This is what happens when you make a spiritual Communion

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spiritual Communion
A young woman prays during the opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Jan 18, 2024. (OSV News photo/Mihoko Owada, Catholic Standard)

As Catholics, we recognize that the holy Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith. The innumerable gifts received in holy Communion draw us closer to Christ. But there also are a variety of reasons why someone might not be able to receive sacramental holy Communion.

Sometimes reception of holy Communion is not possible because of one’s own actions. Perhaps the individual is in the state of mortal sin, by which we turn ourselves away from God, and in which case only sacramental confession may repair the relationship. Or maybe an individual is fasting from the sacrament for the purposes of spiritual growth or out of a general sense of unworthiness.

Reasons to abstain from holy Communion

Catholics also are obliged to refrain from food or drink (other than water) for an hour before reception of holy Communion. Not doing so would ordinarily leave one unable to receive holy Communion.

Then there are the situations in which someone is unable to receive holy Communion through no or little fault of their own. For instance, one might be restricted from access to the sacraments by sickness, handicap or food allergy, or one might live in a remote area where sacraments intermittently are celebrated. One’s limited access to the Eucharist can also be the result of other conditions such as war, epidemic, imprisonment, emergency travel, or other outstanding complications that might limit one’s access to the Eucharist. There can also be those situations when life can get unwieldy and not allow us to pray as often or for as much as we might desire.

Benefits of spiritual Communion

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the limited access to sacraments it brought, many Catholics were reintroduced to the practice of spiritual Communion, and even though the pandemic is (blessedly) behind us, the practice can still be a useful one.

Spiritual Communion is a devotion for those who are unable, for whatever reason, to receive sacramental holy Communion at a given time or in specific situations. The church offers no prescribed ritual or formula to make an act of spiritual Communion, but all the baptized are able to do it. Such an act of prayer must simply express one’s belief in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist and the heart’s desire for communion with him.

Acts of spiritual Communion are a fitting solution to situations like those mentioned above, in which we may find ourselves unable to receive holy Communion physically. Such acts of spiritual Communion can increase our desire to achieve fuller unity with Christ in holy Communion. The more we express our longing to receive the Eucharist, the more apt we might be to make it a priority. There is grace even in expressing our desire for Christ in the Eucharist, which can be an impetus to help us reorganize and reprioritize our spiritual lives.

Deepening appreciation for the Eucharist

Refraining from the Eucharist for the purposes of spiritual growth is also undertaken at times by the spiritually mature. By adopting a fast from the Eucharist, one can intensify one’s appreciation for the sacrament. As the saying goes, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

“Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly?” Pope Benedict XVI once pondered. “Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?”

Pope Benedict suggested such Eucharistic fasting “could lead to a deepening of personal relationship with the Lord in the sacrament. It could also be an act of solidarity with all those who yearn for the sacrament but cannot receive it. … Sometimes we need hunger, physical and spiritual hunger, if we are to come fresh to the Lord’s gifts and understand the suffering of our hungering brothers. Both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love.”

Whether the conditions for not receiving holy Communion are internal or external, the practice of spiritual Communion can bear fruit in our lives and should be more widely practiced and encouraged.

Michael R. Heinlein

Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV's Simply Catholic and author of "Glorifying Christ: The Life of Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I."