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Sacram Communionem and commentary by Cardinal Ottaviani
Pope Pius XII, Motu Proprio, Sacram Communionem
THE INDULTS GRANTED BY THE APOSOTLIC CONSTITUTION
“CHRISTUS DOMINUS” ARE EXTENDED
Early in the year 1953 We promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Christus Dominus, by virtue of which We lessened the rigor of the Eucharistic fast, so that the faithful could receive Holy Communion more frequently and fulfill the precept of hearing Holy Mass on Holy Days of obligation more easily. For this reason We granted the local ordinaries the faculty of permitting the celebration of Mass and the reception of Holy Communion in the afternoon, provided certain conditions were fulfilled.
We limited the period of time for the observance of the Eucharistic fast before the celebration of Mass or the reception of Holy Communion in the afternoon to three hours from solid food and to one hour from non-alcoholic liquids.
The bishops, mindful of the abundant fruits gleaned through these concessions, expressed to Us their profound gratitude and many of them have persistently and repeatedly asked Us to grant them the faculty of allowing afternoon Masses daily, in view of the great benefit which the faithful would derive from it. They have requested Us, moreover, to decree that the same period of fasting be observed prior to the celebration of Mass and the reception of Holy Communion in the morning hours as we had specified for afternoon Masses.
Mindful of the notable changes which have occurred in private and public working conditions as well as in all branches of social life, We deemed it advisable to comply with the insistent requests of the bishops and have therefore decreed:
(1) Local Ordinaries, with the exception of vicars general who do not enjoy a special mandate, may permit the daily celebration of Holy Mass in the hours after midday whenever the spiritual good of a notable number of the faithful demands it.
(2) The period of time for the observance of the Eucharistic fast by priests who wish to celebrate Mass and by the faithful who wish to receive Holy Communion, whether in the forenoon or in the afternoon, is limited to three hours for solid food and alcoholic beverages. The Eucharistic fast is not broken through the consumption of water.
(3) The Eucharistic fast as specified in the above regulation (n. 2) must be observed even by those who celebrate Mass or receive Holy Communion at midnight or in the early hours of the day.
(4) The sick, though not confined to bed, may take, apart from all temporal restrictions or limitations, non-alcoholic beverages, and true and proper medicines in liquid or solid form, before the celebration of Mass and the reception of Holy Communion.
We earnestly exhort the priests and faithful who are able to do to observe the venerable and time-honored form of the Eucharistic fast before the celebration of Mass and the reception of Holy Communion.
Let all, then, who make use of these faculties compensate for the conferred benefit as best they can by becoming shining examples of a Christian life, especially through their works of penance and charity.
The prescriptions as given in this Motu Proprio begin to bind on March 25, 1957, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Every dispensation whatsoever to the contrary though it appears deserving of special mention, is hereby abrogated.
Given in Rome at St. Peter’s, on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, the Patron of the Universal Church, in the year 1957, the nineteenth of Our Pontificate.
Pius PP. XII
AN HISTORIC DOCUMENT
The Motu Proprio Sacram Communionem which the August Pontiff has deigned to promulgate on the Feast of St. Joseph, Patron of the universal Church, ruling that it shall become effective almost immediately, on the coming March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, without considering the delays of the customary vacatio legis, is a new proof of the paternal solicitude of His Holiness for the spiritual welfare of the faithful.
In fact, the circumstances of the present time the rigorous social demands, the new business methods throughout the world have changed secular customs and traditions among men, who, burdened with labor ever more intense and enervating, “have turned day into night.”
Accordingly, the August Pontiff, with fatherly consideration for the salvation of souls, impeded by so many different forces, not only those of technicism but also those of increasing materialism, has desired with the norms on Masses after midday and on the Eucharistic fast to give the faithful a wider opportunity to assist at the Sacrifice of the Mass and to approach the eucharistic banquet, in order to strengthen in them the life of grace, which is more necessary today than ever before for combat and victory.
