief in the
Real Presence, it also applies to the practical application of
that belief, how we receive Holy Communion. If we had the
opportunity to have an intimate meeting with the President or the
Pope we would not have our minds, hearts and attention wandering
all over the place. How much less ought they to be when receiving
Holy Communion. If it is disrespectful to the President or
the Pope to ignore them while they are talking to us, how much
more serious is it to ignore God when He is giving Himself to us!
Our interior disposition cannot be separated from our exterior
disposition. If we go to Communion chatting with our neighbor, or with
our hands in our pockets, we are unlikely to have sufficient devotion to
receive. A casual posture and behavior bespeaks a casual interior attitude
toward something that is holy and deserves our full attention, body and
soul. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us,
1387 To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their
Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.
If we do not satisfy the first two conditions (the state of grace
and the fast) we may not go to Communion. If we do not
satisfy this third one, we ought not go to Communion, unless we correct it by stirring up our fervor. We would receive Our Lord vainly, if we lacked devotion and attention to Him. We could even receive Him sacrilegiously, if we acted as if Holy Communion were NOT Him (1 Cor. 11:29). So, as a matter of morality Catholics must pay attention to their interior
and exterior disposition when going to Communion.