Spiritual Communion: Freed from the Dust of Centuries

On the Pastoral Milieu: Extreme Alternatives to Approaching the Lord’s Table
From hearsay: The vigil of All Saints’ Day in the early 20th century. A small farm in Westphalia, Germany. Tomorrow’s Mass is one of the few times in the year in which the traditional German peasant will receive Communion. Yesterday, he went to the nearby church for confession. Afterwards, he spoke with no one in his family. He takes no food at supper. He must keep his soul as pure as possible after the Sacrament of Confession. At home, all speak in a low voice. On the feast day, after the Mass, he is then visibly more cheerful. He is friendlier than usual and delights his wife, older children, and himself with a drink of wine.

From my own eye’s witness: A Eucharistic celebration with about 60 young people on a normal weekday in the parish church of my neighborhood. The presiding priest knows how to appeal to the youth in his preaching, to lead appropriate hymns, and to celebrate Mass with admirable reverence. Then comes the moment when he shows the youth the Body of the Lord. He has not yet completed the words: “Behold, the Lamb of God…” when every person there, with considerable noise, storms into the sanctuary for Communion. The priest seems irritated for a moment. Indignantly, he sends them all back to their seats. He sets himself above the liturgical order of the Mass for a catechism lesson. He invokes the awe of the Lord of Heaven and Earth; of Jesus, Who has given up his life for us and now gives himself to us as food – to us, sinners; an unbelievable thrill, a startling wonder. All participants recollect themselves and about a third remain in their seats.

A Tumultuous Bishops’ Synod: 2014
On October 20, 2014, with Pope Paul VI’s beatification in Rome, was ending the first two-week phase of the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family. In his closing homily, Pope Francis called the synod “an important experience, in which we lived synodality and collegiality, and felt the working of the Holy Spirit, which ever guides and renews the Church—the Church, which is called without hesitation to bind up the bleeding wounds, and enkindle hope in so many without hope.”1

Interest in the synod, both in the world at-large and the Church herself, had been steadily increasing since it was announced in February of this year by a Public Consistory. This was due, not least of all, to the emotionally charged question of whether divorced and remarried persons ought to be allowed to receive Holy Communion. Cardinal Walter Kasper, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, was instructed by the Pope to explain his view of the problem at hand. In doing so, the expert used two long conferences in order to pose anew his often explained arguments for a potential “loophole of mercy.” Although he expressed his view as a question, he intended to shake up the present norms of reception of Communion, and wanted to allow Catholics, whom the traditional pastor would know as a “public sinner,” to receive the Body and drink the Blood of Christ.

As early as the consistories in February, a lively discussion arose among the cardinals over a new type of pastoral practice, as Kasper had explained in his conferences. Several Synodal Fathers recalled that the word of the Gospels is itself a fundamental obstacle to admitting these Christians to the Eucharist. The Lord himself teaches in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of unchaste behavior, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Mt 5:32).2 Even a conditional admission of divorced and remarried persons to Communion would mean that the reception of the Eucharist was opened to those whom Christ called “adulterers.”3

The move of Cardinal Kasper thus compels the Church to square the circle; in the end, he actually exceeds the authority of all consecrated pastors, which is bound up ultimately in the Holy Scriptures. Even the Protestant exegete, Ulrich Luz, in his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (5th ed., 2002), referred to the consequences of the Lord’s instructions for Catholics. Even a Protestant scholar can see how traditional Catholic practice alone follows the Lord’s instruction. Luz, therefore, holds firmly that in the early Church, until the fifth century, remarried persons were forbidden to receive Communion because of the Lord’s commands.

Squaring the Circle
Without a doubt, today the Church’s attention is directly turned to remarried and divorced persons. Their numbers are growing swiftly among our community, and they require particular spiritual care so that we may show them special concern and compassion. If they are excluded from the reception of Communion, how can the Church give them a personal encounter with the Lord? Many of our faithful brothers and sisters do, in fact, long for an interior relationship with Christ, even in a canonically blocked situation. Does Church history show us a way to bring these Christians closer to Christ? An answer to this question must not ignore the words of the Lord, or even attempt to gain Church approval of “public sinfulness.” This would perhaps scarcely cut the Gordian knot of these complex problems. But, instead, there may be a useful and effective pastoral practice that could both strengthen the faith of those most affected, and fortify their personal relationship with Christ.

