"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."—Apocal. 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 practiced; 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 practiced.
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: "Believe, 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 realize 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 baptize him, but he sends the voice of his desire up to God: behold him baptized ! 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 andobedient 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. Spiritual 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.
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 living 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 Well beloved, come, I beg Thee, come! O Love, Love, instill 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 ?
* However, spiritual communion must not be confounded with sacramental communion; still less must the latter be dispensed with on the pretext that the former will take its place. communion is also true of this, although in a different manner and in a less degree.*
**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.
Source: HOLY COMMUNION by MONSEIGNEUR DE GIBERGUES, Imprimatur 1923