A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Coffee and Food in the Sacristy
ROME, 22 APRIL 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
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 919.2).
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 recollection.
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.
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Follow-up: Coffee and Food in Sacristy [5-6-2008]
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 traffic violation.
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 holy Communion.
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 begins.
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