On the Laws of Fasting and the Evening Mass

Author: Pope Pius XII

On Laws Of Fasting And The Evening Mass

Pope Pius XII

Motu Proprio of His Holiness in which permissions granted by the Apostolic Constitution "Christus Dominus" are extended. Issued March 19, 1957.

In the early part of 1953 [January 6] We issued the Apostolic Constitution <Christus Dominus>, by which We eased the rigor of the law on the Eucharistic fast so that the faithful could receive Holy Communion more frequently and more easily fulfill the precept of hearing Holy Mass on holy days. For this purpose We granted to local Ordinaries the power to allow the celebration of Mass and distribution of Holy Communion in early evening hours, provided certain conditions be fulfilled.

We lessened the time of fasting to be observed before the celebration of Mass and the reception of Holy Communion in the afternoon to three hours for solid food and to one hour for non-alcoholic liquids.

The Bishops expressed to Us their profound gratitude for these concessions, which had brought abundant fruits, and many of them have insistently asked Us to authorize them to allow daily celebration of Mass in the afternoon hours, in view of the great benefit which the faithful would derive from it.

They have also asked Us to decree that an equal period of fasting be observed prior to the celebration of Mass or the reception of Holy Communion, in the morning hours.

Having taken into consideration the considerable changes which have occurred in working and office hours and in all social life, We deemed it advisable to comply with the insistent requests of the Bishops and have therefore decreed:

1. Ordinaries of places, excluding vicars general who are not in possession of a special mandate, may permit Holy Mass to be celebrated every day after midday, should this be necessary for the spiritual welfare of a considerable number of the faithful.

2. Priests and faithful, before Holy Mass or Holy Communion respectively, must abstain for three hours from solid foods and alcoholic liquids, for one hour from non- alcoholic liquids. Water does not break the fast.

3. From now on, the fast must be observed for the period of time indicated in Number Two, even by those who celebrate or receive Holy Communion at midnight or in the first hours of the day.

4. The infirm, even if not bedridden, may take nonalcoholic liquids and that which is really and properly medicine, either in liquid or solid form, before Mass or Holy Communion without any time limit.

We strongly exhort priests and faithful who are able to do so to observe the old and venerable form of the Eucharistic fast before Mass and Holy Communion. All those who will make use of these concessions must compensate for the good received by becoming shining examples of a Christian life and principally with works of penance and charity.

The dispositions of this Motu Proprio will go into effect on March 25, 1957, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every disposition whatsoever to the contrary is abrogated, even if it is worthy of special mention.

Given at Rome at St. Peter's, March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, 1957, the 19th year of Our pontificate.

By His Eminence Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani,
Pro Secretary Of The Supreme Sacred Congregation Of The Holy Office

The Motu Proprio <Sacram Communionem> which the August Pontiff chose to promulgate on the Feast of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, and ordained to go into effect almost immediately on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, without waiting for the customary <vacatio legis,> is a new proof of the paternal concern of His Holiness for the spiritual welfare of the faithful.

Present circumstances—such as difficult social demands and new systems of world economy—have changed secular practices and traditions among men, especially those which involve work which is always growing more intense and weakening in its effect, "diem verterunt in noctem."

The August Pontiff, for that reason, paternally concerned about the salvation of souls which are hindered by so many forces—not only those of "technism" but also those of spreading materialism—wished to give to the faithful with these new rules on afternoon Mass and the Eucharistic fast a broader possibility of assisting at the Sacrifice of the Mass and of approaching the Eucharistic banquet to strengthen in themselves the life of Grace which today is more than ever before necessary for struggling for and attaining spiritual victory.

Thus the beneficial fruit of the Apostolic Constitution <Christus Dominus> of January 6, 1953, which already opened the doors to a broader possibility for the faithful to be nourished with the Bread of Life, has ripened.

The bishops and the faithful of all parts of the world did not fail to show their immense gratitude to the Holy Father who now wishes to accede to their ultimate petitions, in that way demonstrating the intimacy of the correspondence between the Chief Shepherd and the sheep of the universal flock. This also shows how the Church, justly severe and inflexible where doctrinal principles are concerned, nevertheless knows how to harmonize all matters of ecclesiastical discipline with the circumstances of the times. Ancient and perpetual, the Church renews her youth, always the same and yet always adapted to all periods.

The Motu Proprio <Sacram Communionem> is therefore clear and does not require commentary or exegesis.

First of all, there is no longer any limitation on the days on which bishops can permit afternoon Mass: the only condition necessary for making this concession is the <bonum commune> (the common good), as was explained in the Advice of the Holy Office of March 22, 1955 (A.A.S., vol. XLVII, page 218). The criterion is given in the phrase <notabilis fidelium pars>, which is the same usage as that of the Code of Canon Law (Can. 806, par. 2) for the exercise of the faculty to permit binate Masses.

According to the august intention of the Holy Father, the laws governing the Eucharistic Fast, adapted to the demands of the times, are now made simple and understandable even to the mentality of children.

It is sufficient to abstain for three hours from solid foods and alcoholic liquids and for one hour from non-alcoholic liquids. There is no longer any problem of morning or evening, of distances to be traveled to get to church, nor of strenuous labor or late hours.

There is no longer an obligation to consult a confessor to see if one fulfills the conditions to use the permission. It is no longer a matter of concessions which apply to certain categories of persons, but a law which applies to all the faithful everywhere.

The exhortations made at the end of the Motu Proprio, precisely because they are only exhortations, leave people free to conform to the new law or to observe the full fast, as has been done until now, out of devotion or for spiritual mortification. It is a question of desiring to obtain greater merit, but no longer that of keeping an obligation.

The formula which confirms that water does not break the Eucharistic Fast (at first it was said to be <aqua naturalis>) leaves one to understand that it refers to water in general and in the common sense of the word even mineral water, carbonated or chemically purified water.

It is also interesting to note that as a mark of the paternal kindness of the August Pontiff, he has shown at this time a special concern for the sick. In fact, when there is a consideration of true and proper medicines, it is no longer necessary to determine their composition. For even if they contain alcohol, as long as they qualify as true and proper medicines in the commonly accepted sense of the word, they may be taken by the sick without any time limitation whatsoever.

The rest of the new Pontifical act benefits all categories of persons, especially meeting directly the problems of that class of the faithful who are closer to the sacrifices of poverty, hard labor, and the difficulties of life. Afternoon Mass and the possibility of taking solid food three hours before Communion are especially useful to them. It is, in fact, the least rich who are found most in need of certain time concessions, for without them, they have been hindered in taking Holy Communion and assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Pope, like Jesus when He distributed the loaves multiplied as a symbol of the Eucharist, feels the paternal solicitude which makes him repeat to the Divine Master: <Misereor super turbam> (I have pity on the multitude.)