Knowing Cardinal Kasper’s theological position related to this problem explained in his pastoral letter of 1993, I could for the consistory in February expect a new attempt to open the reception of Communion to remarried and divorced Catholics. I prepared myself, therefore, with a statement in which I very much emphasized the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, quoted above. Then, I remembered a possible way to relate to Christ which might be open to remarried and divorced persons. For centuries, it was known to be the believer’s comfort and nourishment for unity with God: spiritual communion. Spiritual communion is tied only to the interior desires of the heart. Simply put, the fact that no ecclesial barrier could stand in the way of that union with the Lord, gave spiritual communion a great deal of leverage in our context.

In Cardinal Kasper’s eyes, my suggestion found no mercy. In the discussion in the College of Cardinals, he took the opportunity to answer the many critical objections in detail. He argued that divine mercy must, in some cases, tip the balance in favor of acceptance to the Lord’s Table. With it, he briefly mentioned the suggestion of “spiritual communion,” but dismissed it completely. Was it because the possible emphasis of this mental encounter with the Lord would weaken his main argument? Or would he avoid a simple alternative, which would circumvent the problem entirely, in order to prevent the blunting of the spearhead in the fight for the reception of the Eucharist? As for recommending spiritual communion to remarried and divorced couples, Cardinal Kasper’s comments were brief and simple: Whoever is not permitted to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist is also unworthy of spiritual communion.

Yet, here Kasper, the theologian, errs. Comparing ecclesial law, which in this case refuses reception of Holy Communion, and on the other hand, the spiritual state of men’s hearts—it’s like comparing apples and oranges. As is generally known, Church law is only able to classify empirically social actions. It cannot rule over the spiritual state of men, and can never take canonical action against their spiritual state. Therefore, as canon law forbids the reception of the Eucharist, it means the so-called “public” sinner. A believer who deeply desires to be united to the Lord Jesus makes decisions from the point of view of his personal devotion. This devotion, however, is empirically not verifiable.

There are divorcees who judge themselves justified—and possibly, before God, they are; others know themselves to be guilty and will, therefore, meet the Lord honestly. Such interior discoveries are outside the realm of canon law. Accordingly, the Church’s pastors are also barred to submit the heart’s feeling of those affected by divorce to conditions, which are canonically relevant. As the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts explicitly established,4 ecclesiastical law in these questions simply judges the exterior, publicly visible, situation of those concerned, not the subjective, interior movements. This restriction, in the long run, has protected a fundamental canonical statute, an old axiom of canon law which reads: “De internis non iudicat Ecclesia—the Church does not pass judgment on the internal forum of men.”

So then, when Pope Benedict XVI was questioned on the spiritual care of remarried and divorced persons, at the World Meeting of Families in 2012 in Milan, he was able to give a theological piece of advice on spiritual communion. He had the opportunity to explain that the Church stands for pastoral care for divorced and remarried persons (June 2, 2012). In his answer, among other things, he mentioned:

This is very important, so that they (the divorced and remarried persons) see that they are accompanied and guided. Then, it is also very important that they truly realize they are participating in the Eucharist if they enter into a real communion with the Body of Christ. Even without “corporal” reception of the sacrament, they can be spiritually united to Christ in His Body. Bringing them to understand this is important: so that they find a way to live the life of faith based upon the Word of God and the communion of the Church, and that they come to see their suffering as a gift to the Church, because it helps others by defending the stability of love and marriage. They need to realize that this suffering is not just a physical or psychological pain, but something that is experienced within the Church community for the sake of the great values of our faith.5

It is the primary concern that we may uncover anew a forgotten truth in spiritual communion, which most recently came to the fore at the Extraordinary Bishops’ Synod (October 5-19, 2014).