And so, the beneficial fruits of the Apostolic Constitution Christus Dominus of January 6, 1953, are now coming to maturity, the Constitution through which the gates were opened to a more extensive opportunity for the faithful to nourish themselves with the Bread of life.
The Bishops and the faithful from every part of the world have not failed to demonstrate their immense gratitude to the Holy Father, who has now been willing to accede to further requests, thus proving how intimate is the accord between Supreme Pastor and the lambs of the universal flock, and how the Church, which is justly severe and unchangeable when there is a question of doctrinal principles, nevertheless knows how to harmonize all its ecclesiastical discipline with the circumstances of the times. Ancient and permanent, the Church renews its youth, always the same and always adapted to all times.
The Motu Proprio Sacram Communionem is so clear that it would not require comments or interpretation.
In the first place, there in no longer any restriction of the days on which Bishops can permit Mass after midday. The only condition required that they may be able to make use of the faculty granted them is that there be a “common good,” as was declared in the Monitum of the Holy Office on March 22, 1955 (AAS, Vol. XLVII, 218). The criterion is given in the phrase “a notable part of the faithful,” which is the same that is used by the Code of Canon Law (Can 806 #2) for the use of the faculty to permit bination.
With the august ruling of the Holy Father, the law of the eucharistic fast, adapted to the demands of the times, is now rendered simple and within the grasp of the mentality of even little children. It is sufficient to abstain for three hours from solid food and from alcoholic beverages and for one hour from non-alcoholic beverages. There is no longer question of morning or of evening, or of the distance to be travelled to get to Church, or of heavy labor or of late hour. There is no longer any obligation to consult a confessor to see if one has the required conditions for the use of the permission. There is no longer any question of a concession which affects this or that category of persons, but of a law which affects all the faithful in every place.
The exhortations given at the end of the Motu Proprio, since they are merely exhortations, allow full liberty to everyone to observe the law or to observe, through devotion or through a spirit of mortification, the complete fast as it formerly prevailed. It will be a matter of desiring to attain greater merit, but no longer of fulfilling an obligation.
The formula with which the confirmation is given to the ruling that water does not break the eucharistic fast (previously the phrase was “natural water”) makes it clear that there is question of every form of water in the ordinary sense of the word, even of mineral water, to which gas had been added for effervescence, or of natural water which has been disinfected or immunized by chemical substances.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note how the paternal goodness of the August Pontiff also on this occasion has been specially solicitous to help the sick. Indeed, when there is question of true and properly so-called medicines, there is no longer concern as to their constituents. Hence, even if they contain alcoholic elements, as long as they remain in the category of those remedies which according to the common sense of the words are qualified as true and proper medicines, they can be taken by the sick without any limitation of time.
Finally, the new pontifical enactment is beneficial to all categories of persons, but more directly it meets the needs of those classes of the faithful who are nearer to the sacrifices of poverty, and of hard labor, and to the difficulties of life. For these persons especially, Mass celebrated after midday is useful, as well as the opportunity of taking solid food three hours before Communion. For it is those less prosperous that are more likely to find themselves bound to certain requirements of time, which, without the concessions now granted, would prevent them from receiving Holy Communion and assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Pope, like Jesus when He distributed the bread, multiplied to symbolize the Eucharist, feels that paternal instinct which impelled the Divine Master to say: “I have compassion on the multitude.”
Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani
1. The Motu Proprio, Sacram Communionem of Pope Pius XII, was taken from the English translation provided in American Ecclesiastical Review, June 1957, pages 421-423. The same issue also provides the full Latin text for those wishing to read the Latin original text.
2. An Historic Document, the commentary of Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, on the Motu Proprio, Sacram Communionem of Pope Pius XII, was translated by Father Connell, C.SS.R., from the original article in the Osservatore Romano, March 23, 1957. It was published in the American Ecclesiastical Review, June 1957, pages 361-363.