Now that we are unable to receive the Holy Eucharist together, our principle act of worship, the Episcopal Church has been re-introducing other services online to keep us together as a praying community. At Saint Paul’s we live stream the Holy Rosary every day at 3:00 pm and we live stream Evening Prayer every day at 6:00 pm. These services are wonderful and, like all prayer, brings us to the Throne of God Most High. Once there we need to keep praying for our doctors, nurses, and first responders. We must pray for an end to this pandemic and we have an obligation to pray for all of those who are sick and who have died. May those who are ill recover and may those who have died find themselves in the Kingdom of Heaven for all eternity.
The services of Rosary and Evening Prayer are good, but they do not fulfill the same function as that of the Eucharist. The Rosary sees us meditating upon the mysteries of Christ’s life and ministry and seeks His Presence through the intercession of His Blessed Mother the Virgin Mary. Evening Prayer finds its place as a continuation of the evening sacrifices at the Holy Temple where we offer the sacrifice of praise and prayer to God Almighty. Without demeaning these services, which I take part in every day, the Eucharist is different.
The Holy Eucharist is the recapitulation and the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ of the Cross once and for all. Through the intercession of Jesus, the Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood of Our Lord and as we ingest those elements, we find ourselves being unified with Christ in a way unlike any other. The Eucharist opens a channel of God’s grace into our hearts that continues the transformation begun at our Baptism. The ultimate goal of the Christian life is to be holy like Jesus is holy and the Eucharist is a vital avenue of that change.
The question that comes to us in this season of COVID-19 is, what if we can’t receive the Eucharist? It’s not as if we want to be kept from the Body and Blood of Christ but, in order to help our health system cope with this new virus we are asked to stay home, even from church. As Christians we are right to follow the civil authorities in staying home for the good of everyone. But, what about the grace of the Eucharist?
Fear not, brothers and sisters, for even though we cannot all receive the physical Bread and Wine we are not without hope. God knows that the Eucharist is vital for His children and He also knows that often, through no fault of our own, we cannot receive the Meal of Heaven. In His mercy and compassion, the Lord revealed to His Church the truth that we can receive the grace of the Eucharist even if we are not present to physically receive it. This is called the Act of Spiritual Communion.
The Act of Spiritual Communion was created for those who cannot receive the Eucharist for reasons beyond their control but who desire to receive the Sacrament. The Act of Spiritual Communion had been endorsed and practiced by Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint of Teresa of Avila, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), Pope Saint John Paul II, and many thousands more throughout Christian history.
Spiritual Communion is also encouraged in the Anglican Tradition and we find it clearly stated on page 457 of the Book of Common Prayer.
If a person desires to receive the Sacrament, but, by reason of extreme
sickness or physical disability, is unable to eat and drink the Bread and Wine, the Celebrant is to assure that person that all the benefits of Communion are received, even though the Sacrament is not received
with the mouth.
The Saint Augustine Prayer Book, an Anglo-Catholic resource originally published in 1947 and available through Forward Movement, also commends this practice.
What is required for us to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion without being present?
A desire to receive the Sacrament.
The Sacrament cannot be an afterthought or something you do because you ‘have’ too. You must have a real desire to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
A valid reason for not receiving the Sacrament.
Being sick, or disabled, or at a place where it is impossible to attend Mass, or during this pandemic when we are staying home are all valid reasons. Missing Mass because of a football game or because you want to go to brunch are not valid excuses.
A time spent silently in prayer before God.
If you have the desire and you have a good reason for not receiving the Elements, then you must quiet your heart and spend some time in prayer and adoration of Christ. You must ask Him to give you the grace of Communion and believe that He has acted on your behalf. Remember, Jesus wants you to be made one with Him in the Eucharist.
What prayer should you use for an Act of Spiritual Communion? There are many prayers out there or you can make up your own. Prayer is not a magical incantation; it is an honest conversation with God Most Holy. There is no right prayer, but on our Cathedral Website you will find a resource for the Act of Spiritual Communion under our ‘Church at Home’ menu button at the top of the screen. Please download and print it for your use.
Even though we are not able to gather together to receive the Eucharist like we did many weeks ago, that does not mean we are cut off from the Body and Blood of Jesus. Please make daily use of the Act of Spiritual Communion and please pray that we will soon be together again in praise to Jesus Christ our Crucified and Risen Lord.
Till next time, peace, love, Jesus.