Spiritual Communion is a practice among Christians of the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist traditions, of desiring union with Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist as a response to God's own desire for union. It is used as a preparation for Holy Mass and by individuals who cannot receive Holy Communion (e.g. a state of being bedridden, absence of a priest/minister, severe illness).
This practice is well established in the Catholic Church and highly recommended by many saints, according to Pope John Paul II. He explained that practicing this constant desire for Jesus in the Eucharist is rooted in the ultimate perfection of Eucharistic communion, which is the ultimate goal of every human desire.
- In the Eucharist, "unlike any other sacrament, the mystery [of communion] is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: Here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union."
- Precisely for this reason it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was the origin of the practice of "spiritual communion," which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. St. Teresa of Jesus 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" [The Way of Perfection, Ch. 35.].1 .
Thus, the passionate desire for God, whom the saints have seen as the Sole Satisfier, and who in the Eucharist is the "summit and source of the Christian life", is at the root of this practice. The experience of St. Padre Pio illustrates the compelling desire felt by the saints in the face of the drawing and attracting power of God's love: “My heart feels as if it were being drawn by a superior force each morning just before uniting with Him in the Blessed Sacrament. I have such a thirst and hunger before receiving Him that it's a wonder I don't die of anxiety. I was hardly able to reach the Divine Prisoner in order to celebrate Mass. When Mass ended I remained with Jesus to render Him thanks. My thirst and hunger do not diminish after I have received Him in the Blessed Sacrament, but rather, increase steadily. Oh, how sweet was the conversation I held with Paradise this morning. The heart of Jesus and my own, if you will pardon the expression, fused. They were no longer two hearts beating but only one. My heart disappeared as if it were a drop in the ocean.”
St. Jean-Marie Vianney compared spiritual communion to blowing on fire and embers that are starting to go out in order to make them burn again: “There are some who make a spiritual communion every day with blessed bread. If we are deprived of Sacramental Communion, let us replace it, as far as we can, by spiritual communion, which we can make every moment; for we ought to have always a burning desire to receive the good God. Communion is to the soul like blowing a fire that is beginning to go out, but that has still plenty of hot embers; we blow, and the fire burns again. After the reception of the Sacraments, when we feel ourselves slacken in the love of God, let us have recourse at once to spiritual communion. When we cannot go to the church, let us turn towards the tabernacle; no wall can shut us out from the good God.”
St. Josemaría Escrivá taught spiritual communions improve presence of God: "What a source of grace there is in spiritual Communion! Practise it frequently and you'll have more presence of God and closer union with him in your life." He also taught: "Do not neglect to say, “Jesus, I love you”, and make one spiritual communion, at least, each day, in atonement for all the profanations and sacrileges he suffers because he wants to be with us."
According to Catholic theologians, the value of a spiritual can be as great as Holy Communion itself. "Spiritual Communion, as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori teach, produces effects similar to Sacramental Communion, according to the dispositions with which it is made, the greater or less earnestness with which Jesus is desired, and the greater or less love with which Jesus is welcomed and given due attention," stated Father Stefano Manelli, O.F.M. Conv., S.T.D., in his book Jesus our Eucharistic Love.
"A special advantage of Spiritual Communion is that we can make it as often as we like — even hundreds of times a day — when we like — even late at night — and wherever we like — even in a desert, or up in an airplane," Fr. Stefano continued.
However, Anglican bishop Cecil Wood, cautions that "It would not be right to use this devotion of Spiritual Communion when the Sacramental Communion could be readily obtained. Care will be taken that neither unwillingness to rise in the morning nor slackness in preparing for Communion lead to the substitution of this devotion for the Church's service. That God in His love provides many special means of Grace can never be sufficient warrant for neglecting the normal means."
Those who are aware of a mortal sin that needs to be confessed, can reach out to God through spiritual communion.
It also specifically mentions this Act of Spiritual Communion, which was recommended by St. Alphonsus Ligouri:
- My Jesus, I believe that you are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.
Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val composed this Spiritual Communion:
- At Thy feet, O my Jesus, I prostrate myself and I offer Thee repentance of my contrite heart, which is humbled in its nothingness and in Thy holy presence. I adore Thee in the Sacrament of Thy love, the ineffable Eucharist. I desire to receive Thee into the poor dwelling that my heart offers Thee. While waiting for the happiness of sacramental communion, I wish to possess Thee in spirit. Come to me, O my Jesus, since I, for my part, am coming to Thee! May Thy love embrace my whole being in life and in death. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee. Amen.
Another example is:
- As I cannot this day enjoy the happiness of assisting at the holy Mysteries, O my God! I transport myself in spirit at the foot of Thine altar; I unite with the Church, which by the hands of the priest, offers Thee Thine adorable Son in the Holy Sacrifice; I offer myself with Him, by Him, and in His Name. I adore, I praise, and thank Thee, imploring Thy mercy, invoking Thine assistance, and presenting Thee the homage I owe Thee as my Creator, the love due to Thee as my Savior.
- Apply to my soul, I beseech Thee, O merciful Jesus, Thine infinite merits; apply them also to those for whom I particularly wish to pray. I desire to communicate spiritually, that Thy Blood may purify, Thy Flesh strengthen, and Thy Spirit sanctify me. May I never forget that Thou, my divine Redeemer, hast died for me; may I die to all that is not Thee, that hereafter I may live eternally with Thee. Amen.
Piarist fathers have taught this short act of Spiritual Communion, popularized by St. Josemaria Escriva:
- I wish, Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility and devotion with which your most holy Mother received you, with the spirit and fervour of the saints.
- In union, O Dear Lord, with the faithful at every Altar of Thy Church, where Thy blessed Body and Blood are being offered to the Father, I desire to offer Thee praise and thanksgiving. I present to Thee my soul and body, with the earnest wish that I may ever be united to Thee. And since I cannot now receive Thee sacramentally, I beseech Thee to come spiritually into my heart. I unite myself to Thee, and embrace Thee with all the affections of my soul. O let nothing ever separate me from Thee. Let me live and die in Thy love. Amen.
- Grant, O Lord Jesus Christ, that as the hem of Thy garment, touched in faith, healed the woman who could not touch Thy Body, so the soul of Thy servant may be healed by like faith in Thee, Whom I cannot now sacramentally receive; through Thy tender mercy, Who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost ever one God. Amen.
- Tovey, Phillip (24 February 2016). The Theory and Practice of Extended Communion. Routledge. p. 61. ISBN 9781317014201.
Spiritual Communion is another part of the Anglican tradition. The 1549 Prayer Book said that if the person is so sick as to be unable to receive the elements but is repentant, they eat and drink spiritually. This statement is incorporated into many prayer books of the Communion. Anglican devotional material developed this into a set of prayers.
- Cecil Wood (1916). "A Form of Spiritual Communion Compiled by the Bishop of Melanesia". Wilson & Horton. Retrieved 27 January 2017.