My own comment about spiritual communion at the beginning of the synod, which even other cardinals commented on, remained in the conversation, and was not fully dismissed. Consequently, before the preliminary vote (October 18), it was stated in the Relatio, No. 53:

Some synod fathers maintained that divorced and remarried persons, or those living together, can have fruitful recourse to a spiritual communion. Others raised the question as to why, then, they cannot have access to sacramental Communion. As a result, the synod fathers requested that further theological study in the matter with a view to making clear the distinctive features of the two forms and their connection with the theology of marriage.6

Christian with “Heart and Lips”
The words of Pope Benedict, and canon law, emphatically recommend that we further consider this form of encounter with the Lord—not least because the 2016 Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitiae, does not mention spiritual communion at all. The post-conciliar Catechism of the Catholic Church had already wholly ignored “spiritual communion.” Obviously, the theological significance of spiritual communion itself is no longer very familiar to the faithful. So this practice of faithful devotion accordingly comes to insist upon a fresh look; it did not deserve to be shoved, out of hand, off of the desk, and into the ecclesial archives.

First, obviously, everyone, when arguing for encountering Christ in a mental manner, must affirm that he stands soundly behind the incomprehensible tangibility of the divine redemption. Also, the Incarnation of the Son of God uses as the sacramental structure of the Church for God’s work of salvation, elements which are perceptible to our senses: words, that we can hear, and signs, that we can see and touch. Salvation was not banished to a mystical back room; it did not evaporate into spiritual darkness.

But the tangibility of the event of salvation by no means claims an indiscriminate equating of the “exterior” and “interior” of men. Here lies the snag in Cardinal Kasper’s statement—not only because it conflicts with the words of the Pope and canon law. The meaning of the revealed Word of God stands entirely against his statement. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, already makes us mindful that, for the Christian, there are two dimensions of our relationship with Christ: the interior and the exterior. He wrote to the Romans: “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). There are the two levels to be active: the lips and the heart: the exterior, praising, and the interior, full of faith. Jesus disparages in an obvious way the fact of the opposition between the two dimensions: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; … not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Mt 15:8, 11). And again: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity” (Mt 23:25).

In the tradition of the Old Testament, the New Testament stands with such a realistic view on the nature of human beings, and their possible sins. For many of the prophets, denouncing the division between exterior acts of devotion and one’s interior attitude is really the main feature of their preaching. Only two quotations should document this fact: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings,” says the prophet Hosea (6:6). And Amos proclaims: “Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beer-sheba… Seek the LORD and live” (Amos 5:4ff.). The Psalmist reads the criterion for pleasing God in the same way—by the inner attitude of men: “For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps 51:16-17).7 Along with canon law, the Bible already distinguishes between the exterior human actions and the quality of our hearts.

This view of God’s revelation calls into view a true spiritual assistance for the divorced and remarried persons, but not only that. It must indeed become a pastoral appeal which is extremely relevant in today’s world. We try to pay for our orientation toward God with exterior acts in sacramental actions, but without the interior intention. Still more: Clearly, there is a great temptation to content ourselves with outward gestures, and to suppress the spiritual demands of our relationship with God. The spiritual encounter with the Lord does not just come automatically with the sacramental reception of His Body and Blood.

“Believe, and you will have eaten!”
The celebration of the Lord’s Supper, with its fruit, the Holy Eucharist, is the greatest sacrament of the New Covenant. The reception of Holy Communion is the means of salvation and fortification of our spiritual lives; it covers the faithful with the mark of Christ himself, and gives our bodies a share in the resurrection. In the course of centuries, there has increasingly emerged, in a developing ecclesiastical devotion, the conviction that if the Eucharist is an incarnate encounter with Jesus, receiving the Lord can also be understood as a personal and mystical encounter with Him.

