Question Corner
With Father Kenneth Doyle

Q: When I was a student in Catholic school many years ago, we were taught that we needed to fast from food and drink from midnight in order to receive holy Communion in the morning. That has since been shortened to one hour.

My wife came in to the Catholic Church about five years ago, and she has asked me why we don't wait at least an hour after Communion before we eat anything. Frankly, I couldn't think of a good answer. It seems that we get together after Mass with our friends and go somewhere for breakfast as soon as we can. Is there a rule about this — or should there be? (Mt. Vernon, Ohio)

A: As happens with many recent converts, your wife's question is perceptive and profound since it recognizes the special reverence due to a special gift. There is no rule about fasting after the reception of Communion, although the common advice of spiritual directors would be to wait at least 10 or 15 minutes before eating or drinking.

This seems to stem from the church's belief that Jesus remains present in the Eucharist for as long as the "species" of the host continue to exist (size, color, taste, etc.) while the digestive process begins to take place.

Many spiritual writers, though, encourage an even longer period of fasting and prayer following Communion, since that is an ideal time for an intimate exchange with the Lord and a "preview" of the divine presence in heaven.

The Jesuit saints Ignatius of Loyola and Aloysius Gonzaga are said to have spent two hours on their knees in prayer after receiving the Eucharist — although that may seem beyond the reach of average Catholics and could wreak havoc with Sunday Mass schedules!

St. Louis de Montfort would remain in church after Mass for half an hour. No worry or engagement could deter him, and he said he would not give up that time of prayer even for an equal time in paradise.

As a practical matter, it would seem a worthy and productive habit to stay after Mass at least a few minutes in order to pray in gratitude for this divine nourishment.