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Joseph Ratzinger on fasting from the Eucharist

“A fasting of this kind—and of course it would have to be open to the Church’s guidance and not arbitrary—could lead to a deepening of personal relationship with the Lord in the sacrament,” Ratzinger wrote in Behold the Pierced One.

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In Behold the Pierced One (pp.97-98), Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) wrote:

“When Augustine sensed his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and undertook public penance. In his last days he manifested his solidarity with the public sinners who seek for pardon and grace through the renunciation of communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in the humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for him who is the Righteous and Merciful One. Against the background of his sermons and writings, which are a magnificent portrayal of the mystery of the Church as communion with the Body of Christ, and as the Body of Christ itself, built up by the Eucharist, this is a profoundly arresting gesture. The more I think of it, the more it moves me to reflection. Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?

“The ancient Church had a highly expressive practice of this kind. Since apostolic times, no doubt, the fast from the Eucharist on Good Friday was a part of the Church’s spirituality of communion. This renunciation of communion on one of the most sacred days of the Church’s year was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Lord’s Passion; it was the Bride’s mourning for the lost Bridegroom (cf. Mk 2:20). Today too, I think, fasting from the Eucharist, really taken seriously and entered into, could be most meaningful on carefully considered occasions, such as days of penance—and why not reintroduce the practice on Good Friday? It would be particularly appropriate at Masses where there is a vast congregation, making it impossible to provide for a dignified distribution of the sacrament; in such cases the renunciation of the sacrament could in fact express more reverence and love than a reception which does not do justice to the immense significance of what is taking place.

“A fasting of this kind—and of course it would have to be open to the Church’s guidance and not arbitrary—could lead to a deepening of personal relationship with the Lord in the sacrament. It could also be an act of solidarity with all those who yearn for the sacrament but cannot receive it. It seems to me that the problem of the divorced and remarried, as well as that of intercommunion (e.g., in mixed marriages), would be far less acute against the background of voluntary spiritual fasting, which would visibly express the fact that we all need that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord performed in the ultimate loneliness of the Cross. Naturally, I am not suggesting a return to a kind of Jansenism: fasting presupposes normal eating, both in spiritual and biological life. But from time to time we do need a medicine to stop us from falling into mere routine which lacks all spiritual dimension. Sometimes we need hunger, physical and spiritual hunger, if we are to come fresh to the Lord’s gifts and understand the suffering of our hungering brothers. Both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love.”

And, in his 2007 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI offered this beautiful reflection on the relationship between the Eucharist, suffering, and compassion:

“The bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). In these words the Lord reveals the true meaning of the gift of his life for all people. These words also reveal his deep compassion for every man and woman. The Gospels frequently speak of Jesus’ feelings towards others, especially the suffering and sinners (cf. Mt 20:34; Mk 6:34; Lk 19:41). Through a profoundly human sensibility he expresses God’s saving will for all people – that they may have true life. Each celebration of the Eucharist makes sacramentally present the gift that the crucified Lord made of his life, for us and for the whole world. In the Eucharist Jesus also makes us witnesses of God’s compassion towards all our brothers and sisters. The eucharistic mystery thus gives rise to a service of charity towards neighbour, which “consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, affecting even my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ.” (240) In all those I meet, I recognize brothers or sisters for whom the Lord gave his life, loving them “to the end” (Jn 13:1). Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become “bread that is broken” for others, and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world. Keeping in mind the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, we need to realize that Christ continues today to exhort his disciples to become personally engaged: “You yourselves, give them something to eat” (Mt 14:16). Each of us is truly called, together with Jesus, to be bread broken for the life of the world. (par. 88)”

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    • Voluntary in this case. Imposed, circumstances would vary depending upon situation. For example, the Pope Emeritus reflection could apply for those who cannot receive due to church closings (current pandemic), political/regional (Syria/terrorism), military deployment (Catholic Chaplain visits once every few weeks). Other circumstance: excommunication or mortal sin. Imposed one cannot receive communion. From there, the practice mentioned could be applied if one is working to amend one’s life.

    • What about imposed as – Forbidden by the Bishop to receive on the tongue but not in the hand. I refuse to desecrate my Lord by receiving him in my unconsecrated hands and offer my longing to receive Him physically in retribution for all the sacreligious desecration,indifference and blasphemies perpetrated against Him. Since we must receive Him at least once per year, would I be in sin if I did not? Already, it has been 9 months.