At the same time, voices were increasingly raised for the reception of the Eucharist in spiritual communion. Great is the number of saints and doctors of the Church who recommended it, and brought us near to it, by showing us the spiritual fruits of such communions. The Greek theologians, Basil (+379) and Gregory of Nazianzus (+390), see in the blessing of the Spirit of God the effect of such communions; Hilary of Poitiers (+367) indicates the consumption of Christ’s Body as the imparting of the Trinitarian life; John Chrysostom (+407) reminds us, according to the words of Paul, “to discern the Body of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:29), and concludes that the sacramental reality does not reveal itself to the senses; it must be received in faith by spiritual men. For all these Church Fathers, the sign value of the food of the Body of Christ does not stand alone; it is directed much more to inner fruits founded on grace.

It was Augustine (+430), speaking to the newly baptized, who highlights the Holy Eucharist’s empirical, tangible dependence on community in a wonderful formula: “Someone says to you: ‘the Body of Christ.’ And you answer: ‘Amen.’ You are then a member of the Body of Christ, out of which your ‘Amen’ is true … Become what you see and receive what you are.” However, he also qualifies the sacramental meal, and stressed the spiritual encounter with the Lord. In concise words, he drives this truth to the extreme. His sermon on the gospel of John includes this sentence, most often quoted in relation to the theme of this essay: “Ut quid paras dentes et ventrem? Crede, et manducasti!—“Why do you prepare your teeth and stomach? Believe, and you have eaten!”8 Out of this pivotal point would come the long-lasting, far-reaching historical understanding of spiritual communion.

Until the Edict of Milan, promulgated by Constantine in 313, believers celebrated the Holy Mass in the close company of those who had grown to spiritual maturity after a long catechumenate, and after a long period following Christ. Subsequent to the edict’s promulgation, many people in the community came together because of their new freedom and stated recognition—people for whom the personal decision for the faith was less radical. Some began to take part in the Holy Sacrifice without eating the Body of the Lord. Throughout the time of the barbarian invasions, and the mission to the Germanic tribes, the understanding of the language in the liturgy declined; the congregation could no longer follow the responses and actions of the priest, and interpreted his celebration only allegorically and symbolically. For these reasons, the number of those who encountered the Lord sacramentally diminished; many were contented to be near Him only in a spiritual way.

This purely spiritual approach to receiving Christ had, consequently, an increasing personalization of Communion with Christ, spreading the idea among the faithful more and more throughout the course of history. The Middle Ages saw, then, the Eucharistic Jesus as the Guest of the soul, the King Whom one went to meet, Whom one approached as another self in personal conversation. Contributing to the spread of a personal encounter with Christ in the Eucharist were such notables of the time as: Bernard of Clairvaux (+1153) with the bridal mysticism of the Song of Songs, Bonaventure (+1274), and various mystics of the 14th century, such as the German mystic, Henry Suso (+1366). With a growing anthropocentrism and egocentrism in the Renaissance worldview, the communal and eschatological sense of the Eucharist faded away more and more. Such partiality towards the interior and the intimate no longer did justice to the theological wealth of the Eucharist. The thought of being incorporated into the great sacrifice of Christ’s work of salvation was wholly lost. The divine service of the Mass lost the character of a feast, but instead moved toward more of a common joy over the victory of Christ and His Resurrection. “Spiritual Communion,” which itself was bundled up, as it were, into the individual aspect of the encounter with Christ, but its liturgical wealth was left to waste away.

Also a greater sensitivity to personal sin caused a decrease in reception of the Eucharist under the form of Bread. Wars, plagues, and other epidemics harrowed men, and often seemed to be God’s punishment for their sins. As the Apostle Paul had taught the community in Corinth: God would not leave unpunished the one who participated unworthily in the Eucharistic meal. Weakness, illness, and death were interpreted as the consequences of unworthy reception of the Eucharist: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor 11:29f.). Spiritual communion, however, could never be an unworthy reception of the Eucharist. Anyone who desired the Lord only spiritually, did not draw upon himself Paul’s threat to the Corinthians.

Finally, our discussion of increased absence at the Lord’s Table must not overlook the alienation of the faith, which caused the “summit of the Church’s actions” (as Vatican II put it) to seem to be only a tiresome obligation. In any case, it is typical that this then found expression in the commandments of the Church: Catholics must receive Holy Communion at least once a year.

