"A certain rich man made a great feast." Enter the hall of the Last Supper at Jerusalem, where the divine Redeemer sat among His Apostles. Jesus, His face aglow with divine love, turns at the end of the meal to His disciples and tells them that the hour has come when He must return to the Father; but He bids them be not afraid nor dejected, for He will remain with them till the end of time. Then He took bread into His hands, those hands which made heaven and earth, and blessed it and said,
"This is My body which is given for you; do this for a commemoration of Me." In like manner the chalice also after He had supped, saying.
"This is the chalice of the New Testament in My blood, which shall be shed for you." To understand the great love with which the amiable Saviour did this, consider when this was done.
Not in those days when Our Saviour was going about in His glory, working miracles before the admiring crowd that followed Him. He did not even institute this holy Sacrament when, after having preached and moved the people, a woman cried out,
'Blessed is the womb that bore Thee and the paps that gave Thee suck." Not in the days of His triumph, when He had fed five thousand people, and had led them spellbound for days through the country, and they came to take Him by force and make Him king. He did not institute it on that glorious feast. Palm Sunday, when He made His entry into Jerusalem, the houses, the streets, and the gates of the city adorned for His reception, and the people crying out,
"Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." But He instituted this holy Sacrament on that sorrowful night when He was to be apprehended through the treachery of Judas, His apostle, when the soldiers were about to lay violent hands on Him and drag Him most contumeliously to the house of Caiphas. The night on which He was betrayed was the night on which Our Lord instituted the Blessed Sacrament. You will appreciate still more the love of Our Lord in instituting this holy Sacrament by remembering that He foresaw all that was about to happen to Him: the insults, scourging, crowning; the carelessness, coldness, and infidelity of humanity was all before His mind; He saw the want of faith, the want of gratitude among the Christians themselves. He foresaw that the Sacrament would be sacrilegiously used and abused.
That many Christians would eat and drink judgment unto their souls for not discerning the body of Christ. Every day Our Lord goes into hearts that are good, and into hearts that are the abominable residence of the devil. But the love of Jesus overcame all difficulties, and in the excess of His love He cried out,
"My delight is to be with the children of men," He did not wish to remain with us only for a time, but forever, unto the end of the world. It would have been a great favor had He left His body in only one place on this earth, so that it would have been necessary to travel many miles to reach His tabernacle. But, no; He preferred to remain within our cities, near our houses, in our villages, out in the lonesome country, in every church where the Holy Eucharist is kept, and there He remains day aad night. What a great favor it, would have been had He promised us that once in a lifetime we might receive Him. But He desires that we go frequently to Him, and He even binds us by a command that we must receive His body, and drink His blood if we wish to have life in us.
"Amen, amen, I say to you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you." Continually does the good Lord coax us to come to Him, and in familiar intercourse to lay our troubles before Him, that He may carry them for us.
" Come to Me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you." How sweet and encouraging must not these words sound to the poor sinner. These words,
" Come all," ought to make us run with unbounded confidence, as the invitation implies. But how
do the generality of Christians answer this invitation of Our Lord? Do they often go to the Lord's Supper and eat the Sacred Bread? Many after this kind invitation will stay away, refusing to yield to the loving importunities of Our Lord. They say we cannot come, we love the world more than Thee, we would rather feast on the pleasure of this world than feed on that spiritual food which Thou dost offer us; we are too busy with our worldly affairs, and we cannot come. Will they not deserve the sentence which the master of the feast gave out,
"But I say unto you, that none of these men that were invited shall taste of my supper." If they do not come to this feast they shall not enter heaven. Is there a beggar faint with hunger who, if he was kindly invited by the king to come into a great banquet hall, there to satisfy himself with delicious food, that would not willingly listen to the invitation, and be glad he had an opportunity of eating at the king's table? He would be a fool if he said,
"I cannot come." The sick man near his death would not refuse a new lease of life and freedom from sickness. Those who remain afar from Jesus are poor, famished beggars, miserable invalids, because they are in want of the food of the soul which Our Lord offers. You see then the blindness and folly of people who refuse to go to Jesus. What a consolation it is to all good Christians to love
God's altar and to go frequently to holy communion. You are therefore the guard of honor of the Blessed Sacrament; defend it now, and show your real faith in it. Keep yourselves steadfast in this holy devotion, this holy adoration. The time will perhaps come when you will no longer have your child-like faith and fervor at the altar. What has become of it? Ah! it is the old story; you fell away and cared no more for this heavenly food.
