Spiritual communion is a great way to cultivate our love for Christ in the Eucharist for those times when we can’t make it to Daily Mass for a variety of reasons (no priest, something unexpected, weather, job, sickness, etc.).
It is important to note that a spiritual communion can never replace your obligation to attend Mass on Sundays though.
It doesn’t matter when or where you are, as long as you practice the devotion with “renewed faith, reverence, humility and in complete trust in the goodness of the Divine Redeemer” and are “united to Him in the spirit of the most ardent charity,” as Pope Pius XII says in his encyclical Mediator Dei (The Sacred Liturgy).
Marge Fenelon, in an article in the NC Register, shares a four-step method from Redemptorist Father Jim White. He proposes the following:
The Act of Spiritual Communion
1. Make an act of faith.
The key here is to express to the Lord: our faith in his merciful love and his real presence in the Eucharist. You can come up with your own prayer or use a more traditional version. For example (USCCB):
O my God, I firmly believe
that you are one God in three divine Persons,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I believe that your divine Son became man
and died for our sins and that he will come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe these and all the truths
which the Holy Catholic Church teaches
because you have revealed them
who are eternal truth and wisdom,
who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
In this faith I intend to live and die.
2. Make an act of love
O Lord God, I love you above all things
and I love my neighbor for your sake
because you are the highest, infinite and perfect
good, worthy of all my love.
In this love I intend to live and die.
3. Express our desire to receive him
4. Invite Jesus to come into our hearts spiritually.
With a humble and contrite heart, we ask the Lord to come to us just as He would if we were able to receive the sacrament.
“This puts us in the state of mind of being in union with Jesus,” Father White explained. “It’s very simple, it only takes a moment, and we can do it during our work, our studies or anything else we may be doing.”
We find each one of these steps summed up nicely in a beautiful act of Spiritual Communion by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
“My Jesus, I believe that Thou art present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love Thee above all things and I desire Thee in my soul. Since I cannot now receive Thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though thou wert already there, I embrace Thee and unite myself wholly to Thee; permit not that I should ever be separated from Thee” (St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori).
When to make it? As often as possible!
(It is also recommended that you make three spiritual communions during Mass: at the beginning, at the consecration, and at the end). If the four-step method above seems too “busy,” simply express your desire to receive Jesus in your heart. Here are few more prayers that are simpler and briefer:
Want some more background?
In the Council of Trent (Session 13, Chp. 8) as well as Saint Thomas (Summa Theologiae III, q. 80, a. 1) we learn that there is more than one way to receive the Eucharist. After insisting on the importance of receiving the Eucharist worthily (meaning that one is in good standing with the Church and has gone to confession if necessary), the Council says the following:
1. “[One may receive it] only sacramentally because they are sinners.
2. Others receive it only spiritually; they are the ones who, receiving in desire the heavenly bread put before them, with a living faith ‘working through love’ (Gal. 5:6), experience its fruit and benefit from it.
3. The third group receive it both sacramentally and spiritually (can. 8); they are the ones who examine and prepare themselves beforehand to approach this divine table, clothed in the wedding garment (cf. Matt. 22:11f).”
In a blog post, Taylor Marshall offers a clarifying explanation:
Referring to the first case:
“So then, if a person is in mortal sin and receives the Eucharist, he receives it only sacramentally but receives no grace, but rather condemnation.”
Referring to the second:
“Now a person in a state of grace who eagerly seeks union with Christ and makes an act of the will (i.e. an Act of Spiritual Communion), this person does receive the grace and presence of Christ.”
Referring to the third:
“Now then, the best way is to combine both the sacramental reception with the earnest desire of a spiritual communion. This is what spiritual authors call “making a good communion,” which requires preparation (sacramental confession or at least an act of contrition) and an openness to receiving the Divine Savior into a the palace of one’s heart.”
What about the case of those who are divorced and remarried?
In the document Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI says the following:
“Clearly, full participation in the Eucharist takes place when the faithful approach the altar in person to receive communion. Yet true as this is, care must be taken lest they conclude that the mere fact of their being present in church during the liturgy gives them a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist. Even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful. In such circumstances, it is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life.”
Some have argued against this, however, saying that: even those who receive spiritual communion are one with Jesus Christ. What’s the difference between spiritual and sacramental? If they can do one, why cannot the same person receive sacramental communion?
Fr. Keller explains:
“The person who makes a spiritual communion should also make a sacramental communion, if he or she is properly disposed. However, it cannot be the case that someone who is not properly disposed to make a sacramental communion could be thought to be able to make a spiritual communion, no matter the circumstances.”
As such, some have found it useful to distinguish between:
“Spiritual Communion” vs. “Communion of Desire.”
Saint Thomas distinguishes between a spiritual communion as a “spiritual eating” (for those in full communion with Jesus) and a “spiritual desire.”
Those who are divorced and remarried, then, are invited a spiritual communion “of desire.” It is in this line (I believe) that Cardinal Scola once proposed the following (he was dealing with the subject of divorced and remarried couples receiving the Eucharist):
“What is spiritual communion [of desire]? “The practice of communing with the Eucharistic Christ in prayer, of offering to him one’s desire for his Body and Blood, together with one’s sorrow over the impediments to the fulfillment of that desire… It is a form of participation in the Eucharist that is offered to all the faithful, and it is suited to the journey of someone who finds himself in a certain state or particular condition.”
You can do something similar with the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
“When it is not possible to receive sacramental absolution, it will be useful to promote those practices that are considered – also by sacred Scripture – particularly suited to expressing penitence and the request for forgiveness, and to fostering the virtue of repentance (cf. 1 Pt 4:7–9).
I am thinking especially of works of charity, reading the Word of God, and pilgrimages. When appropriate, this could be accompanied by regular meetings with a priest to discuss one’s faith journey. These gestures can express the desire to change and to ask God for forgiveness while waiting for one’s personal situation to develop in such a way as to allow one to approach the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.”
Is the Church’s request to live in “complete continence” Impossible? Cardinal Scola doesn’t think so:
“Finally, drawing on my experience as a pastor, I would like to recall that it is not impossible to propose to these faithful, on certain conditions and with suitable follow-up, “the commitment to live in complete continence,” as St. John Paul II declared, “that is, to abstain from those acts proper to spouses.” I can say, after many years of episcopal ministry, that this is a path – involving sacrifice together with joy – that God’s grace does in fact make feasible. I have had the opportunity to readmit to sacramental communion divorced and remarried Catholics who had arrived at such a decision after mature reflection. Pastoral experience also teaches us that these forms of participation in the sacramental economy are not palliative. Rather, from the perspective of conversion that is proper to Christian life, they are a constant source of peace.”