Deacon Willard Witherspoon distributes Communion during a 2016 Mass at St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore. Those unable to partake of the Blessed Sacrament are encouraged to make an act of “spiritual communion.” (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Father J. Collin Poston has friends in the U.S. military services who couldn’t receive holy Communion for long stretches of time because of a lack of chaplains to celebrate Mass or because of the remote locations in which they served.
Despite their inability to receive the Eucharist physically, they were still able to connect with Christ on a mystical level.
“They would often say the prayer of spiritual communion,” said Father Poston, pastor of St. Anthony Shrine in Emmitsburg and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Thurmont. “It was a way for them to unite themselves spiritually with Christ and invite him into their souls.”
Spiritual communion is an ancient practice of the church that isn’t well known to modern Catholics. It provides believers a way of finding a close union with Christ when they can’t partake of the sacrament.
Because the Mass in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and many parts of the country is currently only being offered privately and without the presence of the faithful as a way of preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Father Poston believes spiritual communion is a gift to help people stay connected to Jesus and remain strong in their faith.
“It’s a sincere prayer saying that you believe that Jesus is present in the holy sacrament,” Father Poston explained, “and you desire to receive him and love him. But since you can’t, you invite Jesus to come into your heart and soul and be with you.”
During St. Anthony’s online Mass, Father Poston invites those watching to say the prayer of spiritual communion right after the consecration. He said the spiritual practice would also be appropriate at the end of watching an online Mass or during special times of the day, including 3 p.m., the hour Christ died on the cross.
The working document for the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in 2005 said spiritual communion is always possible for elderly persons and the sick who cannot go to church.
“In manifesting their love for the Eucharist,” the document said, “they participate in the communion of saints with great spiritual benefit for themselves and the church. By offering their sufferings to God, the church is enriched.”
Father Poston noted there are several versions of the prayer. One of the most popular was written by St. Alphonsus Liguori, 18th-century founder of the Redemptorist order of priests and brothers (see below).
It does not matter which version is used, Father Poston said, as long as the person saying the prayer is sincere.
“I would encourage people to pray it and to believe the words they pray,” he said.
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org
Act of Spiritual Communion by St. Alphonsus Liguori
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 at this moment 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.