By Sr. Jeremy Gallet, S.P.
As a product of many years of Catholic education in Chicago, I often joined my classmates in the making of “Spiritual Bouquets” whenever our pastor, one of the priests, the principal, or teacher would celebrate a special day in their lives—such as a birthday, a feast day, or another special day—even Christmas or Easter. Sometimes we made them for our parents for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
This consisted of a card (usually handmade and often rendered in crayon) where we would list all the special kinds of prayers we wanted to offer for the person in question, as well as how many times we would perform these prayers or religious acts. These included Masses, Communions, a decade of the Rosary—or even a whole Rosary—Stations of the Cross, Novenas, Litanies, devotional prayers, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and Spiritual Communions.
As a ten-year old, who accompanied my Mother and Grandmother to Mass and Holy Communion almost daily, I was somewhat puzzled by the last item—“Spiritual Communion.” I grew up in the 1950’s, where I had benefited from the vision of Pope Pius X who allowed children to receive their First Holy Communion around the age or 6 or 7 and urged frequent—or even daily—communion for all. This was a pretty big change for Catholics at that time. I had many older relatives who felt a great sense of unworthiness and would not approach the Communion rail unless they had gone to confession that week—whether they were guilty of mortal sin or not. But for me, a child who had benefitted from the insight and generosity of the Pope, I could not see why one would offer a Spiritual Communion when you could easily partake of the “real thing.”
Fast forward to the days of COVID 19.
Since the pandemic, I have only attended Mass and received communion a half dozen times, since I am in the “high risk” group of folks over 65, must work from home, and am sheltering in place most of the time. This has given me a new appreciation and understanding of the deeper meaning of Spiritual Communion.
As a result, I did a little research and was pleasantly surprised to find that many saints and theologians have written extensively about this practice. And that is what it is—a spiritual practice. Something you can do each day, or even many times a day, not just when we are watching a live-streamed Mass. As you practice this devotion, it will become something you are able to do more frequently and easily.
Saints who have written extensively on this subject include St. Teresa of Jesus 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. [The Way of Perfection, Ch. 35.]
St. Josemaria Escrivá maintained that Spiritual Communion improves our experience of the presence of God, and St. John Vianney likened it to blowing on fire and embers that are starting to go out in order to make them burn again. Other writers who have written about Spiritual Communion include: Saint Padre Pio, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Alphonsus Liguori among many others. More recently St. Pope John Paul II in his beautiful encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, states that the human desire to attain God is the basis of the practice of Spiritual Communion.
Mediating on the words of the Saints, we come to understand that God’s loving presence is not bound by time and space. It surrounds us everywhere and at every moment. “Where can I run from Your love?” asks the psalmist. (Psalm 139) As we offer our many prayers in these critical and difficult days, we grow in the realization that Spiritual Communion is not just a practice for ourselves alone, but something we can extend to others (especially in this time of social distancing and separation), uniting with them in the loving, all-embracing presence of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist.
So we pray:
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy 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.
Sr. Jeremy Gallet is a Sister of Providence and Director of the Diocesan Office of Worship.