ROME, 22 APRIL 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Is it permissible to have coffee, a coffee urn, and food in the
sacristy of the church? These beverages and foods are made available for
the sacristans and the priests.
P.N., Venice, Florida
A: I do not believe that there are any specific norms regarding food in
the sacristy. But there are some indications that refer to the overall
atmosphere that should reign in this area. Thus the General Instruction
of the Roman Missal, No. 45, says:
"Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence […]
be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in
adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the
sacred action in a devout and fitting manner."
At the same time, while everybody is required to fast an hour before
Communion, priests who celebrate more than one Mass may take something
before the second or third Mass even if less than an hour elapses (Canon
Taking both these norms into account, one could say that it is
preferable that food and beverages not be offered in the sacristy itself
as this could easily perturb the necessary ambience of silent
However, one could envision some pastoral situations in which lack of an
alternative space could justify dedicating a small part of the sacristy
for refreshment purposes. Apart from the case of a priest celebrating
several Masses it could also happen that a priest may finish Mass, have
a quick coffee (charitably followed by some breath freshener), and then
either head off for the confessional or to take Communion to shut-ins.
If recourse to such a solution is inevitable, priests should usually try
to take their meal as quietly and quickly as possible so as not to
disturb the climate of prayerful silence.
Except for the abovementioned pastoral situations, I think that
habitually having food and beverages available for priests and others in
the sacristy is both unnecessary and probably distracting.
If necessary, victuals should preferably be offered in some other room,
even adjacent to the sacristy, but separated from the area used for
vesting and immediate preparation for Mass.
Most parishes have some other nearby space available where the material
nourishment of a fraternal "agape" may follow the spiritual sustenance
of holy Mass.
* * *
Follow-up: Coffee and Food in
After our piece on food in the sacristy (April 22), another question
came to mind regarding the Communion fast.
A reader in Rome wrote: "I have been rather taken aback at the number of
people I see sitting at coffee bars having coffee just before Mass. Then
they receive Communion well before the prescribed hour of fasting is up.
This seems to be a common practice, all over the world, but I've
especially become aware of it here in Rome. However, the people doing it
aren't just the Romans. They are often tourists from various countries,
so perhaps they do this at home as well. I thought one could only drink
water within the hour before receiving Communion. Why are so many people
drinking coffee, tea, soda, etc., with no regard for the fast? I've even
seen people eating before Mass as well, and then receiving Communion
within the hour. Has there been a change in the fasting rules?"
The one-hour-before-Communion rule remains intact, and effectively only
water and necessary medicines may be taken during that period.
Sadly, however, many are ignorant of the rule or consider its
infringement a minor matter.
This is perhaps an unintentional consequence of the one-hour rule
itself. An hour is quite a short period and many people find it hard to
take seriously. It is a bit like the state imposing a $2 fine for a
Before the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, some prelates
proposed restoring the previous three-hour fast in order to help the
faithful to have a greater appreciation for the privilege of receiving
The idea did not prosper as other bishops pointed out that the hourlong
fast facilitates some successful pastoral initiatives such as offering
office workers the possibility of attending daily Mass during the lunch
break in some major cities.
Indeed, facilitating the widest possible reception of Communion was the
principal reason for reducing the fast to an hour.
It thus falls primarily upon pastors and others involved in forming the
consciences of the faithful to explain the reasons behind this fast and
inculcate fidelity to the rule.
The fast is therefore one hour before receiving Communion. It is not an
hour before Mass. Therefore there would be no difficulty in having
something to eat before a solemn celebration, as is often the case for
pilgrims in Rome, in which at least an hour will pass before Communion