Saturday, 18 August 2012

Three hours fasting too hard? What Mass is really about...

I continue to be amazed (and bemused) at the response to my post on the suggestion that the Eucharistic Fast be extended from one to three hours.

As at Saturday morning, it has received around 7,600 hits, well and truly a record for this blog, and still rising, courtesy of referrals from the Big Pulpit and Spirit Daily (for which a big thank you to Tito and Linda, and prayers for their ongoing work!).  Do hope those coming here for the first time got something out of it, and will find some other posts of interest, and keep coming back... 

In any case, it has certainly stimulated a lively discussion - nothing engages modern Catholics it seems, quite so much as the suggestion that our disciplines should be toughened up a little!

A small change with big consequences?

Some of the most interesting comments for me at least, go to whether it would discourage attendance at daily Mass in particular.

One or two commenters suggested that a three hour fast would mean they couldn't have breakfast, go to Mass and then on to work, so wouldn't go at all if they couldn't receive.

Someone else asked if making a spiritual communion is as beneficial as actually receiving.

So I thought I'd make a few comments on those points.

The benefit of going to Mass

I wonder if the encouragement of frequent communion hasn't led to a skewing of our understanding of the Mass?

The Mass, you will recall is sacrament, sacrifice and liturgy.  Seems to me we have become unduly focused on the sacrament at the expense of the other dimensions of it.  Let me take those in reverse order.

1.  Worship

It seem to me that the first reason for attending Mass should be to worship God. 

Forget about the benefits for us - our primary duty is to acknowledge and give thanks for all he has done for us and the world.  More, through the liturgy, heaven and earth are joined together, where we join with the whole universe in praising God. 

The Church gives participation in the liturgy (including not only Mass but also Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office) a much higher priority than private prayer or devotions because it is the public work, the positive duty, of the Church to undertake.

Worship benefits us as well of course: the liturgy can help lift us up, help point us towards our eternal destination so that we can then go out and convert the world to that same end. 

That's why we have an obligation to go to Mass on Sunday - but not necessarily to receive the Eucharist when we do.

2.  Sacrifice

The second point is that by our presence at Mass, we are (assuming we are in a state of grace) doing a service to others present, to those throughout the world, and for the souls in purgatory. 

How?  Because the priest, though his priestly office takes up all of our sacrifices and offerings, and joins them to his own, and above all to Christ's, as he offers the sacrifice of the altar for our good and for the good of all the world.  That's why the Eucharistic prayers/canon of the Mass includes all those prayers on behalf of others.  That is why it is good to have masses said for the dead, or for our particular needs or intentions.

And the priest offers the sacrifice on behalf of those present at Mass too, and the benefit we get from that offering does not depend, I think, on actually receiving the Eucharist.

3.  Sacrament

Finally of course, there is what has become the main focus of the Mass, the reception of Holy Communion. 

The key thing to remember here, I think, is that how much benefit we get from receiving the Eucharist essentially depends on us: the grace available is infinite, but how much in practice we receive depends on our own dispositions.

So you could, in principle, receive Holy Communion every day of the week and get less grace out of it than the person who makes only a spiritual communion, in order to prepare themselves for that less frequent, but more fervent reception.

Now obviously the ideal is to receive frequently and fervently as possible, and thereby receive as much grace as possible.  But realistically, most of won't have the right dispositions to receive all the time, so a little spiritual fasting might occasionally do us some good.

A state of grace?

The other great advantage of a three hour fast it seems to me, is that it would actually take the pressure off those not in a state of grace to receive by giving them a legitimate out.

Currently, pretty much everyone goes up;  currently very few go to confession regularly. 

Now I'd like to think that we are all a lot holier than those of old, but somehow I doubt it.

And sacrilegious reception of the sacrament is a mortal sin: it leads to spiritual death not life.

More than fasting?

I should note I've just come across a good piece advocating a wider program of toughening up for Catholics, as an aid to fighting secularism, originally from the Catholic Herald, but highlighted by Fr Z.
May the debate continue...

1 comment:

A Canberra Observer said...

maybe my comment got lost in cyberspace.

I think this would be a great idea.