Let us love this sacred table of Our Lord. Let us ever hunger for the spiritual food, the body of Christ; do not love the banquets of the world, for they will make you forget this heavenly feast. Let it not be said there was a time when you were good; but having begun well, being nourished by the body and blood of Christ, grow in virtue, become good Christian men and women, and faithful to the teaching of your youth; often receive the Sacraments of Confession and Communion. The danger is, that in the course of time you may become careless. Knowing this forgetfulness, join a society which will keep you from bad surroundings and encourage you in the practice of your duty.
Source: Sermons for Children's Masses, Imprimatur 1900
"If any man shall hear My voice, and open lo Me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me."—Apoc. iii, 20.
THESE talks on communion would not be complete if nothing were said of spiritual communion.
Now, the catechism of the Council of Trent, called also the Roman Catechism, because it is the official formulary of the Roman doctrine, uses the following words:
" The shepherds of souls should teach their flock that there is not one manner only of receiving the admirable fruits of the sacrament of the Eucharist, but that there are two: sacramental communion and spiritual communion."
Spiritual communion is little known, and still less practised; and yet it is a special and incomparable source of graces.
"It is, by itself," says Father Faber, "one of the greatest powers of the world." "By it," writes St. Leonard of Port-Maurice, "many souls have attained a high perfection."
To derive from this inestimable treasury all the wealth which it contains it must be understood:
(1) in what spiritual communion consists;
(2) what graces it confers; and
(3) in what manner it may be practised.
In what does spiritual communion consist ? It is, in the first place, a communion; the Council of Trent states this expressly. It is therefore an actual participation in the graces of the Eucharist, although distinct from the sacramental participation properly so called. We have already seen what graces flow into souls from the Eucharist; so that it is enough, in order to estimate the value of spiritual communion, to know that it does truly confer upon us a considerable proportion of those graces. We shall presently see in what measure and to what extent. This communion is effected not externally, as in sacramental communion, but spiritually; that is, internally and mentally, without any material and corporal action; spiritually, that is, again, supernaturally or divinely. It is also called "interior communion," communion of the heart, invisible or mystical communion, because it unites us with Jesus in a secret and mysterious manner, without a visible sign as in sacramental communion. It is also called "virtual communion," because it has the power of making us participate in the fruits of the Eucharist.
What must one do in order to communicate spiritually ?
Is it enough to make acts of faith and love toward Jesus present in the Eucharist ?
No. We must expressly formulate the desire to communicate; and in order that this desire may be sincere we must be so disposed that we could communicate sacramentally, if it were possible. On the other hand, a simple desire, if deep and sincere, no matter how brief and rapid, is sufficient to constitute spiritual communion. Obviously, the longer the desire is prolonged the more fruitful is the communion. But by a simple impulse of the heart toward Jesus present in the Eucharist we communicate spiritually, we participate in the graces of sacramental communion.
How can this be ?
I will explain.
Our Lord is in the Eucharist for us; and His desire to come into us, to be wholly ours, to possess us, to live in us, is a supreme desire that asks only that it may satisfy itself.
"I am consumed with the desire to give Myself to thee," said our Lord to the venerable Jeanne Marie of the Cross; "and the more I give Myself the more I desire to give Myself anew. After each of thy communions I am like the pilgrim devoured with thirst, to whom a drop of water is given, and who is thereby made to thirst yet more. It is thus that I aspire continually to give Myself to thee." Jesus addresses these very words to each of you.
Jesus wishes to enter your heart every day by sacramental communion; yet even that does not suffice Him; He would come again and again, without ceasing. This divine desire is realised by spiritual communion.
"Every time thou desirest Me," He said to St. Mechtilde, "thou dost draw Me to thee. A desire, a sigh, is enough to make thee possess Me."
