Thursday, April 30, 2020
Spiritual communion or not. . .
Obviously, this is something that is very much a part of Roman Catholic theology and piety. It was certainly a vivid expression of the piety of the laity in the medieval times when actual reception was not as frequent as it is today and when adoration of the host outside of the Mass as well as within the Mass was a credible substitute to the sacramental participating by receiving the Sacrament.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, spiritual communion is “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most holy sacrament and lovingly embrace him” when the individual circumstance or the condition of the times make it impossible to receive sacramental Communion. The Catechism of the Council of Trent spent a considerable amount of its attention and included a special section on spiritual communion in the late 16th century. Whereas the past may have focused more upon individual conditions to require spiritual instead of sacramental communion, the corona virus has created a more universal situation for it. This ocular communion has been renewed in a time when most Roman Catholic dioceses have prevented the reception of the Sacrament in the churches.
Individual circumstances range from Roman Catholics whose marital status is not recognized as well as family conditions and illness may preclude it. They are often reminded that they are not prohibited from receiving this spiritual Communion and enjoying the grace of the sacrament during a time when physical reception is not possible.
Spiritual communion is then a disposition of the heart and accords with the Roman Catholic practice of eucharistic adoration in which time is spent before the Host in meditation and prayer without actually receiving it by mouth. In medieval times, the laity not only regarded the devout adoration of the consecrated Host during Mass as a substitute for sacramental reception, it was often the only communion they received. This may seem odd in a day when the frequency of reception by mouth is high and even stranger how this "spiritual communion" might replace sacramental reception. The medieval devotion to the Host was thought to be the equivalent of tasting and consuming it.
In speaking of excommunication, being deprived of the reception of the Sacrament, Luther does speak of two kinds of communion. One is inner and spiritual and has to do with the participation of the faithful in one faith, one hope, and one love and the second is external and is the participation in the Sacrament. Only God can give entrance to the spiritual communion but the person may choose to depart from it. This is mainly a comfort to those unable to participate in the Sacrament and not a real case for spiritual communion. Lutheran theology affirms that the Word is a efficacious gift from God that comes to God's people through public reading of Scripture and proclamation of the gospel. Yet as important as the efficacy and sufficiency of the Word are to the Church and to the life of the Christian, Luther does not extend support to the idea of a spiritual communion apart from the physical act of receiving Christ's flesh and blood. Rather, Luther would argue that instead of such virtual communions, the Word is efficacious and sufficient in times when such physical reception is precluded because of individual circumstance or a common burden upon many. For Luther, the spiritual communion is not necessary in times when actual communion upon Christ's body and blood are not possible for the Word is both efficacious AND sufficient for Christ works through His Word.
Lutherans should not spend their time wondering about spiritual communions either and should avail themselves of the gift of the Word and the Spirit working in that Word. Lutherans may have a good and healthy argument for whether or not emergency conditions actually preclude the offering of the Sacrament to be eaten and drunk but they would better to avoid the idea of a spiritual communion which conveys some or most of the same blessings without eating and drinking (with faith to receive them). While one may and should pray in hunger for that day when Christ's body and blood may be received, in times when the Sacrament is not accessible our hope and comfort should not be directed to a virtual substitute but to the Word of God.