Aidan Hart takes issue with “An Inappropriate Spiritual Communion” used in streamed Masses

An Inappropriate Spiritual Communion

The current Spiritual Communion being used in Irish churches during lockdown is a misleading theology and deeply unbiblical in saying “…come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there.” There is no “as if”; God is already there and has been from the moment of our conception and will be until we draw our last breath and join Him in paradise! ‘Soul’ is really just another word for the presence of God within us. Everything that lives and exists does so because God is present within them. Existence is the very presence of God.

“God made all things to this end, to (enjoy the same union) of humanity and divinity that was united in Christ.” (St. Maximus the Confessor’ 580 – 662)

Eucharist is the real presence of God but it does not make God present within us, for He is already there; it makes us more aware of His perpetual, divine, redeeming presence within us and strengthens us to respond to that real Presence in the way we live our lives and act towards others. It helps us to be evangelists for God’s unconditional love for the all peoples and for the whole of creation.

That prayer of Spiritual Communion of St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787 and founder of the Redemptorist Order) shows the danger of uncritically lifting a prayer from an earlier time and earlier development of both theology and of our understanding of Sacred Scripture and using it today.

Here are just a few of the myriad verses in the Bible that refer to the abiding presence of God within us and among us.

Matthew 28:20; “And behold, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”

1Cor 3:16; “Do you not realise that you are a temple of God, with the Spirit of God living in you?”

Galatians 2:20; “And yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me.”

1 John 4:16; “whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”

Revelation 21:3; “Look, God lives among human beings.”

Joshua 1:9; “ go where you may, Yahweh your God is with you.”


Aidan Hart is now retired but formerly was a seminarian for six and a half years with the Mill Hill Missionary Society, then teacher and Head of Religious Education in three large, Catholic comprehensive schools in London, Durham and Wales. He then became Senior Inspector of Education and Training, specialising in Religious Education, Educational Management and Pastoral Care, in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI N. Ireland).

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  1. Pól Ó Duibhir says:

    This underlines very graphicall the need for a new understanding of the “Real Presence” as it applies to the Eucharist.

    This has been coming for a long time but few, with the notable exception of Tony Flannery, are up to facing it in public.

  2. Pádraig+McCarthy says:

    Thanks, Aidan. As you write, there is no “as if you were already there.” This is a mistranslation of the original Italian which has “Come già venuto”, which means “As already having come.” There is no “as if.” Jesus is already with us, as he promised he would be all days. It is, however, difficult to dislodge the commonly used.
    There are slight word variations in the Italian versions of the prayer of Alphonsus, but of little significance.
    Here is the full prayer:
    Gesù mio,
    credo che sei realmente presente nel Santissimo Sacramento.
    Ti amo sopra ogni cosa
    e ti desidero nell’ anima mia.
    Poiché ora non posso riceverti
    vieni almeno spiritualmente nel mio cuore.
    Come già venuto, io ti abbraccio
    e tutto mi unisco a te,
    non permettere che mi abbia mai a separare da te.

    Pope Francis used the following prayer on 28 April 2020:
    Ai tuoi piedi, o mio Gesù,
    mi prostro e ti offro il pentimento del mio cuore contrito
    che si abissa nel suo nulla e nella tua santa presenza.
    Ti adoro nel Sacramento del tuo amore, l’ineffabile Eucaristia.
    Desidero riceverti nella povera dimora che ti offre il mio cuore.
    In attesa della felicità della comunione sacramentale,
    voglio possederti in spirito.
    Vieni a me, o mio Gesù, che io vengo a te.
    Possa il tuo amore infiammare tutto il mio essere per la vita e per la morte.
    Credo in te, spero in te, ti amo.

    My Jesus, at your feet
    I prostrate myself, and I offer you the repentance of my contrite heart
    which goes deep in its own nothingness and in your holy presence.
    I adore you in the Sacrament of your love,
    the Eucharist which is beyond all words.
    I desire to receive you in the poor dwelling which my heart offers you.
    In anticipation of the happiness of sacramental communion,
    I long to possess you in spirit.
    Come to me, my Jesus, so that I may come to you.
    Let your love inflame the whole of my being in life and in death.
    I believe in you, I hope in you, I love you.

    One reservation I have about this is the phrase “I long to possess you in spirit.” The idea of possessing Jesus, while I understand the sentiment, seems not quite right. It would seem more fitting to say, “I long to be possessed totally by you/by your Spirit.”

  3. Aidan Hart says:

    Mi dispiace non parlo ne capisco l’italiano!
    When your recommended prayer says “I desire to receive you. ….I long to possess you…” it has the same problem as the current Prayer of Spiritual Communion.
    Thank you for your interesting comment,

  4. Pádraig+McCarthy says:

    Aidan #3:
    Yes; I was addressing only the one particular point.
    The biggest failure in almost all prayers of “Spiritual Communion”, it seems to me, is that they are of the “Jesus and me” or “Me and Jesus” strain, with no expression of an essential dimension: communion with other members of the body of Christ. This would take an entire essay of its own to cover!

