March 31, 2020
The following article was published for the benefit of his parishioners by one of our new priests, Fr. William Rock, assistant pastor at Mater Misericordiae Mission, our apostolate in Phoenix, AZ. With so many of you unable to attend Mass at present, we thought it an excellent thing to share with you, so that you might know the great benefits of the many Spiritual Communions you are making and of the private Masses that our priests are offering for your intentions.
Spiritual Communion and the Fruits of the Mass
by Fr. William Rock, FSSP
In this troubling time, you should know that God and His Church have not abandoned you. Even with the prohibition of public Mass and Communion Services, there are still many sources of grace which are open to you. I would like to discuss two of them here – Spiritual Communions and the General Fruits of the Mass.
Following the teachings of the Catechism of the Council of Trent(1), also known as the Roman Catechism, there are three ways in which one can receive Communion: (1) Sacramentally-only; (2) Sacramentally-and-Spiritually; and (3) Spiritually-only.
Those who receive Communion while knowing they are in a state of Mortal Sin are said to receive Sacramentally-only. This is because, while they truly receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine, they do not receive any spiritual benefits. On the contrary, they incur an additional sin.
Those who receive Communion Sacramentally-and-Spiritually receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine and do receive spiritual benefits.
Those who receive Communion Spiritually-only receive the spiritual benefits of Communion without receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine.
The Catechism goes on to explain that those who receive Spiritually-only “are those who, inflamed with a lively faith which worketh by charity (Gal. 5:6), partake in, wish and desire of that celestial bread.” There are several things that should be noted from this passage.
The first is that in order to receive Spiritually-only, one must be in a state of grace, as the theological virtue of charity and Sanctifying Grace always exist together. So, one must have Sanctifying Grace, or be in a state of grace, in order to make a Spiritual Communion. If you are not in a state of grace, receive sacramental absolution as soon as you can (and be praying Acts of Contrition in the meantime). Editor’s Note: Even in the absence of public Masses, many parishes are still offering Confessions. Check with your parish for details.
Next, it is important to note that a Spiritual Communion must include a wish and desire to receive Sacramentally-and-Spiritually even though such a reception at the current time is not possible. It would be enough, then, when beginning to make a Spiritual Communion to pray, “Lord, I wish to receive You in a sacramental and fruitful Communion, but, as I can’t right now, I wish to receive You spiritually,” and then continue to pray as you would when receiving Sacramentally-and-Spiritually. There are prayers which are recommended by the Church for making a Spiritual Communion (Editor’s Note: St. Alphonsus Liguori’s version is included at the end). They do not necessarily need to be used, and one can draw phrases and ideas from them, based on one’s own dispositions, to prepare one’s own.
Spiritual Communions can be made at any time during the day or night, and as many times as one wants. One does not need to be in a church, in front of the Tabernacle, or even in front of a holy image. Spiritual Communions can be made anywhere, although clearly, it would be unfitting to make them in places ill-suited for virtue.
We should not worry that our sanctification is in some way impeded by receiving Spiritually-only and not Sacramentally-and-Spiritually during this time. As the Catechism states, those who receive Spiritually-only “receive, if not the entire [spiritual benefit of a Sacramental-and-Spiritual Communion], at least very great fruits.” So, the graces received from Spiritual-only Communions can be as great as the graces received in a Sacramental-and-Spiritual Communion.
But, in order to receive as many graces and fruits from a Spiritual Communion as one can, or even from a Sacramental-and-Spiritual Communion, one must be properly disposed. The better disposed one is, the more graces one is able to receive. To properly dispose oneself, one should pray preparatory prayers before receiving Sacramentally-and-Spiritually. These prayers can be found in hand Missals and elsewhere, or one could pray using one’s own words. How long one should spend praying such prayers will depend on the other duties one has to fulfill. This is why it is important to arrive with time before the start of Mass so that one can pray these prayers, if one is planning on receiving (remember that one is only required to receive Communion sacramentally once a year from the First Sunday of Lent to Trinity Sunday in these United States). One could also pray these prayers at home before departing for the church if doing them at the church would be difficult. To make a Spiritual Communion fruitful, one should dispose oneself in the same manner, adjusting the texts of the prayers as necessary. Preparations before receiving either Sacramentally-and-Spiritually or Spiritually-only should include some form of an Act of Contrition.
We know, however, that we attend Mass for more than just receiving Communion. When we attend Mass, we give God the worship due to Him as our Creator and our Redeemer by offering up to Him in an unbloody manner the bloody Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The two-fold Consecration of the bread and wine makes the Sacrifice of the Cross sacramentally present. As Christ’s Sacrifice is present, the fruits from that Sacrifice are made available to the faithful. These fruits are placed in four groups – (1) Ministerial Fruits, (2) Very Special Fruits, (3) Special Fruits, and (4) General Fruits.
The Ministerial Fruits are those fruits which are offered to those on whose behalf the Priest is celebrating the Mass. The intention listed in the bulletin for the Mass, for example, would be the recipient of these fruits (if the intention is one who can receive them).
The Very Special Fruits are those which are offered to the celebrating Priest Himself. As he is offering the Sacrifice of the Mass in persona Christi for others and for himself, these fruits are made available to him.
The Special Fruits are those offered to those who are cooperating in offering up the Sacrifice of the Mass by any external act (besides the Priest). This cooperation includes being physically present at Mass, but also by contributing materially to the celebration of the Mass. Those who have donated flowers, candles, vestments, liturgical vessels, and other such things being used in a Mass – including the church building itself – are all offered Special Fruits from that Mass. The amount of fruit offered to each is proportional “to their closeness of cooperation”(2) to the Sacrifice. So, the Altar Server in the Sanctuary will be offered more Special Fruits than that which will be offered to those in the pews.
Note, however, that there is a difference between the fruits being offered and the fruits received. The amount that is received is dependent upon one’s disposition. So, while the Altar Server might be offered more fruits, he may receive less than some in the pews as they, while offered less, were better disposed and thus actually received more than the Server. This is why, again, prayers of preparation before Mass are so important, not just for the reception of Communion, but also for receiving the fruits that will be made available and for worthily offering the Sacrifice of the Mass through the hands of the Priest.
Lastly there are the General Fruits. These fruits are offered to all members of the Church, and even to those outside of the Church for their conversion. In order to gain these fruits, again, one must be properly disposed. This is why morning prayers and offerings are so important and why one should include in one’s morning prayers words to the effect of “Lord, during the course of this day, bestow upon me any Indulgences whose requirements I may fulfill and all fruits available to me flowing from all of the Masses said throughout the world today.” As Masses will continue to be said privately during this time, you should avail yourselves of these General Fruits which are produced. Additionally, if you feel that you qualify for Special Fruits due to any contributions you may have made, be sure to ask for those fruits also.
Hopefully you are able to see that the practices explained above are not to be used only during this unhappy time. These lessons should be integrated into the spiritual life of every Christian so that each may draw from all of the abundant sources of grace available to him. +
Spiritual Communion by St. Alphonsus Liguori:
My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now 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.
(1) Part II: The Sacraments – The Eucharist
(2) O’Connell, The Celebration of the Mass (1964), p. 39, n. 6.