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According to Wikipedia's article on eucharistic discipline, the Latin rite of Catholicism requires only one hour of fasting before the Eucharist (cf. Canon 919 §1), but that prior to 1955, the fasting period was required to be from the previous midnight.

However, I'm not confident in this date. No reference is given in that Wikipedia article, and just two years prior, Pope Pius XII had written:

The law of the Eucharistic fast from midnight continues in force for all of those who do not come under the special conditions which We are going to set forth in this Apostolic Letter. (Christus Dominus, January 6, 1953)

The special conditions included reasons like "tiring work" and "long journ[ies]," which made a one-hour fast permissible. But the general rule was still a fast from midnight.

Did the rule actually change just two years later? What is the history of the transition to the current practice? At what point did it become the case that Latin-rite Catholics could, without special exemptions, fast for only one hour prior to the Eucharist?

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To understand the full reason of when and why the Catholic Church changed the Eucharistic fast we must look into the whole history of receiving Holy Communion.

Pope St. Pius X (1903 to 1914) in his Sacra Tridentina of December 20, 1905 changed old traditional age of being allowed to receive Holy Communion and encouraged frequent Communion and not just only once a year as was the norm in his day.

At a time when most Catholics received Holy Communion only once a year as their “Easter duty,” the saintly Pope Pius X encouraged Catholics to receive Holy Communion more frequently and changed the age for First Holy Communion from the teenage years to the “age of reason” – 7 years old. - Liturgical reforms began before Second Vatican Council convened

Pope St. Pius X did not change the Eucharistic Fast at the time of his decree on the reception of Holy Communion: Sacra Tridentina. That came with Pope Pius XII.

In the 1950s some parishes started having evening Masses. These evening Masses gradually led to the changes that all parishes currently have with vigil (Sunday) Masses being permitted on Saturday evenings. This was intended to help Catholics with legitimate commitments such as hospital workers to fulfill their “Sunday obligation.” This is one reason I do not attend Saturday evening Masses unless I have an obligation of some sort which takes place at the same time of my Sunday mass.

Now taking into consideration that Pope Pius X allowed the reception of Holy Communion more frequently and lowered the age of receiving the Eucharist and that Pope Pius XII permitted evening Masses, the next step would be to shorten the Eucharistic Fast.

In 1953 Pope Pius XII changed the Eucharistic fast from midnight to 3 hours and in 1957 from 3 hours to 1 hour.

He was the first to permit Masses to be celebrated during the evening hours and also made significant changes in the Eucharistic fast (which for centuries prior to 1953 meant that Catholics were to refrain from food and drink – except water – from midnight until receiving Holy Communion at morning Mass). In 1953 the fast was changed to 3 hours from solid foods and 1 hour from liquids. In 1957 the conditions of the fast were more relaxed in an effort to support changing working conditions of the people and to accommodate the faithful desiring to attend afternoon or evening Masses.

As evening Masses became the rule rather than the exception, the 1 hour fast prior to receiving Holy Communion was officially promulgated by Pope Paul VI as a universal accommodation. This took place at the end of the third council session in 1964. Almost 10 years later a Vatican Instruction published on January 29, 1973 by the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments called Immensae caritatis affirmed the 1 hour fast and gave additional accommodation to the sick. This eventually took the form of church law (canon 919) in the new 1983 Code of Canon Law. - Liturgical reforms began before Second Vatican Council convened

Wikipedia put it this way about the Liturgical reforms of Pope Pius XII:

Eucharistic fast

To allow for the faithful to receive Communion at Masses in the evening and at other times, Pius XII decreed several changes to regulations regarding the Eucharistic fast. Prior to 1953, Catholics were required to abstain from consuming any food from midnight before receiving Holy Communion. This requirement to fast from midnight was changed by the Apostolic constitution Christus Dominus, issued in 1953, by which, the fasting period was reduced to three hours from solid foods and one hour from liquids before communion. Water or medicines did not break the fast (AAS 1953, 15-24). Four years later, in the Motu Proprio Sacram Communionem (March 19, 1957, AAS 1957), the fasting requirements were further reduced.

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    Thx for digging up this very interesting information. It was especially interesting to read about the 3 hour rule. – Constantthin Jul 30 '17 at 11:18
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I attend the older Latin Rite and we still fast from the midnight before. It should be noted that, as a disciplinary measure, to humble the spirit and body, it does not comprise any intrinsic doctrine or 'Tradition'. The Pope could remove the fast altogether if he so chose. It is to remind you that you are to recieve the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. You must fast in order to enter that holy place and celebration where such takes place.

Water and medicine are the only exceptions.

This was modified on by Bl. Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964§, and are embodied in the canon (rule) you mentioned (919 [§1] of the New Code of Canon Law).


This practice is really quite ancient, though. It was not began by Pope Pius XII. For example, St. Thomas notes, even in the 12th century:

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 3a Pars, Q80 a.8 Ad5

That this sacrament ought to enter into the mouth of a Christian before any other food must not be understood absolutely of all time, otherwise he who had once eaten or drunk could never afterwards take this sacrament: but it must be understood of the same day; and although the beginning of the day varies according to different systems of reckoning (for some begin their day at noon, some at sunset, others at midnight, and others at sunrise), the Roman Church begins it at midnight. Consequently, if any person takes anything by way of food or drink after midnight, he may not receive this sacrament on that day; but he can do so if the food was taken before midnight.

Augstine writes in a letter to Januarius, (Letter 54) ~A.D 400:

...for from that time [of the earliest Church] it pleased the Holy Spirit to appoint, for the honour of so great a sacrament, that the body of the Lord should take the precedence of all other food entering the mouth of a Christian; and it is for this reason that the custom referred to is universally observed.

§ Paul VI, “Concession, on the eucharistic fast,” announced at a public session of Vatican Council II, November 21, 1964: AAS 57 (1965), 186, DOL 272.

You may find this short article useful.


EDIT: The portion of Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 in question (unfortunately only in Latin) is “Tempus Eucharistici Ieiunii Servandi Reducitur”—the concession on the Eucharistic fast, and says:

In view of the difficulties felt in many countries concerning the Eucharistic fast, the Supreme Pontiff, graciously acceding to the petitions of the Bishops, grants that the fast from solid foods be reduced to one hour before Communion, for both priests and the faithful. In this grant is included also the use of alcoholic drinks, observing, however, due moderation.

  • Thanks. Do you know how the change was communicated? I assume there was some official publication or change made somewhere on that date? – Nathaniel Jul 6 '17 at 12:17
  • @Nathaniel I had assumed in "Acta Apostolicae Sedis" but haven't been able to find it anywhere. – Matt Gutting Jul 6 '17 at 13:20
  • Thanks. The history of the practice I dealt with in a separate question/answer; here I'm interested in the transition from midnight to one hour. Thanks for adding the source! – Nathaniel Jul 6 '17 at 13:38
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    It actually took a little digging. Some statements of the Pope, or pin-pointing a specific anouncement or declaration can be quite toilsome. In the real world, this change probably only took its proper effect, officially at least, in the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law which crystalized the change. It was definitely implement before this, though. It was just not the absolute norm/law until the new Code. – Sola Gratia Jul 6 '17 at 13:46
  • In 1953 Pope Pius XII changed the Eucharistic fast from midnight to 3 hours and in 1957 from 3 hours to 1 hour. This was when the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (EF) was in full force. – Ken Graham Jan 26 at 16:13

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