Our Lord has often revealed to saintly souls, and in different ways. His ardent desire to unite Himself with us. To the blessed Margaret Mary He said:
"Thy desire to receive Me has so sweetly touched My heart, that if I had not already instituted this sacrament I should have done so at this moment, in order to give Myself to thee."
Our Lord charged St. Margaret of Cortona to remind a monk of the word of St. Augustine :
"Beheve, and thou wilt have eaten;" that is to say, make an act of faith and desire towards the Eucharist, and you will be nourished by that divine food.
To the blessed Ida of Louvain, during a mass at which she could not communicate, Jesus said:
"Call Me, and I will come !" "Come, O Jesus I" she cried at once, and felt herself filled with happiness as though she had really communicated.
And after a spiritual communion of which she tasted the full delight, St. Catherine of Siena heard our Lord say to her:
"In such manner and place as may please Me I can, I will, I am able marvellously to satisfy the holy
ardours of a soul that desires Me." This desire of Jesus to unite Himself to us is infinite and all-powerful; it knows no other obstacle than our liberty. Jesus has multiplied miracles in order to enclose Himself in the host that He may give Himself to us. What does it cost Him to work one miracle the more, to give Himself to us directly without the intervention of the sacrament? Is He not master of Himself, of all His graces, of His divinity ? And if, being called by a few words, He descends from heaven into the host between the hands and at the will of the priest, will He not descend directly from heaven into our hearts if He is called by the ardour of our desire ? O marvellous power of the human soul ! O power of a sincere desire, inspired by love ! Power which allows each one of you to realise for herself, in a certain manner, what the priest accomplishes for all the faithful !
Hagar, flying to the desert and seeing that her child was dying of thirst, sent up a despairing cry to heaven, and a spring of pure water welled forth immediately to save mother and child. Cry, therefore, to God, telling Him your desire, and God will reply to you in causing a spring of eternal life to well forth from His heart to sanctify your soul ! A poor savage has no priest to baptise him, but he sends the voice of his desire up to God: behold him baptised ! A poor sinner turns to God. In the midst of her confusion she lifts her eyes towards the infinite Goodness; she thirsts for love and forgiveness: behold, she is forgiven !
You cannot approach the holy table; either you have already communicated or some obstacle prevents you. Gaze upon the host in the tabernacle with eyes of longing; declare your hunger and thirst to Jesus. Say to Him :
"Jesus, come; I die without Thee!" Jesus will hasten: you will have communicated.
During mass the priest takes the host between his hands; he recollects himself, he bows himself, and he speaks a few words. Immediately the heavens open; Jesus hastens, at the voice of His friend who calls Him: behold Him between the hands of the priest ! And you, pious soul ! Meditate profoundly; shape an ardent wish within your heart. Touched and urged by this desire, Jesus will hasten to His well-beloved : behold Him in your heart !
O ineffable Goodness, O infinite generosity, O unbounded munificence, O bewildering love ! It is no longer God who is sovereign Master; and the creature is no longer servant. The creature becomes the sovereign mistress of God; and God makes Himself the eager and obedient servant of the creature.
"I come not among you," said Jesus, "to be served, but to serve." Spiritual communion is truly an infinite power given to the creature over the Creator, to the pious soul over Jesus !
Father Faber is right: " Spiritual communion is one of the mightiest powers in the world!"
How express the innumerable fruits which spiritual communion brings us ?
All is summed up when we say that it is a communion; that is, a participation in the Eucharist and the graces of sacramental communion. The Council of Trent, speaking of the usage of the admirable sacrament of the Eucharist, distinctly states that " some receive it spiritually: these are those who, partaking in desire of the celestial bread which is set before them, taste the fruits and the benefit of the sacrament." Thus, according to the Council of Trent, and according to all theology, spiritual communion is a spiritual manducation of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore all that we have said of the fruits of sacramental communion is also true of this, although in a different manner and in a less degree.
The first effect of spiritual communion is therefore to increase our union with the humanity and the divinity of the Word made flesh. This is its principal effect, its essential advantage; all other graces received proceed from this.
