Those who laud scientific advancement as the sine qua non of human civilization should take note of how easily the most industrial and scientifically advanced nations in the history of humanity were brought to a halt by a tiny virus. Our advanced technology has made us complacent about the dangers of disease.

When we can’t help ourselves, we must alight to Christ. But what do you do when you can’t find a real live Mass or can’t get to confession to prepare for a Mass, whether actual or televised? Don Bosco reminds Christians that, “The longer you stay away from Communion, the weaker your soul will become, and the weaker your soul becomes, the more you will become dangerously indifferent.”

Once again, the Church comes to the rescue with a practice called Spiritual Communion. There was a time when every Catholic knew about this gracious opportunity offered to us by Christ.

Spiritual Communion is the act of desiring union with Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament and is used to prepare oneself for Holy Mass by believers who, for any of various reasons (including a pandemic), can’t actually receive Holy Communion. In fact, recently, Pope Francis recently urged Catholics to perform the Spiritual Communion during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spiritual Communion involves a constant desire for Jesus in the Eucharist ― the Perfect Sacrifice. Spiritual Communion means opening oneself to Christ and his promise of love and salvation. The Christian brings his desolation and emptiness as an offering to God and, with joy, the Holy Spirit empowers and enriches him.

In 1983, a document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pointed out that all the effects of Holy Communion can be received through Spiritual Communion by:

  • those in a parish without an assigned priest (for example, an airport chapel);
  • those prevented from attending Mass (his would include shut-ins like the quarantined and those sacramentally unprepared to receive the Eucharist);
  • the divorced and remarried.

And if communion with the Lord Almighty isn’t sufficient to entice you to this wonderful spiritual practice, keep in mind that Spiritual Communion also comes bundled with a partial indulgence. And, you know what they say ― if you can't have a plenary indulgence, a partial indulgence is the next best thing. Icing on the cake.

In his Easter letter, St. Athanasius points out the spiritual importance of the Eucharist and how it points to our spiritual hunger which can ever be satiated on this plane of existence:

We feed as on the food of life, we constantly refresh our souls with his precious blood, as from a fountain. Yet we are always thirsting, burning to be satisfied. But he himself is present for those who thirst and in his goodness invites them to the feast day. Our Savior repeats his words: If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. (Ep. 5:1-2: PG 26, 1379-1380)

Sts. Alphonsus Liguori and Thomas Aquinas both taught that Spiritual Communion can produce effects similar to Sacramental Communion. Aquinas defined the practice as “a fervent and sincere desire to receive Jesus in the Holy Sacrament.” When Jesus is “beckoned” by the believer in an act of Spiritual Communion, it must be done as an act of love toward the Magnificent Lover who called us into life and reality. Upon being called into the emptiness of one’s broken and contrite heart, Jesus must be given all possible attention. In meditation, one must actively be grateful for the honor of receiving Christ in the form of the Eucharist and in Spiritual Communion.

St. Alphonsus Liguori offered this prayer for those who wish the spiritual benefits of Spiritual Communion.

My Jesus, I believe that Thou art present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love Thee above all things and I desire Thee in my soul. Since I cannot now receive Thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though Thou wert already there, I embrace Thee and unite myself wholly to Thee; permit not that I should ever be separated from Thee. Amen.

St. Jean-Marie Vianney ― always one for a pithy spiritual advice ― tells us, “There are some who make a Spiritual Communion every day with blessed bread. If we are deprived of Sacramental Communion, let us replace it, as far as we can, by Spiritual Communion, which we can make every moment; for we ought to have always a burning desire to receive the good God… When we cannot go to the church, let us turn toward the tabernacle; no wall can shut us out from the good God.”

One can make a Spiritual Communion as often as one likes. There are no limits. St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, taught that Spiritual Communion intensifies the realization of God’s presence in one’s life: “What a source of grace there is in spiritual Communion! Practice it frequently and you'll have more presence of God and closer union with Him in your life.” He also taught: "Do not neglect to say, ‘Jesus, I love You,’ and make one Spiritual Communion, at least, each day, in atonement for all the profanations and sacrileges he suffers because He wants to be with us.”

St. Josemaría Escrivá suggested his students use the following prayer to assist them in their Spiritual Communion. It’s still popular in Opus Dei:

I wish, 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.

In the encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope St. John Paul II urged the importance of Spiritual Communion, teaching that its important “to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist.”

Servant of God Father Walter Ciszek (1904–1984) a Polish-American Jesuit priest who is on his way to canonization, often practiced Spiritual Communion during the 15 years he spent in solitary confinement, hard labor and torture in atheistic Soviet Union until his release from the gulags in 1964. Father Ciszek points out:

By renouncing selfish worry, finally and completely, all control of my life and future destiny, I was relieved as a consequence of all responsibility. I was freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God's sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul.

The sacraments are important and are the foundation of the Church’s order, structure and strength. However, it is by faith that we are saved. The opportunity to express that faith is available to us in Spiritual Communion. This current coronavirus crisis is a great opportunity to “cast off the old man” (Ephesians 4:22-24).