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Spiritual communion

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"Acts of spiritual communion" should certainly not be denigrated but encouraged. Any Christian who, for whatever reason, cannot receive the Eucharist at a Mass, will receive many graces by asking to receive it spiritually instead.

Michael
Pakaluk

The Catechism of the Catholic Church mentions "spiritual communion" in only two passages, neither of which deals with the Eucharist:

2347 "The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality. Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one's neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion."

2360 "Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament."

In the first passage, spiritual communion stands for a purity in human relationships which is inseparable from chastity. In the second, spiritual communion is the more important bond between husband and wife, for which sexual intercourse serves as the "sign and pledge."

To desire spiritual communion in the first sense, would be to desire the virtue of chastity for oneself, so that, through that virtue, one breaks out of the selfishness, and "individualism," to which we are confined by lust and impurity. To desire spiritual communion in the second, as a start, would be to desire strongly to affirm, in one's every sense, that sexual intercourse outside marriage, as it has nothing to signify, is a harmful fraud.

Spiritual communion so understood cuts directly against the capital vices that dominate our society. No greater remedy could be sought for these than the practice of what the Catechism calls "spiritual communion."

One can immediately see that the practice of "spiritual communion," necessitated by the COVID-19 lockdowns, has much bigger implications than saying a prayer once a day.

"Acts of spiritual communion" should certainly not be denigrated but encouraged. Any Christian who, for whatever reason, cannot receive the Eucharist at a Mass, will receive many graces by asking to receive it spiritually instead.

A good prayer for this purpose is that taught by St. Josemaria Escriva: "I wish my Lord to receive you with the purity, humility, and devotion, with which your most holy Mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of the saints." One can say this prayer when watching a video Mass, or driving by a church, or even as many times during the day as one laments the COVID-19 restrictions.

If Catholics after the time of lockdown took with them afterwards a newfound habit of saying such a prayer each day, that would be a very great good. And yet, such a small conversion is only the start of a much fuller conversion, which is needed.

To see this, I invite you to ponder chapter 35 of St. Teresa of Avila's "Way of Perfection" (available for free at www.ccel.org), the "locus classicus" for modern spiritual writers who recommend acts of spiritual communion. St. Pope John Paul II, for example, in his encyclical on the Eucharist, "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," cites that passage as an authority.

St. Teresa indeed refers to acts of spiritual communion in the chapter. Writing to sisters in her congregation, she says, "When you hear Mass without communicating, daughters, you may communicate spiritually, which is extremely profitable."

And yet, her main concern in the chapter is, rather, with the prayer of recollection and thanksgiving which should follow Holy Communion at Mass. (Saints and popes have recommended that the faithful remain recollected in prayer for about 10 minutes after receiving Communion.) She connects the neglect of such prayer with contempt for the Lord's presence in the tabernacle:

"Remember that there are few souls who stay with Him and follow Him in His trials; let us endure something for Him, and His Majesty will repay us. Remember, too, that there are actually people who not only have no wish to be with Him but who insult Him and with great irreverence drive Him away from their homes. We must endure something, therefore, to show Him that we have the desire to see Him. In many places He is neglected and ill-treated, but He suffers everything, and will continue to do so, if He finds but one single soul which will receive Him and love to have Him as its Guest. Let this soul be yours, then."

She then cries out with anguish over the desecration of the Eucharist in lands of persecution, begging God that the world come to an end, rather than these outrages continue, or, failing that, "give us a remedy for such grievous wrongs, which even our wicked hearts cannot endure."

In short, St. Teresa offers a broad examination of conscience, for when churches reopen:

-- Do I wish, now, for Communion often during the day, with acts of spiritual communion?

-- In the future, will I prepare myself for Mass by arriving early, wearing appropriate clothing, and maintaining a reverent attitude of body?

-- Do I resolve to pray with true recollection after Communion, showing love to the Lord while he is really present within me?

-- Do I resolve to visit the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and pray there, insofar as I am able?

One can add, drawing on the Catechism:

-- Will I strive to live purity and chastity, precisely to be closer to him, and therefore others, in spiritual communion?

- Michael Pakaluk is Professor of Ethics and Social Philosophy in the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America. His book on the gospel of Mark, "The Memoirs of St. Peter," is available from Regnery Gateway.



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