Briefly they are as follows: Fervour is revived. "Spiritual communion," says the Cure d'Ars, "revives the soul as a bellows does the fire which is covered with ashes and about to die. When we feel the love of God growing cold, let us make hastily a spiritual communion !" Poor heart ! it so easily loses its heat, so soon becomes covered with ashes !
Spiritual communion revives the fire and makes the flames of fervour break forth anew. In the midst of our trials during this pilgrimage here below sadness is forever taking possession of us; and our hearts become filled with heavy mists.
communion dissipates this mist like the morning sun; it brings joy back to the heart and sets the soul at peace. It also keeps us in a state of recollection; it is the best means we have to preserve us from the dissipation of our thoughts, from frivolity and all the wanderings of the spirit and imagination. It accustoms us to keep our regard fixed upon Jesus, to preserve a sweet and constant intimacy with Him, to live always heart to heart with Him.
Our Lord one day showed the pious Paula Maresca a golden ciborium containing her sacramental communions and a silver ciborium containing her spiritual communions; He thus marked their relative value.
It detaches us from all that is merely sensible and earthly; it makes us disdain passing vanities, the pleasures of this world, which are only for a time.
"It is the bread of the heart !" said St. Augustine. "It is the healing of the heart !"
It keeps the heart from all that is impure and imperfect, it transforms it and unites it closely to the heart of Jesus. It renders our relations with Jesus more tender and familiar. It makes our devotion to Him warmer and deeper. It enables us to taste more fully the charm and sweetness of His presence.
" When I make the sign of the cross," writes St. Angela of Foligno, " and place my hand on my heart, in saying, "The Son '. . . I experience a rush of love and a great tenderness, because I feel that Jesus is there."
Spiritual communion places Jesus there, in the very centre of our heart; His presence is permanent and brings us infinite happiness.
Spiritual communion has also a wonderful efficacy in effacing venial faults and remitting the penalties of sin. Pious souls who communicate spiritually often and well will be exempt from the flames of purgatory. Jesus will bear them straight from earth to heaven, as He did the soul of Joan of Arc, which was seen at the moment of her death to mount directly to paradise in the form of a pure white dove.
Spiritual communion will give to those souls which have communicated well a surprising glory in heaven. Our Lord told St. Gertrude that every time we regard the sacred host with devotion we augment our eternal happiness, preparing for ourselves blessings above in proportion as we have multiplied our desires full of love and longing for the Holy Eucharist here on earth. Souls that have often communicated in spirit will shine in heaven with peculiar splendour, and will taste especial joys, sweeter and more holy than those known to others.
Spiritual communions, day by day increasing our desire to receive Jesus, urge us to sacramental communion, prevent us from missing it by our own fault or negligence, send us to communion more frequently, and dispose us to communicate better and to receive more abundant fruits therefrom. Spiritual communion is, according to the testimony of all the saints, the best preparation for sacramental communion.
Remember, too, that spiritual communion may be offered for the sake of our neighbour; either on behalf of the hving or the dead. St. Margaret Mary recommended spiritual communion on behalf of the souls in purgatory.
" You will greatly comfort these poor afflicted souls," said she, "by offering spiritual communions on their behalf, in order to redeem the bad use they have made of sacramental communions."
Finally, you must understand that you receive all these benefits and graces which flow from spiritual communion according to your dispositions; that is, according to the value of your desires. The more intense your desire to communicate, the purer, the more prolonged, the more fully will you participate in the fruits of the Eucharist and all the favours which we have enumerated; and this without other limits than the ardour, extent, and keenness of your desires.
The saints are unanimous in exalting the marvels of spiritual communion. They go so far as to say, with the venerable Jeanne Marie of the Cross,
"that God by this means often fills us with the same graces as in sacramental communion "; and with St. Gertrude and Father Rodriguez, that
"sometimes the graces are still greater, for," says the latter, "although sacramental communion is in itself of a greater efficacy, yet the fervour of desire may compensate for this inequality."
What more precious encouragement to spiritual communion could be given ? How can one urge you further to make such communions frequently .'' When will you make them ? You will do so always during mass, when you attend without being able to communicate sacramentally.
