Fasting from the Eucharist?

Jesus ate with sinners. That’s always been amazing to me. In some ways it’s the heart of the Gospel:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7–8, ESV).

I was struck by St. Augustine’s imitation of Jesus in the last days of his life:

As the then Cardinal Ratzinger tells the story,

“When Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving Communion.”[1]


What a gesture! I wonder if that message would come across today. Think about it: your bishop comes to Mass this Sunday and sits in the pews, toward the back. When it’s time for receiving Holy Communion, he stays in his pew and doesn’t receive! When asked, he says he’s trying to show solidarity with those who are divorced and remarried who come to Mass, but can’t receive Holy Communion.

Something like that would probably fall on deaf ears, but it would be striking to me.

Ratzinger thinks that Augustine’s gesture is,

“in a really marvelous way…quite shocking. It seems to me more profound and fitting, the more often I ponder it. Do we not often take things too lightly today when we receive the most Holy Sacrament? Could such a spiritual fasting not sometimes be useful, or even necessary, to renew and establish more deeply our relation to the Body of Christ?”[2]


[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion (ed. Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnür; trans. Henry Taylor; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 86.

[2] Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion, 86.

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