      • Evelyn, please reconsider reception. We are never worthy. We are always needy.
        The Eucharistic Christ is the exact Jesus, Divine and Man, that stood before the Apostles. The difference is the accidental appearance. The Eucharistic Christ is the Summit of the Church. You are the church. We in our unworthiness contribute nothing to our reception other than proclaiming our belief and faith in the divine presence. It is Christ who contributes to our neediness, unworthiness and nothingness inreception. His justice and Mercy permits us to receive him daily as much as possible in our great need for the thousands of gifts available in reception. He desires that you drink of His precious blood to grow your love of Him. He desires that you eat his holy body to receive more wisdom and understanding at each occasion of reception. You are robbing yourself divine gifts. He desires that you drink of His precious blood to grow your love of Him. He desires that you eat his holy body to receive more wisdom and understanding at each occasion of reception. You are robbing yourself of divine gifts for the soul.
        He desires that you eat his holy body to receive more wisdom and understanding at each occasion of reception. You are robbing yourself divine gifts. Do not deny the resource of salvation. Do not deny the resource for sanctity. Each reception dedicate to the glory of our Father.

    • During our annual retreat, when all the priests concelebrate, while i participate as an attendee, i intentionally refrain from concelebrating and receiving communion, until after the penitential celebration where we go for confession on the 4th day. To deprive myself from time to time of the Eucharist, as i reflect on my sinfulness and sins, on God’s love and mercy, has made me long for Him more and the reception of Him, richer and more meaningful.

      • Receiving the Eucharist only in the state of grace through the sacrament of Reconciliation was the accepted protocol throughout the church and was emphatically practiced before Vatican II. You didn’t receive if you hadn’t been to confession. It was self denial in honor of the understanding of the transubstantiation. Often you had to climb over numerous persons in the pews to line up for Communion. The reverse is the norm. So I understand Augustine’s point. Denial of anything only enhances the want of it. Maybe we can get back to the legitimate want of the Body and Blood of Christ.

    • I’m in agreement with your statement! The Saints who preached about receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist all urged us to receive this Sacrament as frequently as we were able to!

      • Apparently, Saint Augustine disagrees with you about “taking Communion” as frequently as possible. It is undeniable that most Catholics today “take Communion” very lightly – they rarely go to Confession, so are likely in a state of mortal sin, and they are ignorant of the true nature of the Blessed Sacrament.

  1. Greetings! I am a presbyterian pastor and I appreciate the spirit of this article very much. A few days ago I wrote the following in a pastoral letter for my Session and congregation upon our (heartbreaking) decision to suspend services in response to the Covid-19 pandemic:

    “Fourth, we want to encourage everyone to exercise the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer until we come together and partake of the body and blood of Christ anew. We are not asking anyone to fast daily, although you are free in Christ to do so if you wish. We are asking everyone to fast from the Lord’s Supper during this season of exile and home-bound worship.* Jesus laid down a principle of fasting that might apply at this time: sometimes fasting is necessary, sometimes it is not. It is not necessary in times of joy, it is necessary in times of sorrow (Mark 2:19-20). On the night he was betrayed, Jesus embodied this principle of fasting from communion in a time of sorrow as he entered into his passion (Mark 14:24-26). Since, in God’s providence, we have been led into a penitential exile and are hindered from gathering together for now, it seems fitting that some form of fasting is necessary during these sorrowful times until we come together again (Isaiah 58:6-12).”

    Peace be with you all

    • Wonderful thoughts and reflections. Your people are very blessed by God to have you as their pastor. I pray for you and them that one day we may be one in faith, doctrine and love in the Lord Jesus Christ and thus united in His one Church our His altar to celebrate together the Sacrament of his great love for us. In Christ’s peace, Joseph

