Adolf Goldwyn gives us a clear and concise understanding of what Spiritual Communion actually is and how we can prepare ourselves to receive it worthily.
No one could have imagined even a couple of months ago that we would have to live our lives as Catholics without access to our parish church and without the sacraments. And yet, here we are grappling with this dreaded virus and finding new ways to live out our faith during these testing times. Even in the midst of all this suffering and chaos, the Church through live telematic broadcasts has ensured that we have the possibility of participating in the Holy Mass online, listen to the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi address as well as receive the apostolic blessing and be able to adore the Eucharistic Lord online. Many dioceses have reported a manifold increase in participation during daily Masses and other spiritual practices.
While this large online attendance has been an incredibly positive sign, we must also keep in mind Pope Francis’ words that “this is not the Church”. It is dangerous, he said, because people could start living their relationship with God “for just myself, detached from the people of God.” I’m sure all of us are looking forward to the time when we can get back to our parishes and sit in those pews along with our fellow parishioners participating in Mass and reciting the prayers together, being able to receive sacramental absolution for our sins, and going back to our prayer meetings and fellowships. I pray that those days may soon be upon us.
One of the phrases we hear quite often during this time of online Masses is ‘making an act of Spiritual Communion’. I had honestly not given this enough thought in the past, although I now realize how important it really is and how integral it is to the way we should be practicing our faith. In this article, I try to answer some of the questions we may have about Spiritual Communion.
St. Thomas Aquinas explains Spiritual Communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Holy Sacrament and a loving embrace as though we had already received Him“. Many saints have written about the multifold benefits of Spiritual Communion. St. Teresa of Avila writes, “When you do not receive Communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a Spiritual Communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it, the love of God will be greatly impressed on you“. Or as St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, “What a source of grace there is in Spiritual Communion! Practice it frequently and you’ll have more presence of God and closer union with Him in your life.“ It is this passionate desire for God, which is at the heart of Spiritual Communion. Spiritual Communion is not something we must practice only during the Holy Mass but frequently, even ‘hundreds of times a day’.
Sacramental Communion and Spiritual Communion
St. Augustine talked about two sets of people, receiving the Eucharist; Sacramental –in which the good and bad eat of it, and Spiritual –in which only the good eat. Many times in the past I have been guilty of receiving the Eucharistic Lord even though I was not disposed to receive Him. That is when I became an example of what St. Augustine talked about the ‘bad’ receiving Sacramentally.
The Council of Trent (Session XIII, Ch.8) taught a threefold manner of receiving communion; Sacramentally, Spiritually and the third who receive both Sacramentally and Spiritually.
Sacramentally – “Such are those sinners who do not fear to approach the holy mysteries with polluted lips and heart, who as the Apostle says, eat and drink judgement upon themselves”
Spiritually – “they are those, who inflamed with a lively faith which works by charity, partake in wish and desire of that celestial bread offered to them, from which they receive, if not the entire, at least very great fruits”
Sacramentally and Spiritually – “they are those who having proved themselves, and having approached this divine banquet with the nuptial garment, derive from the Eucharist the most abundant fruits”
Fr. Paul Keller OP in his article, Is Spiritual Communion for everyone? writes “The person who makes a Spiritual Communion should also make a Sacramental Communion if he or she is properly disposed. However, it cannot be the case that someone who is not properly disposed to make a Sacramental Communion could be thought to be able to make a Spiritual Communion, no matter the circumstances.”
What we can thus infer from the above is that the graces of Sacramental Communion can be received only if we also make a Spiritual Communion. These two acts go together!
How do I receive the ‘great fruits’ of Spiritual Communion in these times?
When we are rightly disposed to receive Holy Communion! That is:
- when we are in a state of grace
- we are not conscious of any mortal sin which we have committed and for which we have not yet been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance
- we are desirous of receiving our Lord in Holy Communion but are unable to do so, as at these times
That is when we unite ourselves spiritually with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, praying to our Eucharistic Lord in the words of Saint Alphonsus Liguori: “Since I am unable now to receive Thee Sacramentally, come at least Spiritually into my heart.”
But what if I have committed a mortal sin and do not have access to the Sacrament of Penance? Should I suffer the loss of not being able to make a Spiritual Communion until the Sacrament is available once again? No! The Catholic Church through the merits of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ has given us a way out even when we are not able to go to confession amid this pandemic. We can still make an act of Spiritual Communion if we have perfect contrition!
Perfect Contrition is the sorrow for one’s sins based on the selfless motive of love of God and sorrow for having offended Him. This form of contrition has the power to obtain forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to Sacramental confession as soon as possible (CCC. 1452). Thus, an act of perfect contrition disposes our soul for Spiritual Communion. This is opposed to Imperfect Contrition or Attrition, which is a contrition of fear and can only be absolved through Sacramental confession.
4 steps of Spiritual Communion
After we are truly sorry for our sins, we are better disposed to make an act of Spiritual Communion using the following 4 steps:
- Make an act of Faith – make a prayer expressing our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist
- Make an act of love – make a prayer thanking God for His infinite love for us and expressing my love for Him
- Express your desire to receive Him – Spiritually since I am not able to receive Him Sacramentally
- Invite Jesus to come into your heart – with a humble and contrite heart, implore the presence of Christ in us just as we would if we had the opportunity to receive Him Sacramentally
All these 4 elements are present in the Act of Spiritual Communion prayer that St. Alphonsus Liguori gave us and which we repeat while seeing Mass online. If we do not remember this prayer, we can always say the simple but faith-filled prayer that the centurion made: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Spiritual Communion thus has the power to fill our lives with great fruits and graces when we are truly prepared. I pray that this time of being deprived of the Sacraments may bring us to a deeper thirst and longing so that when this pandemic is finally over, we may be able to receive the Sacraments with renewed love and devotion.
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