What is Spiritual Communion?

What do we do when for good reason we cannot get to Sunday Mass, cannot receive Communion? This is no longer a matter of theological speculation but – as a result of the global Coronavirus outbreak – a matter of practical urgency. Bishops around the world have dispensed Catholics from Sunday Mass obligation. Some people have been worried about this, even questioned the decision to do this. Many of us feel a great sense of loss and even emptiness as we desire to receive communion but cannot. The good news is that we have an answer to this question in the form of spiritual communion.

The great medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas defined spiritual communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Holy Sacrament and a loving embrace as though we had already received Him.” His words are echoed by the great mystic and fellow Doctor of the Church St. Teresa of Avila, 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”. I could add numerous other classical and modern saints (like John Vianney, Alphonsus Ligouri, Padre Pio, Josemaria Escriva and John Paul II) who echo this. I also see this mirrored in the great spiritual diary of St John XXIII (Journal of a Soul) and in Augustine’s Confessions. Augustine’s expression of the soul’s yearning until it rests in God is in fact a dead giveaway!

So what do we do? We focus ourselves on Christ and our longing for union with him. We express our desire to feel his grace coursing through us, giving us strength and courage – particularly in these difficult times. In our desiring union, we are united to Christ. In our imagining, we experience the reality that is already there.

How do we do this? Dedicate some time to prayer each day. Spend time in silence, putting aside daily concerns: I suggest you also turn off that cell phone (as you no doubt do during Mass!). Be aware of God’s presence in your here and now. (God is always present, remember – in every place, in everything, in every person, in the very cells that make up your body). Imagine yourself in union with God: this could be remembering a special occasion when you received communion, like First Communion or Confirmation; or you may imagine yourself embraced by Christ as you watch a broadcast of Holy Mass (many people are making such broadcasts available at this time). Each will have their own understanding or experience of it. Let it happen – God’s union with us is pure grace. Stay with this union for as long as you can – time will vary with each of you, and it may vary as you do it. Close with a prayer of thanksgiving. Do this as often as you can, once or twice a day. The great thing about spiritual communion is that you can experience it any time and any place.

This reflection is part of a series that the Institute will make available regularly during this time of social distancing and lockdown.

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

a.egan@jesuitinstitute.org.za
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