    • While I do not question your sincere love for Jesus – I am curious if you are aware that The Catholic Church holds that your communion services are NOT approved or sanctioned by the Church. Not only are they not approved, but they are also schismatic and therefore displeasing to the Lord (as the Church Fathers have taught since early Christianity) because they are a source of division rather than unity (we cannot receive your communion, nor you ours because of schism and difference of belief about many core doctrines, particularly in this case because of a lack of submission to the primacy of the See of Peter and Apostolic Succession) I realize it may not be intentional on your part, but to Catholics, the separated brethren of ours (protestants, etc.) are actually insulting/wounding Christ and His Bride by taking upon themselves what only the Church – through Jesus – has the authority to provide. Only those Churches in full communion with Rome have the legitimate authority (through Apostolic Succession and the sacrament of the priesthood) to carry out this sacrament, which is effected by Christ himself through His priests via the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into His actual body, blood, soul, and divinity. What is worse, because, so many different Christians outside the Church believe so many different things about the Eucharist – it is tantamount to heresy and extremely deadly to the soul to persist in dissenting beliefs intentionally. It is through Christ himself that this authority was granted to His Church and no amount of human effort or intense and sincere desire can produce the Blessed Sacrament outside the One, Apostalic, Catholic, Church. I pray for you and all those that are with you that use this time of quarantine to study the Church Fathers and Councils of the Church and cooperate with God’s grace in understanding this matter. But, keep up the prayer and regular fasting that is always good advice! God Bless you.

      • Apostolic Christians and Protestants share Baptism. We do not know what happens upon the soul departing the body. We have a God of love and mercy, do we really know His ways? The Reformation was fueled by political struggle and sadly the Universal Catholic Church was a target. I love my Protestant brothers! So does God

    • I would recommend picking up “Confession of a Roman Catholic” by Paul Whitcomb (1958) Tan Publishing. He was a protestant paster of several denominations before converting to RC. It is his personal story in the form of a small booklet (53 pages) that details his journey into the Church and how his protestant faith eventually led him and his entire immediate and extended family into RC. You can pick it up on amazon for $3.00 here:

    • Sir Only the Catholic and Orthodox Priests have the sacrament of Holy Orders which by grace gives them the God given power to confect the actual Body , blood , soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist. Not a symbol but the real deal. I know you know this . Wishful thinking on your part will not make your attempts the real presence of Jesus.

  2. COVD, or the Church response to the crisis in so many places, as already imposed the fast, and extended our Good Friday–and Holy Saturday– of desolation. Let us intentionally offer what we cannot help for the catechumens, who hunger and thirst, and don’t know when they will be satisfied.

  3. “Let us pray, as you did at the end of your letter, that the Lord comes to the rescue of His Church. I bless with MY apostolic blessing,”


    Benedict XVI

    Dear Holy Father, why not do The Consecration of Russia to Our Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Heart, exactly as Our Blessed Mother requested?

    • Consecration of Russia? Russia was a Christian country long before some “Christian” countries in Europe heard of the Faith.
      Even during the Communist days the government was atheist but not many of the people, hence over 4 million martyrs for Christ in the those times. Fatima is a private revelation approved by the Church but not imposed on the faithful. The consecration is not magic as many seem to believe.
      Better to consecrate America we are just as sinful as Russia. Worry about our own country before imposing your beliefs on other Christians. Plank in the eye???

  4. For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles. ”

    “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion”, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost; For It Is “Through Christ, With Christ, And In Christ, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost (Filioque), That Holy Mother Church, Outside Of Which, There Is No Salvation, Due To The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Exists.

  5. It is difficult not to wonder, prayerfully, if God has not seen fit to stop the overwhelming numbers of sacrilegious Communions by withholding Himself from us during this plague. We blithely, often unthinkingly, saunter up to receive His Body and Blood without 1. preparing our mind and heart, 2. realizing Who it is we are privileged to receive and 3. take little to no time to thank Him afterward. Maybe we will prepare better and thank Him humbly and gratefully in the future, should He spare us and allow us to do so in the future.

    • Why not worry about our own spiritual state when receiving Holy Communion instead of worrying about others.
      God will judge those who receive unworthily. It is His Son’s Body and Blood not yours. Thankfully and prayerfully I ponder and am thankful you are not God. Wow, such hubris. The faithful deserve and have the right according to the Church to receive the Sacred Food of the Holy Eucharist. Worry about your own worthiness. We priests don’t make these judgements except in the cases of notorious public sin, why should you?

  6. I think it is embracing the abandonment Jesus experiences on the cross that Augustine thought to offer prayers in solidarity for those not taking Eucharistic. A heart humbled and contrite you will not spurn.

  7. We must be very careful to discern God’s will in the matter of abstaining, even temporarily, from receiving the Eucharist. We are here to do God’s will, and should not forget this.
    Is it God’s will that those in a state of grace abstain from receiving Him? We need to be sure of this before imposing it on ourselves. Certainly the default position is to receive Him, and the burden of achieving certainty as to the contrary is on those proposing the contrary.

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