SPIRITUAL COMMUNION and PRAYING THE MASS
Praying Holy Mass
In 1903 Pope St. Pius X inaugurated a century of emphasis on "actual participation" at Mass -- the actuosa participatio famously reiterated by Vatican II -- when he wrote:
With a missal or missalette in hand, of course. And even while viewing a telecast of a Mass, you can pray the Mass in this same way—just as you would if physically present.
Spiritual Communion when Holy Communion at Mass is not possible
Sometimes it’s not possible to receive Holy Communion sacramentally at Mass. For instance, we may not be able to attend Mass because of illness. Or reception may be impeded by avoidance of contagion in times of pestilence, or by some other indisposition.
Then we can make what is known as a "spiritual Communion"—an act expressing what was described by St. Thomas Aquinas as "an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and in lovingly embracing Him." In a spiritual Communion, we, with contrite, humble hearts, ask our Lord to come to us in the same way He would if we were able to receive the Sacrament physically.
Some Catholic authorities (e.g., Saints and Popes below) suggest that the graces received by spiritual communion may be comparable to those received from actual sacramental communion by someone who is physically present. Though, of course, the Sacrament itself is inherently greater, and our disposition toward the Sacrament can greatly affect the extent to which we actually receive its fruits in our soul.
How to Receive Spiritual Communion
You can make an act of spiritual communion (as below) at the same time as those present at the Mass are receiving holy communion sacramentally. Though you can use your own words, many people say those recommended by St. Alphonus Liguori:
Act of Spiritual Communion
Click here for an excellent new article by an FSSP priest on Spiritual Communion and the Fruits of the Mass.
Click here for a Spiritual Communion and Confession Guide including Acts of Spiritual Communion and Perfect Contrition.
Just as many people say the Anima Christi immediately after sacramental Communion, so too can you say it after spiritual communion.
The Anima Christi
Or the following prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas while the celebrant is completing the ablutions:
Prayer of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion
Spiritual Communion According to Saints and Popes
St. Thomas Aquinas atated that a “complete spiritual Communion can even take place when we are unable to receive sacramentally, because ‘the effect of a sacrament can be secured if it is received by desire.’”
St. Catherine of Siena “had begun to question whether her spiritual Communions had any real value compared to sacramental Communion. Suddenly she saw Christ holding two chalices. ‘In this golden chalice I put your sacramental communions. In this silver chalice I put your spiritual communions. Both chalices are quite pleasing to me.’”
Saint John Paul II wrote in his 2003 encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia wrote that
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. St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you”.
St. Jean-Marie Vianney compared spiritual communion to blowing on fire and embers that are starting to go out in order to make them burn again: “There are some who make a spiritual communion every day with blessed bread. If we are deprived of Sacramental Communion, let us replace it, as far as we can, by spiritual communion, which we can make every moment; for we ought to have always a burning desire to receive the good God.”
Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) that
“Clearly, full participation in the Eucharist takes place when the faithful approach the altar in person to receive communion. Yet true as this is, care must be taken lest they conclude that the mere fact of their being present in church during the liturgy gives them a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist. Even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful. In such circumstances, it is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life.”
"Spiritual Communion, as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori teach, produces effects similar to Sacramental Communion, according to the dispositions with which it is made, the greater or less earnestness with which Jesus is desired, and the greater or less love with which Jesus is welcomed and given due attention," stated Father Stefano Manelli, O.F.M. Conv., S.T.D., in his book Jesus our Eucharistic Love.
And in a March 21, 2020 message on combat against the current corona virus (here), Cardinal Raymond Burke wrote
For those who cannot have access to the Holy Mass and Holy Communion, I commend the devout practice of Spiritual Communion. When we are rightly disposed to receive Holy Communion, that is, when we are in the state of grace, not conscious of any mortal sin which we have committed and for which we have not yet been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance, and desire to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion but are unable to do so, we unite ourselves spiritually with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, praying to Our Eucharistic Lord in the words of Saint Alphonsus Liguori: “Since I am unable now to receive Thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.” Spiritual Communion is a beautiful expression of love for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It will not fail to bring to us abundant grace.
At the same time, when we are conscious of having committed a mortal sin and are unable to have access to the Sacrament of Penance or Confession, the Church invites us to make an act of perfect contrition, that is, of sorrow for sin, which “arises from a love by which God is loved above all else.”. An act of perfect contrition “obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1452). An act of perfect contrition disposes our soul for Spiritual Communion.
Finally, according to the Church’s official book of indulgences, "an Act of Spiritual Communion, according to any pious formula, is enriched with a partial indulgence." It specifically mentions St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s Act of Spiritual Communion included above. The following beautiful Spiritual Communion was composed by Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val (1865-1930):
At Thy feet, O my Jesus, I prostrate myself and I offer Thee repentance of my contrite heart, which is humbled in its nothingness and in Thy holy presence. I adore Thee in the Sacrament of Thy love, the ineffable Eucharist. I desire to receive Thee into the poor dwelling that my heart offers Thee. While waiting for the happiness of sacramental communion, I wish to possess Thee in spirit. Come to me, O my Jesus, since I, for my part, am coming to Thee! May Thy love embrace my whole being in life and in death. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee. Amen.