This much abbreviated history of the spreading of spiritual communion shows that there were many drawbacks. Undeniably, however, spiritual communion is a theologically legitimate practice that led to a salubrious effect over the centuries. Therefore, the decrees of the Council of Trent (1545-63), and the Roman Catechism (1567), referenced spiritual communion and strongly upheld it. It gives a share in the sacrifice of Christ through faith, desire, and love. Its spiritual fruit is, in the assessment of ecclesiastical authority, nearly equal to the fruits of sacramental Communion.

“Liturgical Activism”?
Having reflected on the historical roots of spiritual communion, we first have to see that today’s view of the Lord’s Supper is substantially different. Our present relationship with the Sacrament of the Altar is shaped by quite a few incentives which encourage the reception of the Eucharist. There is, first of all, the liturgical movement which, since the turn of the 20th century, has had a lasting effect on the participation of the Mass. The Mass turned the united assembly back into an active congregation. The desire of the Second Vatican Council for this change led to the catchword “actuosa participation—active participation” as the characteristic vision for the celebration of the liturgy. A central feature of this participation turned out to be people showing up to receive Holy Communion—since one no longer had to look passively on the liturgy. Certainly, the 1910 Decree on Communion by the Holy Father, Pope Pius X, likewise lowered the barrier to receiving Holy Communion, which in the history of the Church, because of the reasons mentioned earlier, had become rare. Furthermore, when the time for the Eucharistic fast was shortened, there also followed an increase in the reception of Communion. Eventually, the emergence of the communal character of the Eucharist had a specific influence. Instead of a private piety and a narrow view of the Eucharist as solely a personal encounter with Christ, the “Guest and Bridegroom of the soul,” there arose, once again, the early Christian awareness of the Church as His mystical Body.

The Second Vatican Council has definitively taught us to throw out all close-minded, intimate piety from our communities. On the contrary, “liturgical bustle” occasionally threatens the Church with unavoidable exteriorization of worship. So another strand of doctrine and experience attracts our attention, in which we again turn our interest to spiritual communion. Even since the time of early Christianity, as a matter of fact, we find great theologians whose primary concern is the spiritual effect of physically consuming the Eucharist. For example, Tertullian (+ c. 220), Cyprian (+258), and Augustine (+430)—they all point out the spiritual incorporation into the mystical Body of Christ; they show the limitations of understanding the Bread of the Lord’s Body as merely sacramental and symbolic, and they underscore the spiritual effect of Communion. The Cappadocian Fathers, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, mentioned earlier highlight the fact that the Eucharist directly imparts to us the Spirit of Christ. Other Church Fathers—such as Ambrose (+397), Gregory of Nyssa (+394), and John Chrysostom (+407)—stress that the reality of this sacrament is such that it is not perceived by the senses; instead, the sacrament must be eaten by faith, that is, by the spiritual man. And indeed, we have already quoted the words of Augustine: “Why do you prepare your teeth and stomach? Believe, and you have eaten!”9 Truly, this appeal to understanding the spiritual nature of the reception of the Eucharist cannot be made stronger than it is.

Since the dust of centuries has lain on spiritual communion, it seems crucial to regain a factual explanation of the practice. Indeed, one sometimes encounters the term “spiritual communion” being used in discussions on this topic, but it is filled with a fear of tradition, more than any real content; it leads no further. Anyone who uses the term should know what he is talking about. Spiritual communion is understood to be the alternative to real, physical reception of Communion. Physical receiving the sacrament could even become a merely exterior practice, so that one might receive without the salvific effect, or may be entirely estranged from God. The expression must thus refer to the value of receiving the Eucharist “only” spiritually. Spiritual communion may become misunderstood—if the concept “spiritual” is understood as “faith-related; saving by grace ‘(geistlich), and not—what it means—as purely ‘mental’ (geistig).”