" You must," says Rodriguez, "devour the divine food with the eyes of the spirit. You must open the mouth of the soul, with an ardent desire to receive the celestial manna, and to savour its sweetness slowly in the heart."
You will make a spiritual communion, according to the advice of St. Alphonsus Liguori, at the beginning and the end of your visits to the blessed sacrament. What a wonderful manner of employing this precious time ! Jesus is really there, a few paces distant, filled with the desire to come to you. Long for Him with the same ardent desire, and He will come and unite Himself to you in a consoling intimacy. You will leave the church inflamed with love.
You will make a spiritual communion in the morning, as soon as you have awakened from sleep.
"At your awakening," said our Lord to St. Mechtilde, "long for Me with all your heart. Draw Me to you by a sigh of love, and I will come, I will perform in you all your works, and I will suffer in you all your pains."
You will communicate in spirit after your prayer, or at the end of your meditation, on finishing your spiritual reading, before or after reciting the rosary, and at night as you fall asleep. You may communicate spiritually ten times, twenty times a day, as often as you will; for a few short moments suffice, a few words of prayer directed to Jesus present in the Eucharist imploring Him to come to you. It is not the time that signifies; it is the ardour, the vehemence of the desire, the hunger and thirst of the soul, the eagerness of the heart.
As for the formula, the best will be that which comes most spontaneously, most sincerely from the inmost recesses of your being. That in which you put the most love, and above all the most tender, pure, generous, and disinterested love; that in which you feel most sure of making Jesus feel that you love Him for Himself. You will say to Him :
"O Jesus, come; oh, come ! I have need of Thee; my soul sighs and languishes apart from Thee; I hunger and thirst after Thee; all is dreary when Thou art not here !" O Jesus, I cannot live far from Thee; I die without Thee. O Father, Friend, O Wellbeloved, come, I beg Thee, come ! O Love, Love, instil into my heart all the ardour of the seraphim and all the most radiant feelings of Thy divine Mother !
"O infinite Love, come Thou Thyself and love in me; come, and kindle in my heart all the most ardent desires that have consumed Thine own ! " Above all, O Love, may I love Thee for Thyself ! May I forget myself, lose sight of myself, lose myself in Thee ! Enter into me, that I may live no longer, that Thou alone mayst live in me ! As Thy Father is glorified in Thee, so be Thou glorified in me ! Take all that is in me to make it Thine forever !" Enter into me to continue Thy works. Thy prayers, Thy virtues, Thy sufferings. Thine expiations. Thy merits !
" O Jesus, O Well-beloved, nothing for me, but all for Thee, and forever ! Enter into me, live in me, that we may be consummated in one!"
Thus you will make your spiritual communions, or in other terms still warmer, with expressions yet more ardent. Often even you will say nothing, you will remain silent, for the lips become incapable of formulating the desires of the heart when the heart is carried away and ravished by divine love ! Then it is unspeakable suffering not to be able to express what one feels. But Jesus sees this inner suffering, and to Him it is perfect homage; it fills Him with joy, for it reveals more love than all the words and cries of the most impassioned heart.
And all these desires, all these impulses, all these feelings that Jesus Himself awakens within you, and which He feels more than you—I leave you to think whether He will not reward them. By the ardour of their desires for spiritual communion, the saints have often obtained miracles. Hosts have left the hands of the priest and given themselves spontaneously to them. Angels, sometimes the Blessed Virgin, or St. John, or our Lord Himself, have appeared to them and given them the sacrament. You will not be granted such miracles. No matter, if you do really, though invisibly, obtain the same graces. And these graces you will receive, if you consider, on the one hand, the worth and value, the excellence and the nature of spiritual communion; and if, on the other hand, you will remember with what ease you can effect it, at any hour of the day or night.
How ungrateful then you would be, how culpable and inexcusable, if, understanding spiritual communion and the incalculable riches which it contains, you were not to resort to it, at least once a day, and much oftener still ! For of all the means of sanctification is there one which is more within your reach, more efficacious, and more marvellous ?
Source: Holy Communion, Imprimatur 1923