Martha wanted to leave Nairobi to visit her mother upcountry. She decided to go to church early Sunday morning and set out immediately from there. She got everything ready for the trip and grabbed breakfast right before walking out the door. The Mass was brief. Short homily. No choir. Her plan was working perfectly.
When she got in line to receive Holy Communion, she glanced at her watch. Only 40 minutes had passed since breakfast. She remembered how the good nuns in primary school insisted on fasting for an hour. She didn’t know what to do. She stood there in the middle of the church, wondering whether to go up to the altar or turn around and go back to the bench.
What happened to Martha has happened to many Christians all over the world—especially if you’re one of those who try to get to Mass during weekdays. You end up asking: “Can I receive Holy Communion without the one hour fast?”
We all know it’s the law of the Church. We have to fast for sixty minutes. But there’s nothing in the Bible about it and, at times, it seems like a nuisance. What difference does it make to God whether we fast for 40 minutes or one whole hour? After all, even the apostles received Communion at the Last Supper just after they finished eating the food prepared for the Passover.
To put this in perspective, look at what Saint Philip Neri once did to teach a woman the real meaning of Holy Communion. Keep in mind that we’re talking about 500 years ago when the Eucharistic fast was longer: Christians—priests included—could not eat anything from 12 o’clock midnight until receiving Holy Communion.
The woman was very pious and had a reputation for being a good example of living the Gospel. She went to Mass every day and often received the Eucharist. For whatever reason, she seemed to understand this practice merely as something a Christian does to be good, more or less the same way you try to show up at work on time every day if you want to keep the boss happy.