Whether we can receive the Eucharist or not, we should always desire to be in union with Christ
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious, I am your God.”— Isaiah 41:10
Since the first words of fallen Adam: “I was afraid,” the experience of fear has been an inescapable part of human reality. Like Adam’s experience, fear has a way of stripping us and exposing the nakedness of our vulnerability and mortality.
But no matter how overwhelming the mystery of fear and suffering might be, there exists the infinitely greater mystery of the New Adam—the mystery of faith made present upon the altar in every Mass and reposed within the tabernacle of our Church.
And because “God is love,” it is this mystery of love—Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist—that “casts out all fear” (cf. 1 John 4:18). Christ is always longing for us to invite Him into our heart, to be in communion with Him spiritually, even when we cannot be united to Him sacramentally.
In this time of pandemic, with its isolating restrictions, we are unable to gather together as we would like for the celebration of Mass and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. But it has long been the teaching of the Church that when we are unable, for licit reasons, to attend Mass and to receive Christ sacramentally, we can do so spiritually.
St. Thomas Aquinas describes spiritual Communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most Holy Sacrament and lovingly embrace Him.” Spiritual Communion, as such, is not a substitute for sacramental Communion, which is the actual, physical receiving of Holy Communion, but is the heartfelt desire for it.
So whenever it is possible to attend Mass and to receive sacramental Communion, it should always be preceded and accompanied by a spiritual Communion. For the degree we prepare spiritually for sacramental Communion is the degree that we receive the fruits of the grace of this sacrament.
And God, who knows our heart, will not withhold the fruits of the grace of Communion from those who truly long to receive the Eucharist, but are unable through no fault of their own.
The beauty of spiritual Communion is that we can make it as often as we stir our heart with the desire to be in union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Whereas we are limited to the number of times we can receive sacramental Communion in a given day, there is no such limit to the number of spiritual Communions we can make.
The Church distinguishes three ways of “communicating”—of receiving Communion. The first of these are those who receive sacramentally only, that is, without properly preparing themselves spiritually for the Eucharist. St. Paul speaks to the tremendous importance of examining our heart and preparing worthily:
“Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).
We should always have recourse to the cleansing power of Christ’s mercy in the confessional!
The second manner of receiving Communion is to do so spiritually, of which we have already spoken some. And the third way, whenever possible, is to receive both spiritually and sacramentally. For by spiritually preparing ourselves, we adorn ourselves with the wedding garment we have been entrusted with at baptism. To do so is to approach the “Sacrament of the Bridegroom and the Bride,” as St. John Paul II calls the Eucharist, with a nuptial heart.
But the Church also reminds us that “those who, having it in their power to receive with fitting preparation the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, and are yet satisfied with a spiritual Communion only, deprive themselves of the greatest and most heavenly advantages” (from the Council of Trent).
So whenever we are able to attend Mass and to receive Christ in the Eucharist, we should make a spiritual Communion as an integral part of our preparation for sacramental Communion. And if we are unable to receive Christ in the Eucharist, due to no fault of our own, we should do so spiritually with an ardent longing of heart.
If able, watch a live streaming of the Mass—visit your parish or diocesan webpage, dioknox.org, for times. Though you may be miles away from the church where Mass is being celebrated, with the longing of your heart you will be present at the foot of the altar and you will receive the fruits of the grace of this great sacrament.
How best should one prepare for spiritual Communion? While there are no particular formulas of words that one must pray, we can use the prayer of St. Alphonsus Ligouri:
O My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already come, and I unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
It is also an excellent practice to make a morning offering every day, such as the following:
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.
The practice of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, especially during the three o’clock hour (the Hour of Mercy), is also highly recommended. For the prayer that begins each decade and those that follow are a powerful extension of the holy Mass:
Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world—For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Of course, we should also make a regular practice of praying the Stations of the Cross and the rosary.
Frequent spiritual Communion, as the saints attest, is what grows the door of our heart and helps it to remain open always to Our Lord and King, as beautifully expressed in Psalm 24:7: “O gate, lift high your heads; grow higher, ancient doors. Let him enter, the king of glory!” And in receiving Christ spiritually in our heart, we receive the Love that “casts out all fear!”