When I was growing up, my mother would often make a spiritual communion and speak of its value. I didn’t really pay much attention. It was fine for her, I reasoned. After all, it couldn’t hurt. But like many of what I considered her “pre-Vatican II” practices, I didn’t put much stock in it. With time, maturity, and education, I am beginning to realize the value of many of my mother’s prayers and devotions.
I recently read “7 Secrets of the Eucharist” by Vinny Flynn. It is a wonderful book, designed to help increase devotion to the Eucharist. The last chapter focuses on spiritual communions. Flynn relies on the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. There are both sacramental and spiritual communions. Sacramental communion refers to the physical reception of the Eucharist. Spiritual communion involves “a real longing for union with Christ.” Ideally, reception of the Eucharist involves both dimensions. One must always want to receive regular sacramental Communion. However, St. Thomas tells us that a “complete spiritual Communion can even take place when we are unable to receive sacramentally, because ‘the effect of a sacrament can be secured if it is received by desire.’”
St. Catherine of Siena also testified to the value of spiritual Communion. “She had begun to question whether her spiritual Communions had any real value compared to sacramental Communion. Suddenly she saw Christ holding two chalices. ‘In this golden chalice I put your sacramental communions. In this silver chalice I put your spiritual communions. Both chalices are quite pleasing to me.’” In 2003, Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia:
In the Eucharist, "unlike any other sacrament, the mystery [of communion] is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: Here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union." Precisely for this reason 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. St. 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" [The Way of Perfection, Ch. 35.].
A spiritual Communion can be of value to anyone who desires a deeper union with Christ. It can be made at any time of the day or night. It is especially appropriate for those who find themselves unable to physically receive the Eucharist. For example, those who are not yet Catholic, those who have been away from the Church for a long time and who have not yet made a good confession, those who are living in a state of serious sin, as well as those who are sick or housebound.
How does one make a spiritual Communion? Simply by desiring it. One formal prayer is “O Jesus, I turn toward the holy tabernacle where you live hidden for love of me. I love you, O my God. I cannot receive you in Holy Communion. Come nevertheless and visit me with your grace. Come spiritually into my heart. Purify it. Sanctify it. Render it like unto your own.” One need not use a formal prayer, however. A simple “Lord Jesus. Come into my heart” is sufficient, as is imagining Jesus coming into one’s heart. As with any other spiritual habit, the more one does it, the easier it will become. There is no limit to the number of times we can ask Jesus to meet us. He desires to be with us.