In response to the spread of the coronavirus, several dioceses have implemented policies to reduce the amount of personal interaction that can lead to the spread of COVID-19. In areas heavily hit by the virus, bishops around the world have cancelled public Mass or offered dispensation to those at most risk from the virus.
Without a doubt, God commands us to keep the Sabbath holy. As believers, we must follow this Divine Law. The best and usual way to keep holy the Sabbath is to attend Sunday Mass. However, this is not Divine Law, but rather Ecclesiastical Law and can be dispensed by the proper authorities. Consequently, if you cannot get to a Mass because it has been suspended by the Bishop, you are ill or isolated, or for another valid reason, you would be not held responsible for not attending Mass. Yet, you still need to keep holy the Sabbath.
One alternative option is on Sunday to make a Spiritual Communion in addition to reflecting on the Mass readings of the day. With Spiritual Communion, the believer embraces the desire to be in union with Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. It is often used in preparation for the Holy Mass and by those who cannot receive the Eucharist.
St. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia:
The Eucharist thus appears as the culmination of all the sacraments in perfecting our communion with God the Father by identification with his only-begotten Son through the working of the Holy Spirit. With discerning faith a distinguished writer of the Byzantine tradition voiced this truth: in the Eucharist “unlike any other sacrament, the mystery [of communion] is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union”. Precisely for this reason 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. Saint 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”.
-- John Paul II. (2003). Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 34. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Spiritual Communion has a long history with Catholic theologians and mystics. Doctors of the Church, like St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Alphonsus Liguori, have all proclaimed the benefits of the practice. St. Jean-Marie Vianney once said, “when we feel the love of God growing cold, let us instantly make a Spiritual Communion. When we cannot go to the church, let us turn towards the tabernacle; no wall can shut us out from the good God.”
In 1983, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that all of the effects of Holy Communion can be received through Spiritual Communion if you are prevented from attending Eucharistic celebrations. At this time, this is the situation that some Catholics find themselves facing.
But how to do it? Simply pray sincerely. In fact, St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote this prayer for Spiritual Communion:
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.
God always finds a way to provide us with His grace, especially in these troubling times. And there is a special benefit, too! While you can only receive Holy Communion twice a day, you can make a Spiritual Communion as often as you like.
Let us pray to Our Lord Jesus Christ to guide us through these trials, strengthen us in our spiritual health, and swiftly cure all those afflicted by the coronavirus. May God bless you all.