Some time ago, as I was talking to one of the Russian Orthodox clergy here in Oxford, I was interested to hear that the Orthodox, when, during Lent, they receive Holy Communion at an evening Liturgy of the Presanctified, are only nowadays expected to fast from midday (I hope I've got that right). It brought home to me that it is not only the West which, since the time of Pius XII, has felt that a discipline of fasting (which was apparently manageable to a European peasantry that toiled all day beneath the sun at their subsistence agriculture) is too much for our own soft culture.
But enough of grumps. I want to advance the notion that a Hermeneutic of Continuity might incline us to reconsider our practice of the Eucharistic Fast; which Pius XII first reduced to three hours and then Blessed Paul VI reduced to one hour. And that is one hour before the time of Communion, not one hour before the beginning of Mass. And recent legislation has permitted binating clergy on Sundays to snack between Masses even if that cuts into the one hour. To all intents and purposes, the Fast has been abolished.
When I retired to Devon at the age of sixty, I found myself not infrequently saying three Masses on Sunday morning (trinating! I took it that unreprobated custom and pastoral necessity justified this rather iffy practice). I continued my habit of fasting until after the third Mass ... which meant until about 12.30. And I am one whom gluttony has rendered self-indulgent and unfit. I'm not boasting when I say that I never had any problem with it. And, in conversation once with the Syrian Orthodox who came to celebrate their Liturgy in S Thomas's, I discovered that they fasted from supper-time the evening beforehand: as, of course, did their priest: who had just driven from Croydon to celebrate a Liturgy that lasted from 12.00 until after 2.00. It can be done.
I'm not going to rant about the effective reduction of the Eucharistic Fast from a rigid rule to an option, however horrified our Tractarian Fathers would have been by this. I would never write anything to make others feel guilty or to discourage others from going to Mass and receiving the Lord's Body and Blood. But I wonder if we ought to be doing more to move towards a more Traditional and Patristic habit in this matter.
My own practice is: when I am de facto observing the old convention that Mass be celebrated between Dawn and Midday, I observe the old (Western) rule of fasting from the previous midnight. When I am being modern and saying Mass after Midday, I keep B Paul VI's modern rule of a one-hour fast. Is this really so desperately impossible or absurdly illogical?
For what it's worth, Pius XII did urge all those capable of doing so to observe the old rule. And I have heard rumours that, before legislating, he sought confirmation that it was within his power so to legislate. Among Anglo-Catholics, who had spent decades arguing for the Apostolic importance of the Eucharistic Fast, there was consternation. I have been told that the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament asked my erudite predecessor, Dr Trevor Jalland, to explain what was going on.