“Sacraments are those signs that achieve in human hearts and lives what they signify to human minds,” University of Notre Dame theologian Jesuit Father Brian Daley once said.
At this time of the coronavirus pandemic, most are unable to receive physically the Eucharist, the sacrament of holy Communion at Mass. Some want to know what is meant by “spiritual Communion.”
Let’s start at the beginning. God loves us. God constantly and continually creates and sustains us. God wants to be with us on the journey of life, wants to save us from sin and wants to bring us to the fullness of peace and joy where we will be with God and our loved ones for all eternity.
St. Athanasius put it best in the fourth century: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”
Baptism starts off this lifelong process. Other sacraments accompany us on life’s journey. The Eucharist is the prime way Jesus instituted that connects us with the reality of God’s active love in our lives.
That divine love transforms us interiorly and that divine love is present in and through our loving relationships with others. We open ourselves to awareness of God’s transformative love when we pray.
There is a tangible concreteness and comforting reality to Jesus the Christ, Lord and Savior, brother and companion, really present in the consecrated body and blood under the forms of bread and wine.
And the reality of that presence is known even when we cannot be physically present at Mass, and maybe must witness and pray along with the Mass while viewing television. We can prayerfully trust the faith fact that Jesus wants to enter into our minds and hearts and achieve in our lives the reality of love, in much the same way as when we can receive the reality physically.
We also know that Christ is really present in four ways during the eucharistic liturgy: 1) in the word proclaimed, 2) in the people gathered, 3) in the consecrated bread and wine, and 4) in the person of the presider. So Mass via TV or internet leaves us with three of the four!
We often love across time and space. Just think. A spouse away on a trip loves across time and space. Parents who have died and gone before us are loved and love us across time and space. From the depths of the reality that is heaven, we are loved.
At Mass, we are deeply connected with all our loved ones, and with all with whom we are in communion through all history. That’s what we mean by the communion of the saints.
Spiritual Communion is a trust and an awareness, a prayer and an acceptance, that God’s love is really present when we accept Jesus as we witness the sacramental reality of holy Communion, even when we can only be as present as our television screen allows.
God’s grace can work through and transcend electronic communication. Through our spiritual Communion, the reality of Jesus and the Father’s transformative love, in and through the Holy Spirit, is operative and present in our minds and hearts.
Jesuit Father Richard Malloy is director of mission and ministry at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore. He is author of the book “Being on Fire: The Top Ten Essentials of Catholic Faith.”
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