Question of Faith: What is Spiritual Communion?
Q: Since public Masses have been canceled, a friend encouraged me to practice “spiritual communion.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. Can you explain?
A. The practice of “spiritual communion,” as a means of drawing close to Jesus even when we cannot receive the Eucharist, has deep roots in the Church. Though it is not well known among Catholics, it formed part of the devotions of many saints who prayed for the grace of spiritual nourishment, even when they could not receive His presence in the sacrament.
Separation from the Eucharist
Many Catholics practice frequent communion, receiving the Eucharist most Sundays, if not daily. However, in the history of the Church, there were many times in which frequent communion was not possible, sometimes for months at a time. The reasons were many: war, plague, lack of religious freedom or a shortage of priests. In other cases, individual circumstances prevented reception, including health, lack of transportation or the need to care for a sick family member. Though this separation from the Eucharist can be disheartening, it can increase one’s desire to receive Jesus sacramentally.
Uniting with Jesus
To practice spiritual communion,one offers a pray that indicates his or her desire to be in union with Christ through the Eucharist. This kind of prayer can be offered every day, even
multiple times per day. There is no single prayer to this effect (a sample is found at the end of this column), but making an act of spiritual communion usually entails an acknowledgment of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, a longing to receive Him sacramentally, and a recognition that this desire can offer spiritual nourishment. The same faith by which we approach the
Eucharist can be applied to this spiritual communion. As in the reception of communion, it is appropriate to recollect ourselves for prayer, to make the act of spiritual communion, remain in prayer for a time, and then offer a thanksgiving to God.
Material and Spiritual
As Catholics, we recognize that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Christian life. His presence under the appearance of bread and wine is the means He gave us to draw near to Him. Jesus is substantially present in the Eucharist, meaning it is not merely a spiritual presence. But this is not to say that the Eucharist is only material; it is also spiritual. A spiritual communion should not be preferred to receiving the Eucharist or a substitute for attending Mass when it is possible, but it can be spiritually beneficial. Through an act of spiritual communion, one can be joined to the sacrifice of the Mass. Even when public Masses are not celebrated, the Mass continues – throughout the world and, where it cannot be celebrated publicly, in private. Especially during these times, we trust that God’s presence can never be limited, and even when receiving the Eucharist is not possible, we can still draw close to Him, who always desires a closeness to us.
An 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 wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
(Attributed to St. Alphonsus Liguori)
Father David Endres is associate professor of Church history and historical theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology..