Friday, March 20, 2020

Spiritual Communion

Our Bishop has asked that our churches be kept open, with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, for at least some time during the day to allow for private prayer by individuals who wish to visit the church, even while maintaining "social distance." 

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (nowadays increasingly called "Adoration") used to be rare and is probably more frequent now than at any other time in the Church's long history. Perhaps it runs the risk of becoming too frequent, too routine. That said, the practice does have a historical association with times of crisis. Thus the famous "Forty Hours' Devotion" originated as a penitential prayer for peace. So it seems especially appropriate right now.

Saint John Vianney (1786-1859) famously said, "no wall can shut us out from the good God." And so it appears that the widespread suspension of public Masses around the world seems to be breathing new life into a once common Catholic practice that I thought had practically disappeared and assumed had been forgotten, that of "Spiritual Communion." 

Back in the 1950s when I was in grade school, apart from priests (who, of course, celebrated Mass daily) and religious sisters and brothers and a few especially devout "daily communicants," most Catholics typically received Holy Communion only a few times a year - or, if members of a parish Society, on their Society's monthly Communion Sunday.  By then, Pope Saint Pius X's early 20th-century encouragement of "frequent Communion" had become sufficiently popularized that Catholic school kids of my era were socialized to go to Communion on most, if not all, Sundays - something that had definitely not, however, caught on yet among most "adults." There were also certain occasions - funerals, for example - when absolutely no one at all, other than the celebrating priest, went to Communion.

Meanwhile the faithful who did not receive Communion at Mass were widely encouraged to make what was commonly called a "Spiritual Communion," by reciting a prayer - such as the following one by Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) which was printed in my Saint Joseph Daily Missal

"My Jesus, I believe that You are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I long for You in my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though You have already come, I embrace You and unite myself entirely to You; never permit me to be separated from You."

Just as, when Pope Francis walked alone through the empty streets of Rome last Sunday, the whole Church was in some sense present with him, so too, when we, while separated physically, seek "spiritual communion," the whole Church is in a real sense present with us, as we are with the Church.

P.S. Today is the 10th anniversary of my first post on this blog. So much has happened in the world and in my life these past 10 years, and I have certainly enjoyed using this vehicle to comment on much of it. For a while, I was wondering whether this anniversary might be the right moment for me to end it. But, as I said, I really enjoy writing this, and the fact is that I would miss it if I quit. (I also appreciate the occasional feedback I get from this or that reader) And now, of course, the COVID-19 coronavirus calamity has, if anything, made all these online interactions seem even that much more worthwhile. So, for the foreseeable future at least, it seems City Father will continue!

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