We can find a definite foundation for our belief in “spiritual communion” in the testimonies of the Church Fathers and theologians named above, because they connect a reasonable basis of theology to their own practice. For today’s pastors, this practice deserves fresh attention for a variety of reasons. All pastors are affected by the problems of remarried and divorced persons who, here and there, are willing to initiate a rediscovery of the faith. Spiritual communion has proved to be a welcome help for affected couples; that fact cannot be dismissed as the author’s opinion. Spiritual communion is a viable consolation even for ill or elderly people, who cannot physically join in the Eucharistic service, but who are present via the broadcasted service. Not least, the instructions of the saints and Church Fathers, who originally spread the practice of spiritual communion, can once more influence today’s practice of the reception of Communion in our communities. Not exterior reception, but only the “attitude of the heart” makes up the highest sense of Communion.

Not Set on the Shelf, But Spread Abroad
The elevated place of spiritual communion in the life of the Church has been well-attested to throughout the centuries. Spiritual communion only lost its place in pastoral care in recent times. Johannes Auer, the great dogmatic theologian, was one of the last authors who highlighted the theological roots of spiritual communion, as well as the benefits of internalizing one’s relationship with Christ. His study is richly documented with historical proof; no one who dealt responsibly with the problem may ignore it.10

A wealth of theological and pastoral factors recommend that we take a new look at spiritual communion. The bishops’ synod on marriage and the family is only one reason. The problem of remarried and divorced persons desiring Holy Communion can, in no way, be resolved by over-emphasizing it; this very complex drama cannot be finished with a quick verbal debate. Even if this investigation were only motivated by the needs of the divorced and remarried, spiritual communion is not only a deep help for those believers, who, in a canonically blocked situation seek a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It must also be influenced by a fresh understanding of the incomprehensibly high place of receiving Communion at all, and pastoral ministry overall. Maybe this reflection is useful to rediscover a pious practice, which over the centuries has shaped reverent believers’ encounters with Christ. Spiritual communion was held in such high esteem in the past. Unfortunately, our pastoral memory is short. The encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei (1947), of Pope Pius XII, contained the appeal: “{The Church} wishes, in the first place, that Christians—especially when they cannot easily receive Holy Communion—should do so at least by desire.”11

In our lifetime, we have been allowed to see how some forgotten devotions have been revived. In my years in the seminary, Eucharistic adoration was not favored, and some students even saw it as deeply suspect. Today, it has in many ways begun a new career. Who would have imagined that, in only fifty years, pilgrimages would have become nearly as popular as they were in the Middle Ages! Why should the fruits of spiritual communion be held back from the people of God—especially from the youth of our day, obviously fascinated, still lingering before the sacrament of the altar?

Adoration of the Eucharistic Lord is a new movement of Catholic devotion, and finds a living echo in the hearts of many. It is central to the spirituality of the “Youth 2000” movement. The international “Nightfever” encounter won hundreds of thousands of new friends for the Eucharistic Christ. No one who followed Pope Benedict at his several World Youth Days will ever forget the Eucharistic nights, with our Holy Father himself tenderly leading those assembled in prayer. In Cologne 2005, he concluded with these words:

Here in the Sacred Host, He is present before us, and in our midst. As at that time, so now He is mysteriously veiled in a sacred silence; as at that time, it is here that the true face of God is revealed. For us, He became a grain of wheat that falls on the ground and dies and bears fruit until the end of the world (cf. Jn 12: 24). He is present now as He was then in Bethlehem. He invites us to that inner pilgrimage which is called adoration. Let us set off on this pilgrimage of the spirit, and let us ask Him to be our guide. Amen.12

Communicating the truth of “spiritual communion” is first a service of pastoral ministry for those who cannot participate in the liturgy itself. If those who are old and sick knew that they could receive Holy Communion spiritually, surely they would often turn to it for friendship and consolation. Many of these seek the face of Christ in private prayer, or in reading Holy Scripture; many use the televised Sunday Mass to beg for the power of the resurrection of the Lord. Should not the commentator use the moment of receiving Communion to remind them to receive Christ spiritually? Among Italian believers, there is still a well-known prayer for spiritual encounter with the Lord. Anyone looking for a text may use a version transmitted by the former Bishop of my diocese, Paderborn in Germany, Konrad Martin (+1879):

Oh, my Jesus, I trust in You, the only Truth. I hope in You, unending Kindness. I love You, the highest, most perfect Good. I dearly long to receive You in the Holy Eucharist. Since I cannot now receive you, come to me spiritually; come into my soul through your grace and love. I embrace You, Jesus, just as if You were truly present within me. Do not leave me, that I may never be parted from you. Amen.

