The spiritual communion of the faithful

Communion with Jesus is the goal of our Eucharistic celebrations, the goal towards which the liturgy is moving. This is not understood to be the same as an ordinary meal and even in the New Testament writings, this difference was clearly identified.

What happens is that Jesus gives us a share in himself in a concrete, living person with

his whole life’s destiny, and in the power of the Holy Spirit he accomplishes that

beingin-one-another (he in us and we in him) that is the most intimate imaginable for

of being together, the greatest possible closeness. (Herbert Vorgrimler). This is what

happens through eating his body.

This presence is sacramentally mediated in the act of communion. This is in no way

any sort of corporal-material understanding. The New Testament from the very

beginning understood this to be a sacramental mediation perceptible to the human

senses. Communion is an internal process of union in which they hand over all sense

of being in charge of what is happening. It is only possible for those who come, through

the grace of God, to the altar in faith, in hope and in love.

When the grace of God is at work in the believer

• enabling them to possess the preconditions for union with Christ (faith, hope,


• and where the Spirit of God brings them to fulfillment,

• there the gracious effects of this communion are present.

Communion is also an avenue for an increase of grace. This grace is to be understood

as God own self, a self communicated to us in and through Jesus Christ, through the

Holy Spirit. It is an increase in the sense of the believer being given an opportunity to

enter into an even deeper and more intense experience of God’s real presence within

them. But this is not just about the individual communicant. It includes: a more

intensive union with Christ

• in seeking to do the will of God in the world

• in the practical unity of love of God and humanity

• in following Jesus by beginning to bring about the reign of God,

• in the service of peace and reconciliation

• in standing up against injustice,

• in attention to the weak, the ostracised and the strangers.

But there is more and that is the fulfilling of the promise given by Jesus in John 6...

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the

world...50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and

not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread

will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Those partaking in this communion are taken into a kind of divine dimension. There

− the works of God,

− along with those who are perfected in God,

− exist in a pure, enduring presence,

− and into which believers hope someday to be accepted and to abide eternally.

This communion then becomes a foretaste of things yet to come in their fullness. But

this is not a once forever reception. The human person struggles with weaknesses and

sin and are in constant need of this divine presence. Without it they are so easily buried

under the burdens of a sinful humanity. This communion needs therefore to be repeated


These graces, the effects of the sacrament can also be given by God outside of an actual

communion. The one exception to this is the building up of the ecclesial community,

the holding together the Body of Christ. This is achieved through the sharing of the

common meal, the one bread and one cup.

It is from this teaching the whole understanding of a spiritual communion developed.

Coming first of all from the theology of St Thomas, but then taken up by the Council

of Trent, it is possible to acquire the fruits (Latin res) of the sacrament even without

receiving it. This comes about through the faith, hope and love that is essential before

someone comes to the altar rail for communion. These are also among the fruits of the


The word spiritual is used here in the same way the word spirit is used of the Holy

Spirit, the same Spirit who effects, brings about these sacramental effects. This spiritual

can only exist when there is a full and sincere longing for the sacramental communion.

This is where the theology comes into play when there are situations where the

sacrament cannot be celebrated:

  • in parishes where there is no priest.

  • among those who are unable to attend the eucharistic celebration.

  • in the present Corona virus situation

As document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (983) is a useful source

of appropriate theological language:

When, deeply moved by desire for the sacrament, and united in prayer with the

whole Church, they call on the Lord and lift their hearts to him, they commune,

through the power of the Holy Spirit, with the Church which is the living body of

Christ, and with the Lord himself. United with the Church by their desire for the

sacrament, they are, even though externally separated from it, internally and

really united with the Church, and thus receive the fruits of the sacrament.

Conclusion: This is the theological understanding behind the present use of having the

Eucharist on video, or live streamed for people at home. According to this teaching, it

is possible to receive all of the effects of the sacrament extra-sacramentally.

Further testimonies that are useful:

According to St Thomas there are both sacramental and spiritual communions.

Sacramental communion refers to the physical reception of the Eucharist. Spiritual

communion involves “a real longing for union with Christ. One must always want to

receive regular sacramental Communion. However, St. Thomas tells us that a complete

spiritual Communion can even take place when we are unable to receive sacramentally,

because ‘the effect of a sacrament can be secured if it is received by desire.

The great St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) wrote of the value of spiritual

Communion. She had begun to question whether her spiritual Communions had any real

value compared to sacramental Communion. Then one day she saw Christ holding two

chalices and he spoke to her... In this golden chalice I put your sacramental

communions. In this silver chalice I put your spiritual communions. Both chalices are

quite pleasing to me.

In 2003, Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

In the Eucharist, unlike any other sacrament, the mystery [of communion] is so perfect

that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: Here is the ultimate goal of every

human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most

perfect union....therefore it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the

sacrament of the Eucharist.

This is not new to the Church. St. Teresa of Jesus (1515-1542) 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


St. Jean-Marie Vianney (1786 – 1859) 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.

The prayer for a spiritual communion by 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. Amen.

Pope Benedict XVI on divorced couples receiving communion: 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.

The Greek theologians, Basil (379) and Gregory of Nazianzus (+390), see in the

blessing of the Spirit of God the effect of a spiritual communion. 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.

St Augustine (354 430)Why do you prepare your teeth and stomach? Believe, and you

have eaten!

Cardinal Paul Cordes (2016 ) Tertullian ( c. 220), Cyprian (258), and Augustine 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, 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. Truly, this appeal to understanding the

spiritual nature of the reception of the Eucharist cannot be made stronger than it is.