For most reading this, you have been a victim of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Your Masses have been canceled, Good Friday Lenten observances, Stations of the Cross, and….well….the Knights of Columbus Fish Fry have all been canceled. Life as we know it has been turned upside down, shaken, and left on its side. It is during these times we must remember the truth of spiritual communion. It is in spiritual communion, just as in receiving the Eucharist physically, that we will maintain our strength to endure.
What is spiritual communion? In my opinion, it is an often neglected aspect of our faith that was important to many of the saints and that should be taught more in our parishes and catechism classes. Perhaps the best definition of spiritual communion comes from Saint Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas Aquinas taught about the forms of communion, including spiritual communion, in his Summa Theologiae III when he said it is “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most holy sacrament and lovingly embrace him”. Spiritual communion is your desire to receive communion when you are prevented from doing so, such as in the cases of mortal sin, not having received your first communion yet, or canceled Masses.
Let’s not be discouraged or receive a false impression. Mass is still being held around the world and the Holy Sacrifice at the Altar is still taking place worldwide. It is just not being held in public with large congregations. The absence of a parish full of parishioners does not make the Mass any less effective than if it were full. The Mass is the Mass. Spiritual communion, in fact, can instill just as many graces and impact on you and your soul as if you received the Eucharist physically.
Pope John Paul II encouraged spiritual communion in his encyclical titled “Ecclesia de Eucharistia”. He said spiritual communion “has been a wonderful part of Catholic life for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of their spiritual life.” He continues on in his encyclical and says, “In the Eucharist, unlike any other sacrament, the mystery (of communion) is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: Here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because he we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union.’ Precisely for this reason it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was the origin of the practice of ‘spiritual communion’, which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life.”
Spiritual communion is your access to communion during these unusual times. It is your way to receive the graces of the Eucharist by uniting yourself to the sacrifice around the world. Perhaps, because of the absence of being able to attend Mass, we will grow and even greater desire and appreciation for receiving the host physically when we are once again able to do so. Let your desire for the Eucharist increase with each passing moment and let it be reflected in your spiritual communion.
How do I do spiritual communion? There is no set, official, way to have spiritual communion. However, there is a recommended prayer that you can pray whenever you feel the desire to want communion:
“My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen”
Does it really matter? YES! Many may say that spiritual communion is not as effect or important as physically receiving the Eucharist, but I disagree, and so does Church teaching. In 1983, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that the effects of Holy Communion can be received through spiritual communion. Fr. Stefano Manelli, O.F.M. Conv. S.T.D. wrote in his book “Jesus our Eucharistic Love” that “spiritual communion, as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori teach, produces effects similar to Sacramental Communion, according to the dispositions with which it is made, the greater or less earnestness with which Jesus is desired, and the greater or less love with which Jesus is welcomed and given due attention.”
The advantages of spiritual communion is that it can be made as often as you would like, even when you are able to return to Mass you can still make spiritual communion every day when you are unable to attend daily Mass and multiple times throughout a given day.
I believe it is only appropriate to end with St. Jean-Marie Vianney. St. Jean-Marie said, which referencing spiritual communion, “when we cannot go to the church, let us turn towards the tabernacle; no wall can shut us out from the good God.”
Dear brothers and sisters, there is no virus, no closed parishes, no canceled Masses, and no restrictions that can keep you from God. It is through being forced to utilize spiritual communion, as opposed to physical communion, that we unit ourselves more often to the sacrifice and to Christ as we were before the virus hit. Let spiritual communion feed your soul and your life. It is up to you to receive communion more during this time, not less, despite canceled Masses. Spiritual communion is always available 24 hours a day – even during a pandemic. So go ahead and make this the best Lent ever: commune with God more, read more, pray more, and let your faith grow while graces flow.