Unpacking the Act of Spiritual Communion

As the Covid-19 pandemic erupted across the globe in March, life came to a stand-still. Everything closed—and Catholic churches were no exception. Although in-person worship has resumed at most parishes, those months of forced separation from the sacraments weigh heavily on our Church. Newfound reliance on the Act of Spiritual Communion prompts a reflection on the motion of Christian spirituality in the midst of this ongoing pandemic. 

The Catholic Church has promoted the Prayer of Spiritual Communion for centuries, and many saints (notably, St. John Vianney, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. John Paul the Great, among others) have testified to its beauty and merit. But for many of us, familiarity with this prayer came only months ago as we lost in-person access to the Mass. Sheltering in place, we watched live-streamed Masses, exchanging the communion wafer for the Prayer of Spiritual Communion.

This prayer has a way of piercing the soul and bringing a previously unfelt gravitas to a comfortable Sunday morning spent sitting on the couch and watching Mass. When we can’t physically receive the Eucharist, when we can’t murmur a quiet “Amen” and tangibly taste Christ on our tongue, then we must turn to this prayer that, against all logic, accomplishes the same end through words rather than action.

And what words! They shatter cradle-Catholic complacency and force us to confront the distance between our words and our belief. “My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.” This, somehow, is the easier belief to profess. The next line hits even harder: “I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.” How often do we consider our souls and the hierarchy of our loves? The pandemic placed before us a set of spiritual gymnastics, a challenge to turn inward and sort through the messiness of our love. The words “I love You above all things” prompt immediate contrition for the times we have failed and immediate hope that we might gradually progress towards greater purity of heart.

We cannot separate these past months from the experience of inexorable longing. The Act of Spiritual Communion strikes the core of our desire with the words: “Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.” Christ, once felt physically, extends His presence to us spiritually, bridging the gap between altar and home, transforming our hearts into tabernacles. In a time of such relentless longing for normalcy and certainty, the Act of Spiritual Communion offers a path for Him who satisfies our deepest desires. 

We profess: “I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from you.” Here, once again, we are called inwards, into our sometimes not-so-silent hearts. The plea for Christ’s presence is felt acutely during a time of forced separation from the sacraments, but this Act of Spiritual Communion reminds us that Christ perpetually dwells in our hearts. Without access to the physical church, we nonetheless live as temples, carrying Christ with us wherever we go.

And so, it is with this heartening knowledge that we can examine the events of the pandemic— the suffering, the loss, the separation—and conclude by saying, “Amen.” We live always with the grace of God, and so we can accept each tribulation by echoing Mary’s fiat: “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38).

As we persevere through this pandemic at Notre Dame, we once again have access to the sacraments. Indeed, across the nation, many churches have resumed in-person worship. But life is still far from normal. Social distance need not entail spiritual distance; we dwell always in the life of Christ.

“Unprecedented” is the adjective of choice for Covid-19, but, comfortingly, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc.1:9). Our Church has remained luminous through darker times, and we can rest in the security of the Cross and the promise of resurrection. We should reflect gratefully on the spiritual gifts of the pandemic, hard though they are to receive. And as we surround ourselves once more with Notre Dame’s abundance of Masses, chapels, and priests, let us approach our prayer with deep gratitude, always cognizant of the longing we felt during these months of separation. 

Mary Frances Myler is a junior majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and Theology. Her ideal day would be spent hiking, swimming, and reading on the shores of Lake Superior. Send book recommendations to mmyler@nd.edu.