As the coronavirus spreads, the list of canceled public events has come to include even Catholic Masses.
As people adjust their habits to include more vigorous handwashing, for Catholics, aspects of their church worship are also being altered such as some holy water fonts have been emptied, handshaking and Communion from the chalice suspended, and one diocese has banned hymnals.
But altering the ways of worship is nothing compared to canceling the worship itself. No Mass means no Eucharist. Jesus gave us His Body and Blood on the cross and instituted the memorial of this great sacrifice at the Last Supper. “Do this in memory of Me,” He told us.
And so we do at every Mass.
It is only during the Mass at the consecration, that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Thus, canceling Masses is monumental. As explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life. The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound-up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself, our (Passover),” (CCC 1324).
Through this sacrament, “we unite ourselves to Christ, Who makes us sharers in His Body and Blood to form a single body,” (CCC 1331).
Holy Communion also cleanses us from venial sins. (If a Catholic is conscious of having committed a “grave sin” he or she must go to Confession before receiving Communion or he commits the additional sin of sacrilege.) “For as often as we eat this bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord. If we proclaim the Lord’s death, we proclaim the forgiveness of sins. If, as often as His Blood is poured out, it is poured for the forgiveness of sins, I should always receive it, so that it may always forgive my sins. Because I always sin, I should always have a remedy,” (CCC 1393).
Father Daniel Merz, pastor of St. George parish in Linn and Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Frankenstein and chairman of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission for the Jefferson City diocese, emphasized that making a spiritual Communion is not intended to take the place of sacramental Communion, “but to increase our hunger for sacramental Communion and simply our prayer relationship and connection with Christ.”
He likened it to the longing a married couple experienced when the husband and wife are physically separated from one another.
He pointed to a statement St. Pope John Paul II made in his encyclical letter, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” — “... It is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was the origin of the practice of ‘spiritual Communion,’ which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. St. Teresa of Jesus 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 you.’” (no. 34)
Making a spiritual Communion
The Church encourages frequent, even daily, Holy Communion, but if at any time we cannot go to Mass in or out of this season of the coronavirus, we can still unite ourselves to the Eucharist through making a spiritual Communion.
By making an Act of Spiritual Communion, we express our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and ask Him to unite Himself with us. Here is the Act of Spiritual Communion written by St. Alphonsus de Liguori:
My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment 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.
©2019 EWTN News, Inc. Reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register (ncregister.com)