Q. 1. Canon Law # 919 §1 states "Whoever is to receive the blessed Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from all food and drink, with the sole exception of water and medicine." And Canon Law # 919 §3 states "The elderly and those who are suffering from some illness, as well as those who care for them, may receive the blessed Eucharist even if within the preceding hour they have consumed something."
But nowhere does the Canon Law state the age of the "elderly" when a person can stop fasting before receiving Holy Communion.
I noticed while searching on the internet that some priests who address this issue, they say age "60." While doing so, none of them indicate where their answer is coming from. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Canon Laws do not address the matter of a specific age.
Can you enlighten us on this matter?
A. 1. That is a very good question. Obviously, there must be a very good reason why the Catholic Church did not stipulate an age as to when an elderly person can stop fasting. Common sense states that there are a number of valid reasons why the Church did not stipulate an age. They are:
Each country has its own age of retirement. Some countries consider age 65 as being the age of retirement, such being synonym to being a senior or an elder. Yet, some cultures consider the older persons among their people (tribes) to be the elders. Some of these could be 50 years old. These two examples are sufficient to support the fact that the definition of "elderly" is not universal.
Fasting strengthens the mind. In the Pope's Lenten Message of February 3, 2009, we read that "One very important spiritual benefit of fasting, the Pope says, is that it can "open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live." Those who fast gain a greater appreciation for those who live constantly in hunger, he says. "By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger."
If the Church was to say that everyone can stop fasting at a certain age, then it would be saying that Catholics no longer need the spiritual benefit of fasting when they reach a certain age. Such is not true!
As people age, there are circumstances that present themselves that make it impossible for the elderly to fast prior to receiving Holy Communion. Poor health may obligate them to eat. A sudden feeling of dizziness from not having eaten for some time. In the hospital, snacks or meals may be served just before the hour when the Holy Mass will be celebrated at the Chapel. An elderly person who is forgetful might eat something without realizing that the Holy Mass will begin shortly. In this instance, the full hour requirement of fasting will not be met.
As can be appreciated, some people have good health much longer in life than others. And because of this, they do not find it so difficult to fast prior to receiving Holy Communion. While there are some who can no longer fast after age 65, there are others who can still fast at age 85. So who is to say that one should stop fasting at age 60 or 65 if a person can fast well past age 85 and continue to receive the spiritual benefits from such a practice?
For these reasons, I can understand why the Catholic Church has not stated an age. There is no age in life when a person suddenly says, "I no longer have to practice my Catholic faith because I did it all my life!" Or, "I no longer have to go to Church on Sunday because I reached age 60!" Or as some have said, "Having reached age 70, I can now live common-law because at my age, we no longer sin!"
In conclusion, unless there is a valid reason why a person should no longer be fasting, than that person should continue to fast until such time as he/she can no longer fast because of age.
Note: There are some who hope that they have reached the "elderly age" so they can now drink coffee on the way to Church. Such is a very poor attitude to have. If one needs to drink on the way to Church, that person can drink water, making a sacrifice of the desire to have coffee.