"Stay with us, Lord!," as the two disciples said to Jesus in Emmaus (Lk 24:49)
One of the most important practices in a plan of life, as we discussed last week, is daily Mass.
It's not possible, however, for everyone to attend Mass each day because of our work or school, care for young or sick children, or, in some parishes, the lack of daily Mass every day or scheduling it at unaccommodating times. The part of the spiritual game plan we're tackling today is essential for the growth in holiness of those who find themselves in these circumstances.
This spiritual practice is also key for those who do have the ability to attend each day. I remember the first time I celebrated the 12:10 Mass at St. Francis Xavier in Hyannis in 2003. I was so impressed by the number of daily Mass goers -- it was like a Sunday Mass crowd -- that before the final blessing I thanked the attendees for their inspiring faith and love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
After Mass, a curmudgeonly woman came to see me in the sacristy. "Father Landry," she said, "I think I'm going to like you because you seem to be smart and have a lot of energy. But I think I owe it to you to disabuse of your naïveté. Many of us seniors are here not because we love Jesus -- although it was kind of you to think so -- but because we're bored and don't have anything else to do with our time."
I soon discovered that this occasionally iconoclastic and always curmudgeonly woman's comments were not representative of the vast majority of attendees. Yet they were striking all the same. Today's part of the plan of life can form us all to attend Mass with greater awareness, awe and adoration.
It's the practice of making spiritual communions.
In a spiritual communion, we ask the Lord to come to abide in us the way he would if we were to receive Him in Holy Communion. St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote many of the great Eucharistic hymns that Catholics still sing today, defined a spiritual communion "an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and lovingly embrace Him."
The most famous and popular vocal prayer expressing this desire for spiritual communion was written by St. Alphonsus Ligouri in the 18th century.
"My Jesus," he wrote, "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."
The one I pray most often was written by 19th century Piarist priests in Spain and popularized by St. Josemaria Escriva. "I wish, my Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility and devotion with which your most holy Mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of all the saints."
I'll often add to this prayer before saying "all the saints" a specific invocation to imitate the Eucharistic piety of the saint that the Church is celebrating that day, the patron saint of the parish, or a particular saint to whom I'm appealing for a particular intention.
We can also make spiritual communions in our own words.
I regularly make using expressions taken from Sacred Scripture or some of the great Eucharistic hymns, like: "Lord, give me this Bread always!," as the people in the Capernaum synagogue said to Jesus (Jn 6:34); "Give us this day our supersubstantial Bread" (Mt 6:11), the real translation of the Our Father in St. Matthew's Greek, an expression that the early saints said referred to the Eucharist; "Stay with us, Lord!," as the two disciples said to Jesus in Emmaus (Lk 24:49); "O Res mirabilis" ("O wondrous reality!") or "Fac me tibi semper magis credere, in te spem habere, te diligere," ("Make me always believe more in you, hope in you and love you!") taken respectively from St. Thomas' Panis Angelicus; and Adoro Te Devote.
St. John Paul strongly encouraged us to make spiritual communions frequently. He wrote in his 2003 encyclical Ecclesia de Eucaristia, ("The Church Draws Her Life from the Eucharist") that the Eucharist is "the culmination of all the sacraments in perfecting our communion with God ... and the ultimate goal of every human desire. ... Precisely for this reason 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."
I love to teach young children in first and second grade how to make spiritual communions to stoke their hunger for their first Communion. I encourage people to pray them whenever they make visits to the Blessed Sacrament or go to Eucharistic adoration. I advise homebound parishioners to pray them when they cannot come to Mass but need to watch it on television. I urge people to pray them before Mass to help bring about a more conscious, active, fruitful and passionate participation in the sacred liturgy.
I pray several spiritual communions of day --every time I pray a section of the Liturgy of the Hours, or the Rosary, or make a visit to a Church or Chapel -- asking Jesus for the grace to hunger more and more for him, to live off of him as the source and summit of my life and to realign myself to the Eucharistic pattern of his life.
Jesus once told the great mystic St. Catherine of Siena how pleased he was with this spiritual practice. "In this golden chalice," he revealed to her, "I put your sacramental communions. In this silver chalice I put your spiritual communions. Both chalices are quite pleasing to me."
Whether or not we can attend daily Mass, making spiritual communions will bring similar pleasure to Jesus, fill us with grace, help us to live a more profoundly Eucharistic life, and spur us toward that holiness that the plan of life is designed to foster.
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.