Driven to My Knees
Friday, Mar. 27, 2020
The coronavirus has driven us Catholics down to our knees, figuratively if not literally. As the pandemic sweeps the globe, public participation in our sacred liturgy has been prohibited. We may no longer gather for Mass; rather, we are asked to join in spiritual communion while we watch on our computer screens or television as the priest celebrates at the altar.
Spiritual communion is nothing new to the Church. Although the Church recommends physical reception of the Eucharist, there are many reasons why a person may not be able to do this, ranging from the mundane (someone has broken the one-hour fast, or is traveling) to extreme situations such as those in which we find ourselves today.
Despite not being able to take the Host, we can still unite ourselves with Christ through spiritual communion. “The effect of a sacrament can be secured by every man if he receive it in desire, though not in reality,” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the 13th century, discussing the sacraments in his Summa Theologiae.
Other Doctors of the Church also have addressed spiritual communion. St. Catherine of Siena, whose Dialogue was a series of conversations with God, describes seeing Christ holding two chalices, one with sacramental communions and the other with spiritual communions. “Both chalices are quite pleasing to me,” Jesus told St. Catherine.
Then there is St. Teresa of Ávila, writing that, “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.”
It is to St. Teresa that I turned today for tips on prayer, because I have a sneaky suspicion that without the Mass I may be doing things wrong. Her two masterpieces containing instructions on how to live the spiritual life have led her to be named the Doctor of Prayer, and she has plenty of tips on how to properly speak to God.
First, she says, we must approach God reverently and, while speaking to him, not think of worldly things. “When you approach God, then, try to think and realize whom you are about to address and continue to do so while you are addressing him,” she writes.
She also recommends praying alone, and basing “your prayer on the prayers which were uttered by the very lips of the Lord,” such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary.
Once alone, she suggests first making an examination of conscience and a confession of sin, then making the sign of the cross. Finally, find a companion in Christ, the Master “who taught you the prayer that you are about to say. Imagine that this Lord himself is at your side and sees you lovingly and how humbly he is teaching you. …”
We are to talk to God humbly, and “ask him for things as we should ask a father, tell him our troubles, beg him to put them right, and yet realize that we are not worthy to be called his children,” Teresa writes.
Having had a primer on the proper way to pray, I turned to yet another Doctor of the Church for the words to say at this time. St. Alphonsus Liguori is credited with this prayer about spiritual communion: “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 were already there, and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.”
I think I will memorize this prayer and recite it daily, because I would like to welcome Christ as a guest in my heart.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.