Mailbag: For Married Catholics, there is ANOTHER Eucharistic Fast. Yep. Married Catholics are to abstain from the Conjugal Embrace for three days prior to making a Sacramental Communion

This is a “make the interwebz go explody” kind of a post. I know a lot of people are not going to like this, but it is what it is.

I think the thing to remember here is the fact that the lay faithful did NOT receive Holy Communion daily until relatively recently. In fact, it was Pope St. Pius X who opened up the possibility of daily/frequent reception in ARSH 1905 in the document Sacra Tridentina. Before then, many Catholics made a Sacramental Communion at Eastertide (as is required), and then perhaps a few other times per year at a Major Feast, or perhaps on their “name day” – the feast of the saint they were named after, and usually with permission from their confessor or spiritual director. I just want to reiterate to the modern lay faithful: people did NOT go to Holy Communion every time they went to Mass as almost all practicing Catholics – Novus Ordo AND Trads and Byzantine Catholics – today do. So as you read the following, you HAVE to keep this in mind.

Hello Miss Barnhardt,

I hope this finds you well. I read your blog almost every day, and I must say that I was very inspired by the first discussion on the Eucharistic Fast that you started a while ago. This post is again very timely, and I also wanted to bring to your attention a point that I myself was unaware of until this year (and I am celebrating my 30th wedding anniversary this year). In the Roman Catechism (of the Council of Trent), in the section touching on the Eucharist, it specifically states that married couples must abstain from the marital embrace at least a few days (3) before the reception of Holy Communion. I was gobsmacked, to say the least. Think of the sheer number of Catholics who are unaware of this necessary preparation for the reception of the Blessed Sacrament. Just think how we can approach the Sacrament more worthily if we keep this command in mind, although it has been obscured and forgotten, just like the midnight fast.

Here is a link to a well-researched article.

I think that you are in a position to help a lot of people in your audience by sharing this news. It is a very beautiful teaching.

God bless,


I’d encourage everyone to click over and read the whole document, and even print it off. I’ll put the key citations below. And I would like to request that if you read this and it makes you angry, PLEASE don’t email me because I really don’t want to have discussions with people about their sex lives. The only person you should EVER discuss your sex life with is your spouse, and if absolutely necessary a good priest, or with a doctor IF NECESSARY.

I’ll present the information, and then it is up to you to ponder it in your own heart, discuss it with your spouse OF COURSE, and discuss it with a good and holy priest. I can also tell you right now that you could walk into ANY Novus Ordo parish, go into the confessional, bring this up, and the priest will tell you, “Oh, NO. The Church doesn’t require that anymore….” In fact, I think many Trad priests would be taken aback by the question and probably say something non-committal. So “priest-shopping” on this question would be EXTREMELY easy to do. Obviously, I don’t think “priest-shopping” is a good idea in this or any other context.

So here we go. A few pull quotes and citations from “Abstinence from Conjugal Relations Before Reception of the Body of Christ: A Brief History” by Daniel G. Van Slyke:

This study addresses a traditional Christian ascetical and liturgical practice that has been largely obscured or forgotten in recent times—the custom of abstaining from sexual intercourse for a period of some days preceding the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ in Eucharistic Communion. This study focuses on abstinence from the conjugal act as a means of preparing for reception of Communion by married Christians who possess the moral and physical ability to lawfully engage in sexual intercourse.


To some it will seem quaint, outdated, or perhaps unbelievable that married Christians ever practiced sexual abstinence as a means of preparation for the reception of Communion. Certainly this is a topic that few clergy in the early twenty-first century would broach in a pastoral setting. The hesitation among clergy may stem in part from the influence of Karl Rahner over their seminary studies….


If silence on the topic may be considered evidence, the sig- nificance of pre-Communion sexual abstinence among the faithful has waned. Any suggestion that sex should be subjugated to other goods is likely to be received with little sympathy. But the subjugation of sex—a created good, but a material and passing good—to eternal goods has been ensconced in the Christian tradition from its inception, in part as an inheritance from ancient Hebrew practices. Ascetical practices bear witness to the preference of mind and heart that Christians should give to the Creator over any created good.


Thomas Aquinas summarizes what many ancient Hebrews as well as ancient Christians understood almost intuitively: “Just as certain places are holy because they are devoted to holy things, so are certain times holy for the same reason. But it is not lawful to demand the [conjugal] debt in a holy place. Therefore neither is it lawful at a holy time.”14
This attitude towards conjugal relations reappears in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians, Paul admonishes spouses: “Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a sea- son, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control” (1 Cor 7:5). This passage provides scriptural support for sexual abstinence for the sake of prayer in general and for participation in the sacraments in particular.


Vauchez observes that advocacy of periodic abstinence became official and widespread during the Middle Ages if it was not already. One prominent example is found at the end of the rites of the nuptial Mass in the Missale Romanum revised after the Council of Trent. There the priest is instructed to advise the newlywed couple that they should remain continent in times of prayer and especially during fasts and solemnities. These times of prayer above all include occasions on which the couple might receive Communion. The Roman Catechism composed following the Council of Trent clearly states this in the section devoted to “preparation of the body” for receiving:

“The dignity of so great a Sacrament also demands that married persons abstain from the marriage debt for some days previous to Communion. This observance is recommended by the example of David, who, when about to receive the showbread from the hands of the priest, declared that he and his servants had been clean from women for three days.”


The same recommendation is found again in the Roman Catechism (Trent) at the end of the section on matrimony:

“But as every blessing is to be obtained from God by holy prayer, the faithful are also to be taught sometimes to abstain from the marriage debt, in order to devote themselves to prayer. Let the faithful understand that (this religious continence), according to the proper and holy injunction of our predecessors, is particularly to be observed for at least three days before Communion, and oftener during the solemn fast of Lent.”


This survey outlines a tradition of abstaining from conjugal relations in preparation for encounters with the divine and espe- cially for reception of the Body of Christ in Communion from Mount Sinai to the Roman Catechism of the sixteenth century. In more recent times, this tradition has fallen into obscurity and disuse among the faithful. Nonetheless, no teaching authority has rejected the longstanding practice of pre-Communion abstinence from conjugal relations and it remains proper to the general ab- stinence and penance encouraged by Pope Paul VI in Paenitemini and Pope John Paul II in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia. Although the practice may not have pertained to all Christians at all places and times, an initial outline of the evidence suggests that the practice of pre-Communion sexual abstinence was widespread and signifi- cant enough to the lives of the married faithful that it deserves more serious attention than it presently receives.

Again, I STRONGLY suggest reading and even printing off the whole paper – it is very clearly written and a fascinating read. I hope that this will help people to stop, remember and contemplate just exactly how big of a deal it is to make a Sacramental Communion.



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