Keeping in touch 3: On Spiritual Communion

Dear Friends,

Since last Saturday Rachel and I have been ‘confined to barracks’, just as a precaution, to play our part in protecting our community and our NHS.

We are among the lucky ones of course. There are thousands of people in our country who will be completely self-isolating for many weeks, including those who are over 70, those with underlying health conditions and those who are ‘shielding’ them – acting as the break in the chain of the virus’ spread so as not to pass it on to their loved one. Not to mention those who are ill or bereaved. It is a disorientating and frightening time. 

And yet, we are seeing silver linings in many ways: the offers of help and support in the community; the enforced gift of time we have been given; the chance for many of us (well, me anyway!) to explore new technologies and what it means to be social, what it means to be the Church, at a distance. But the fact remains that we cannot be physically present to one another as the Church family and we cannot receive Communion physically and these are painful things for many of us. As well as the sense of loss we feel in not being able to be with family members and friends.

In this time when we cannot meet together as the church – as of Monday 23rd, cannot even pray privately in the church building – what can we fall back on? Whenever anyone has been unable to receive Holy Communion, the tradition of the Church has been for people to make a ‘Spiritual Communion’. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about this, saying we should have “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Holy Sacrament and a loving embrace as though we had already received Him”. And the Anglican Tradition is not without this idea too (partly influenced no doubt by Calvin’s conception of a real Spiritual Communion with Jesus when receiving the symbolic bread and wine). The Book of Common Prayer, which is still the touchstone of Anglican liturgy and theology (admittedly more a source than an arbiter!) has this to say in the provision for the Communion of the sick:

But if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, or for want of warning in due time to the Curate, or for lack of company to receive with him, or by any other just impediment, do not receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood: the Curate shall instruct him that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and steadfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefore; he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul’s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.

We have had one Sunday’s worship where we have begun to learn for ourselves what Spiritual Communion means. I hope these thoughts will help you to find your way through it. Though it is not the norm, or the best, for God’s people, it is nevertheless a form of Communion. So, we will continue to share in Communion Sunday by Sunday, separately in our homes and together in the heart of the one who comes to meet us. We will repent. We will remember and trust in Christ’s death and the benefits he has won for us, with thanksgiving. We will receive the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to our soul’s health, although we do not receive the Sacrament with our mouth.

The Church is not defined by the walls of a building, wonderful as ours is, but by the Body of Christ of which we are a part. In making our communion spiritually, we are joining with Christians everywhere to be fed by the one who tells us, ‘I am the Bread of Life’. 

With our online prayer resources (click on the picture below) is an act of Spiritual Communion which you can use at any time – perhaps each morning, or on a Sunday after the live-streamed Eucharist, or as prayer before sleep. I commend this to you alongside or instead of some of the other material available. If you have any questions about using this, please do get in touch with me.

As my spiritual director would say, ‘pray as you can, not as you can’t’. This is as good a time as any for each of us to revisit how we pray and what sits right with us. May you find ways that are fruitful for you.

“He rained down upon them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven.”           

        Psalm 78.24

With my love and prayers for you,

All Saints Vicarage,
Friday 27th March 2020