20 October 2006

An anonymous letter

Today I received what is, I believe, my first anonymous letter. The Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael coincided this year with what is known as “Dawg Days” at our high school. As part of the festivities, the students attend Mass and are given the afternoon free for games and contests.

This year, for one reason or another, it was not possible to celebrate Mass followed by lunch. I cannot now recall the reason, but circumstances necessitated that we eat first and then celebrate Mass, which was then followed by the games (which include a mud pit and tug-of-war match).

The anonymous letter I received reads as follows:

Dear Father Darren [sic],
I am writing this letter about Freshman and Senior day. It is my concern if these kids had a [sic] enough time between eating their lunch and recieving [sic] the Eucharist. Please check into this.

Let me first say that I do not appreciate the insinuation that I will not take their concern seriously, nor do I appreciate the author’s lack of trust. The anonymity of the letter seems to presume an ill intent on my part.

To answer the author’s concern, the Code of Canon Law states: “A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine” (canon 919 § 1). A further exception is given for “the elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them” (canon 919 § 3).

If this were the last word, I would indeed have acted inappropriately by offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass so soon after lunch. However, the law itself allows priests to dispense from the law in certain instances. Canon 89 states, “A pastor and other presbyters or deacons are not able to dispense from universal and particular law unless this power has been granted to them.”

Canon 919 itself does not grant me this permission, but the Diocesan Bishop has granted it. All priests in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois have been granted the faculty “to dispense the faithful from the Eucharistic fast in individual cases and for a proportionate reason” (Faculties and Permissions for Priests, 6).

On the day in question, many of the students would have been able to observe the fast because some were able to receive their food more quickly than others. Mass also started later than expected because of a few technical difficulties. Those who did not have the required fast, I dispensed from the Eucharistic fast, as I believe I stated day.

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