Since we have a Eucharistic fast before Communion, why don’t we have one after Mass?
In Mark 2:18-22, Jesus is questioned as to why His disciples do not fast (whereas those of John the Baptist do). In response, Jesus says “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Keeping these words in mind, I begin an answer to the question of no fast after Holy Communion by first speaking of the discipline of fasting before Communion, so as to point to why fasting is not necessary (nor fitting) after Communion, based upon Jesus’ own words about fasting in general.
The act of fasting before Holy Communion has been part of the Church’s practice for many centuries – with some history as far back as the third century. As recently as the mid-20th century, the discipline of fasting from 12:00 midnight was adjusted to a three-hour fast (in the late 1950s) to our current practice since 1964 of a one-hour fast before Communion. In “black and white” terms, the fast is to be for one hour prior to receiving Holy Communion from all foods and liquids with the exception of water and medicines. Any who are ill or who are their caretakers at home are dispensed from this fast if Communion is brought to them in their home/care facility. The purpose of this practice of fasting is that we might more fully prepare ourselves to receive Jesus, experiencing a deeper “hunger” to receive him, if you would. Said another way, our fasting invites us to deny ourselves for the love of Christ and for the sake of letting Christ become more in us through a greater receptivity to Him, leading to a more prayerful and fruitful reception of the Eucharist.
The motivation for our fast, thus, being for a greater hungering for and openness to Christ, it is hoped that when we receive Jesus’ Eucharistic Body and Blood that we will more fully assimilate Him, becoming more like He is, being filled with His life. Likewise, as such fasting has the power to place our mind more upon the “things of Heaven,” so to speak, longing for the food that endures onto eternal life, when we receive the Eucharist having carried out our fast, we hopefully are more properly
disposed to receive a greater share in that eternal nourishment that is Christ Himself, receiving more fully a share in His eternal kingdom which He desires to have dwell already within us. These fruits of fasting and of worthy reception of the Eucharist can be understood even better when looking back to the earlier mentioned words from Mark 2: that all who have the bridegroom need not fast. In other words, our fasting is meant for us to do before we meet Christ, and once He comes to us (after we receive Holy Communion) such is truly not intended any more than one puts a new piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak, as Jesus Himself says to illustrate His point in that same passage. In other words, if (and when) we fast rightly in preparing to receive Holy Communion, and then receive Jesus while in a state of grace, we truly have the Bridegroom with us, and thus need not fast. Therefore, it is both not necessary to fast after Holy Communion and truly not merited.
That we do not fast after Communion does not mean that we are not conscious of the Eucharist we have received. Instead, our disposition hopefully is transformed from one of preparing and hungering for Jesus to one of praising and thanking Jesus, who comes to reside within us. (This is why I always have very deliberate silence after Holy Communion for a brief time – as this is our time to give such praise and thanks to Jesus, our true bridegroom, literally dwelling within those who have received His gift of self.) To once more appeal to Mark 2:18-22, because we have the bridegroom within us, we do not fast – rather, we ought to give thanks to Him who makes His dwelling within us.
Fr. Joel Hastings