Can Individual Priests Set Fasting Requirements?

I spoke with a woman who said that the priest at her former parish has ordered parishioners to fast three hours before Communion because he doesn’t believe that people were taking Eucharist seriously enough. This is hearsay, not anything I heard or read directly from the priest, so she may have been embellishing with the word “requirement.”

I understand that the 3-hour fast is an older tradition no longer imposed on Catholics but something we may do voluntarily. Does a priest have the authority to make it a requirement at his parish? I’m not outraged - just curious.

It was from midnight and changed to three hours in 1957 then to one hour in 1964. The canon law allows for one hour and the priest does not increase the requirements of canon law.


The one hour fast is set by Canon Law and an individual priest does not have the authority to lengthen or shorten it. A diocesan bishop can allow relief to individual priests who are saying a number of Masses on a day so that they can have something to eat or drink between Masses even though it is less than an hour until he next receives the Eucharist - but not to the laity.

The fast applies up to the time you receive Holy Communion, not the time Mass starts, so it’s hardly a fast at all.

When I made my first Holy Communion, the rule was fasting from midnight, so you tended to go to Mass early then go home for breakfast.


No, he can’t order them to do that, but of course he’s free to advise them to do it or recommend that they should do it.

Canon Law allows exceptions for priests celebrating multiple Masses, not the bishop, and there are noted exceptions for laity as well. The bishop or parish pastor may dispense the fast for individuals, too.


I was mostly curious about what authority a priest had to set the standard, but apparently canonical law is canonical law. My hope and suspicion is that this woman was exaggerating by portraying the three-hour fast as a requirement. But in the best-case scenario, her priest was simply suggesting a voluntary means of taking the Eucharist seriously.

The law itself does not empower a parish pastor to dispense from the pre-Communion fast (it does empower him to dispense from days of obligation–whether feast days or days of penance).

As to the question of the thread, I think it’s been answered but I’ll just pile on and say that an individual priest cannot set fasting requirements, as in, make some kind of law for his parish. Individual priests cannot legislate (speaking technically) at all. That is a power of diocesan bishops.



Thanks for correcting that. :grin:

Given that it would be impossible, or very nearly so, for the priest to actually know how long people presenting for communion had fasted, he cannot seriously have been intending this an order anyway.

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The context of our conversation was that the priest didn’t think that people were taking the Eucharist seriously enough. I’m not sure what signs of irreverence he was seeing, (or if he was mind-reading), but I don’t think he was necessarily presuming to know how long people had fasted. The idea was that if people fasted longer, they’d be more inclined to remember the importance of the Eucharist.

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