  5. Padraig, I fully agree with that.

    Jesus gave us only two commandments to obey; to love God and love one another (John 15:17), “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). That makes love the very essence of Christianity.

    Prayer (especially the Prayer of Spiritual Communion) and liturgy should include and emphasise both of those essential elements. And of course, love is meaningless and soon dies if it does not find expression in practical, loving outreach to all others, especially to the poor and marginalised and to those closest to us.

    We must be conduits for God’s eternal, redeeming and unconditional love flowing into us and through us to all others.

  6. Pádraig+McCarthy says:

    An alternative Act of Spiritual Communion:

    Lord Jesus,
    I believe that you are really present in your people gathered together.
    You, the Word made flesh, are really present
    when the Living Word is proclaimed.
    You are really present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist
    as we share in the One Bread and One Cup.
    I love you above all things.
    You already abide all days in the heart and soul of each of your people
    and we abide in you.
    I cannot at this moment gather with your people to celebrate the Eucharist,
    nor receive you in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
    I look forward to the time when this is again possible.
    I ask that you strengthen my awareness and appreciation
    of your abiding presence at all times.
    I embrace you now already present.
    By your Spirit, unite me more fully in communion
    with you and with your Father,
    with all the members of your body
    as we look forward to sharing in the eternal banquet
    for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours for ever and ever.

  7. Aidan Hart says:

    Padraig, that is a deeply spiritual Prayer of Spiritual Communion, embodying the biblical balance between real Presence in Eucharist and the Christ’s abiding, eternal, loving and redeeming presence within all humanity and the whole of creation.
    It would be great if that was adopted by all Irish bishops and priests to replace the current misleading version.

  8. Aidan Hart says:

    Soline, a great quote; hits the button spot on. Fr Richard Rohan OFM has long sought to combine Eucharistic theology with Universal Presence theology and does it very successfully; a great teacher and evangelists!

  9. Alan McGill says:

    The sacramental theologian, Michael Himes, argues that when something is present always and everywhere, it should be acknowledged sometime and somewhere – otherwise even things as crucial as oxygen, breathing, and our heartbeat fade from consciousness. He draws upon the analogy of a birthday celebration to show how meaningless that event would be if it does not reflect our regard for a person every day and at all times. For Himes, the purpose of sacramental experience in the broadest sense, including the Seven Sacraments of the Church, is to explicitly acknowledge the divine love that is always present.

    This model of sacramentality can transform an understanding of the Mass from a séance to a celebration of divine omnipresence and help to counteract reductionist notions of Real Presence that have alienated many thinking people – a point probably too subtle for the surveys in the US that allegedly indicate that most Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence. They are probably rejecting a kind of supernaturalism that deserves to be rejected in light of a sacramental vision of creation.

  10. Aidan Hart says:

    Alan, a most helpful and challenging response.

    I often say that the point of receiving Jesus the Christ in Eucharist and in all sacraments is to increase our awareness of his perpetual presence within us and to participate in His suffering and death and eventually to resurrect with Him into His eternal Kingdom, along with strengthening us to be active disciples and evangelists while on earth.
    Eucharist has present, future and eternal implications for the recipient.

    Does all that correspond with the writings of Michael Himes?

  11. Sean+O’Conaill says:

    Thanks, Padraig. That hits it squarely. And thanks, Aidan, for starting this truly remarkable sequence.

  12. Pádraig+McCarthy says:

    On re-reading the prayer (#7), perhaps it would be helpful to rephrase the line “I believe that you are really present in your people gathered together”, especially for this time of pandemic when many go on line or on TV for celebration of Mass from their home or other location. Some (like me!) would be alone.
    “I believe that you are really present in your people gathered together,
    whatever the location – at home, in a church building, in a healthcare setting.
    You are with us also when we are alone, wherever that may be,
    because you abide in each of us and we in you.”

  13. Aidan Hart says:

    Padraig, the problem with that change and with the original is that it limits the presence of Christ to those gathered together for the celebration of Eucharist. Jesus the Christ is present within everyone from the moment of their conception and within the whole of creation. Everyone is a temple of God’s presence. When two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name Jesus gives them a stronger awareness of His presence among them and within each of them and a commission to spread the Good News.

  14. Eileen+Clear says:

    At last someone has spoken about this! Thank you, Aidan Hart. I wince every time I hear “Come at least spiritually into my heart”. Such skewed theology! Does not God dwell within us through Baptism? And even the unbaptized are already children of God, as you note above “from the moment of conception”. We keep contradicting ourselves about God’s presence as if the Incarnation never happened. The fruit of the Eucharist is the coming together of the people of God and, in the current situation, when online Masses attempt to bring communities together to pray, great credit is due to all those who make this possible. On the feast of All Saints recently, I logged on to a Eucharist celebrated by Fr. Denis McBride CSSr and I was happy that he did NOT use the spiritual Communion formula. How could God fail to be present when the community of believers gather in the name of Jesus?

