Spiritual Communion is an ancient practice in the Catholic Church which remains relevant, not solely for those concerned about contagious disease, but for all individuals who, due to their unique circumstances, are not able to receive Holy Communion, yet desire the Lord in the Eucharist.
The Catholic Church teaches of the rich benefit of “Spiritual Communion.” St. Thomas Aquinas1 (1225- 1274) wrote that there are two ways to receive Holy Communion. The preeminent way is to receive the consecrated Host and/or Precious Blood of Our Lord during the Sacrifice of the Mass.
St. Thomas Aquinas referred also to spiritual reception of the Blessed Sacrament, “by which one receives the effect of this sacrament, whereby a man is spiritually united with Christ through faith and charity.” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “the effect of the sacrament can be secured by every person if he receives it [i.e. Holy Communion] in desire, though not in reality.”
While Spiritual Communion is no replacement for actual reception of the Blessed Sacrament during Mass, there are occasions in which a person is not able to attend Mass, yet truly desires to unite himself or herself most closely to the Lord. Spiritual Communion does not need a particular setting, although the person should remain quiet and in prayer, truly desiring union with Our Lord in the most intimate way. The Church teaches that this is a moment for an individual to receive grace.
Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.2
In the 1700’s, Saint Alphonsus Liguouri, ministering to the isolated people in southern Italy, offered the following prayer, which I invite you to recite in moments of Spiritual Communion:
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 there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
In 2003, Saint John Paul II, in ¶25 of the Encyclical “A Eucharistic Church”, encouraged spiritual communion before the Blessed Sacrament. He wrote:
The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The presence of Christ under the sacred species reserved after Mass – a presence which lasts as long as the species of bread and of wine remain – derives from the celebration of the sacrifice and is directed towards communion, both sacramental and spiritual. It is the responsibility of Pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species.
It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the “art of prayer,” how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brother and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!
In the same document, he described Spiritual Communion in ¶34:
…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. Saint 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.”
Our Lord draws us in spiritual communion. Developing a devotion to Our Lord will be a tremendous consolation to you if, for whatever reason, you are not able to attend Mass.
1 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica III, Q. 80, a.1.
2 Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶1997.