It is unquestionably rewarding to write modern forms of such prayers. Above all, the practice of praying for spiritual communion must be preached and taught, as it once was. All the ordained pastors across the world should show this to be the engine of the love of Christ.

We Are All Recipients
In our world today, that which is tangibly and visibly difficult counts more than ever. Something is important when it can be bought and measured. And, certainly, the Christian faith has the Lord as its Founder, who has become flesh, instead of withdrawing Himself from all empiricism to be merely spiritual. Yet, our relationship with God is still bound up in our interior attitudes. Religious activities, without the resonance of the heart, remain only “a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal”—as the Apostle to the Gentiles says of our love. Therefore, since the fifth century (Sacramentarium Leonianum), the priest prays these words at his own Communion, his hands folded:

Quod ore sumpsi, Domine, mente capiam – What my mouth has received, Lord, I must grasp in my heart.

For the believer, it is not enough to simply go through the motions. Mindless repetition may even threaten the seriousness of the one receiving. The Roman expression, “Cotidiana vilescunt –things done daily become superficial,” also applies to the All-Holy One. For whoever is formed by the teaching of spiritual communion is better prepared to fight empty ritualism in the liturgy. This theological knowledge of spiritual communion could give new depth to our individual approach to the Lord’s Table, that we might obey the Apostle Paul and “discern the Body (of Christ)” (1 Cor 11:29). This neglected practice must teach us to seek the mystical/spiritual encounter with the Redeemer in the physical consumption of Communion.

  1. This perhaps is Cardinal Cordes’ paraphrase of what he heard on Oct. 18, 2014. Cf. w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/october/documents/papa-francesco_20141018_conclusione-sinodo-dei-vescovi.html.
  2. www.blueletterbible.org
  3. In the German, Ehebrecher, lit. “marriage-breaker.”
  4. Definition of April 24, 2000; published in Communicationes 32 (2000) 159-162.
  5. Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at the Evening of Witness, Pastoral Visit to the Archdioces of Milan and 7th World Meeting of Families (1-3 June 2012). w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2012/june/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20120602_festa-testimonianze.html
  6. Relatio Synodi 2014: vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20141018_relatio-synodi-familia_en.html
  7. Ps. 51:18 in the German edition.
  8. Augustine, Tractate 25.12
  9. ibid.
  10. Johannes Aues, “Geistige Kommunion: Sinn und Praxis der communio spiritualis und ihre Bedeutung fuer unsere Zeit”, in Geist und Leben 24 (1951): 113-32; available online, along with the citations.
  11. Mediator Dei, 117, w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_20111947_mediator-dei.html
  12. w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/august/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050820_vigil-wyd.html
Cardinal Paul Cordes About Cardinal Paul Cordes

Paul Josef Cardinal Cordes was born in Kirchhundem, Germany in 1934, and became auxiliary bishop of Paderborn, Germany in 1976. In 1980, Pope John Paul II appointed him Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission for the Laity. From December 1995 until October 2010, Cardinal Cordes was President of the Pontifical Commission “Cor Unum.” Cardinal Cordes has also been one of the first organizers of World Youth Day.


  1. Avatar Francis Etheredge says:

    See a complementary piece called: “Accompaniment: On the Truth that Heals” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/accompaniment-truth-heals-francis-etheredge?trk=mp-reader-card

  2. The theme of spiritual communion is a part of that relationship to Christ which is complementary to the help of the word of God: See “Accompaniment: the Truth that Heals”, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/accompaniment-truth-heals-francis-etheredge?trk=mp-reader-card