The readings for the Mass this week tell the story of the apostles persecuted and imprisoned for preeachning and performing miracles in the name of the risen Lord. As we read today - and as illustrated by Jan Hearn - they were released by an angel. Many of us also wait to be released from the temporary prisons of our homes and long to meet Christ again in the Most Holy Sacrament.
As you know, your priests have been offering Mass every day and there are many possibilities to watch a Mass online. This is a contemporary way of accomplishing what St. Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) did, when during an outbreak of plague in Milan during his tenure as archbishop there, he ordered the celebration of the Mass to take place outdoors so people could watch from their homes, although they were prevented from receiving the sacrament.
In this connection it’s noteworthy that frequent reception of Holy Communion is in fact a recent phenomenon, commonly tied to encouragement of the practice by St. Pius X (Pope from 1903-1914). For many centuries, regular reception of holy Communion was not very regular at all. For instance, St. Louis IX (1214-1270), the French monarch renowned for his own sanctity, who received holy Communion only six times a year — and that was thought to be frequent at the time.
Some of you may be already familiar with the act of Spiritual Communion, a traditional practice of expressing to the Lord our longing for him and our desire for him to enter our hearts.
St. Teresa of Avila 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.”
St. Thomas Aquinas defined this Spiritual Communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and in lovingly embracing Him as if we had actually received Him.”
St. Jean-Marie Vianney, a French priest famous for converting countless souls to Christ in his parish of Ars in the 19th century, once said “when we feel the love of God growing cold, let us instantly make a Spiritual Communion. When we cannot go to the church, let us turn towards the tabernacle; no wall can shut us out from the good God.”
St. Peter Julian Eymard, the French “apostle of the Eucharist,” suggested the following: “If you do not receive Holy Communion sacramentally, receive spiritually by making the following acts: conceive a real desire to be united to Jesus Christ by acknowledging the need you have to love His life; arouse yourself to perfect contrition for all your sins, past and present, by considering the infinite goodness and sanctity of God; receive Jesus Christ in spirit in your inmost soul, entreating Him to give you the grace to live entirely for Him, since you can live only by him; imitate Zacheus in his good resolutions and thank our Lord that you have been able to hear Holy Mass, and make a spiritual Communion; offer in thanksgiving a special act of homage, a sacrifice, an act of virtue, and beg the blessing of Jesus Christ upon yourself and all your relatives and friends.”
There is no formula prescribed by the Church to make an act of Spiritual Communion, but one of the more popular acts of Spiritual Communion comes from St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787):
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.
By Fr Tomas
Illustration © Jan Hearn