An article on ZENIT that I read this morning caught my attention.  Fr Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office, was reflecting on an incident from the recent World Youth Day.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, a large number of people present at the final Mass of World Youth Day were unable to receive Holy Communion.  The situation was a reminder that there are circumstances that arise where sacramental communion is not possible, and we should be encouraged to make a spiritual communion.  I suspect that the notion of “spiritual communion” is something that hasn’t been spoken of much in recent times.

Fr Lombardi directs our attention to the words of Pope Benedict in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis:

Clearly, full participation in the Eucharist takes place when the faithful approach the altar in person to receive communion. Yet true as this is, care must be taken lest they conclude that the mere fact of their being present in church during the liturgy gives them a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist. Even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful. In such circumstances it is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life (n. 55).

Our obligation to participate in Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation (c. 1247, 1983 Code of Canon Law [CIC]) is not an obligation to receive communion.   In fact, we are obliged to receive communion at least once a year, preferably during the easter season (c. 920, CIC 1983).  So, whilst being obliged to receive sacramental communion at least once a year, we are obliged to participate in Mass on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.

Ideally, we would receive sacramental communion at most of those Masses.  However, various situations can arise that leave us unable to receive sacramental communion.  The incident at World Youth Day had a practical cause, which can also happen, infrequently thankfully, in parishes.  However, there are other situations too.  Those who are conscious of grave sin and do have the opportunity to confess are not to receive the body of the Lord (c. 916 CIC 1983) until they have made a sacramental confession.  Those who have not observed the hour fast before communion, without a valid reason, should not receive communion (c. 919).   Certain objective situations (e.g. Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried) render a person unable to receive communion until their situation is rectified.  Communion may also not be received more than a second time on the same day (c. 917).

The current practice of everyone in the church filing up to receive communion is probably less than desirable, if it is masking the fact that some people should not be receiving.  If it was less automatic that people went forward to receive, then this might cause people to reflect more seriously about their own situation.  On any given day, there might be a good handful of people who do not receive communion, for all sorts of reasons, and no one should feel embarrassed about not going forward, or feel obliged to receive.

When we cannot receive Our Lord sacramentally, we should make a spiritual communion with a prayer such as the following:

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 have already come, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.  Amen.

As Pope Benedict said,

Even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful.

 

Links:

Fr Lombardi’s reflection: Importance of Spiritual Communion

Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation: Sacramentum Caritatis

Making a Spiritual Communion