It sometimes happens in life that we have a great desire to receive the Eucharist but for whatever reason we cannot receive it. Such situations might include a severe illness, an imprisonment, a failure to properly prepare for holy Communion, or the unavailability of the holy Mass, or the current situation with Masses closed to the public due to the coronavirus. Some of these situations are occasional and others longstanding. If we find ourselves in such a situation, what are we to do?
In his encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St. Pope John Paul II praised the practice of making a spiritual communion, which, he says, “has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters in the spiritual life.” He quotes St. Teresa of Jesus, who wrote, “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.”
Centuries before St. Teresa, St. Augustine of Hippo said, “Believe, and you have eaten already” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 25.12). At the heart of these words lies the reality that, as St. Pope John Paul II says:
“The celebration of the Eucharist … cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. The sacrament is an expression of this bond of communion both in its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church’s hierarchical order (Ecclessia de Eucharistia).”
It is through both of these dimensions — the invisible and the visible — that we are brought into communion with the Lord Jesus. It is for this reason that Pope Benedict XVI said that in those situations in which the reception of the Eucharist is not possible that “it is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion (Sacramentum Caritatis).”
When a Catholic desires this full union with the Lord but cannot receive his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, he or she can ask Jesus for the grace of a spiritual communion by which the same graces are received as when holy Communion is received. There are many ways to the Lord for this union and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki has asked us to do so through this Act of Spiritual 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 to You. Never permit me be separated from You.”
In these days in which we cannot gather together at the altar to receive the Eucharist, we should not pass up the opportunity to make a spiritual communion with the Lord. Let us believe, so that the love of God may be greatly impressed in our hearts.
Father Daren J. Zehnle is pastor of St. Augustine Parish in Ashland and St. Peter Parish in Petersburg and is director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate at the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.