  15. Seamus Devitt C.Ss.R. says:

    Aidan, you are correct in this point, that some earlier versions (during lockdown) of the Act of Spiritual Communion, by St. Alphonsus, did incorrectly say ‘as if you were already there’. Checking back with the prayer in the ‘Visits to the Blessed Sacrament’, this is the text in English we now use in Esker: the Irish translation is hopefully correct.
    A dualistic approach would suggest (as in some replies) that the prayer excludes reference to the love of others: Christ is in each one and every one, intimately. St. Alphonsus was not an ‘either-or’ man. We are ALL the body of Christ, he in us, we in him.

    AN ACT OF SPIRITUAL COMMUNION: From Visits to the Blessed Sacrament, by St. Alphonsus Liguori.

    My Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I desire to possess you within my soul. Since I am unable now to receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as being already there, and unite myself wholly to you: never permit me to be separated from you.

    A Íosa, creidim go bhfuil tú i láthair go fíor san Naoimh Shacramint. Gráim thú ós cionne chuile nidh faoin spéir, agus is mian liom go mbeifeá agam istigh i m’anam. Cé nach féidir liom thú a ghlacadh anois go sacraimintiúil, ar a laighead tar chugam go spioradálta isteach i mo chroí. Fáiltím romhat mar go bhfuilir ann cheanna féin, agus aontaím mé féin leat go h-iomlán. Ná lig dom go brách a bheith scartha Uait. AMEN.

  16. Aidan Hart says:

    Thank you Seamus.
    Even in your original version there appears to be a contradiction between “I desire to possess you within my soul” and “I embrace you as already being there” . One doesn’t desire to possess what one already has! I suspect the very idea of Spiritual Communion is at fault as it will always and very incorrectly imply that our triune God is not already and always present within everyone.
    This misunderstanding is at the root of our current and limited understanding of the purpose of Christ’s real presence in Eucharist – to strengthen and guide us to go forth and make disciples by the flow of Christ’s unconditional love through us to all others and thus help to spread the Kingdom of God on earth, especially in the tiny part of the earth which we inhabit.

  17. Pádraig+McCarthy says:

    “One doesn’t desire to possess what one already has!”
    The theological reality is that without the real presence of God, we would simply cease to exist. In this sense, everything that exists must be in communion with God.
    There are different modes or levels of presence.
    A crowd of people together on public transport (remember that?) are really present to one another, but perhaps largely only in a physical sense, analogous perhaps to the “presence” of two contiguous inanimate objects.
    When two people there interact, even if just to say, “Excuse me, please,” the level of presence changes.
    If they begin a casual conversation about the weather, it goes further.
    To interact on a more personal level, perhaps exchanging names and contact details, it increases again.
    If they realise that they are connected or related in some way, the presence develops further.
    It could develop yet further if food is served (train, plane) and they “break bread” together.
    It might not go any further, but if they arrange to meet again and the relationship becomes an ongoing reality in their lives, there is a level of presence significantly deeper than the initial presence of just being physically and geographically collocated.
    All of these levels are possible in a congregation gathered for worship.
    And while Jesus is with us always, for some it may not develop to the real presence of abiding in him and he in us, united in love. if we interpret “spiritual communion” as expressing this deeper and more conscious presence, then spiritual communion is a goal well worth desiring, without denying the reality of presence at the other levels.
    The culmination of such communion may be described as the Beatific Vision, which we rarely are conscious of at our parish celebration of the Eucharist. Our aim is that the celebration be a foretaste of that Beatific Vision!

  18. Aidan Hart says:

    Thank you Padraig. Your point is very well made and clearly explained. Well done.

  19. Paddy+Ferry says:

    I have been trying to follow the interesting discourse above dealing with eucharistic theology, the Real Presence and spiritual communion, much of it, I have to confess, is way above my pay grade.

    However, news from home in Donegal today got me thinking about the “real” relevance of it all.

    I would, early on in lockdown, mention on this site the great work being done in my home parish of Kincasslagh by our PP Fr. Pat Ward. Pat is an excellent priest.

    When lockdown began he quickly adapted to moving Mass online with a live stream from inside the chapels in Kincasslagh and Acres bringing daily Mass into people’s homes and not just in his own parish.
    I knew of people over here in Scotland who linked onto these Masses on Sundays and during the week and who got immense spiritual uplift and comfort from them during such a difficult time. Gradually his audience increased not just in Ireland and the UK but in places as far afield as America, Australia, Norway, Sweden and Spain.

    So, today I was delighted to hear the news that in the Gala Retail and Virgin Media Awards Pat was named as one of Irelands Inspirational Heroes for all the great work he has done. I share below the link to the report in the Donegal Daily.

    Now, I honestly could not tell you what phraseology Pat used in the relevant part of the Mass. But, I think you have to ask the question does it really matter to ordinary folk looking for a little bit of spiritual sustenance during what for many would have been a very difficult and, perhaps very lonely, time.

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