By Phillip Rolfes
It’s hard to be apart from the sacraments right now, isn’t it?
While on the one hand it’s easy for us to complain about our current lack of access to the Eucharist, on the other hand, I believe it serves as a good illustration of how, historically, spirituality has always developed and adapted according to life’s circumstances.
A case in point…
Eucharistic Piety in the East
Until fairly recently, the practice of frequent, even weekly, Communion had pretty much fallen out of use in the Eastern Catholic world. While our spirituality has always been very liturgically oriented, our relationship with the Eucharist evolved along different lines from the West (for example, Eucharistic Adoration isn’t really a traditional practice of the East). A spirituality of frequent Communion is something that has been restored only within the last century.
Even monks, participating in the daily liturgical services of their monasteries, wouldn’t always receive Communion at each Liturgy. In fact, at least two Byzantine writers from the 14th century, Saints Ignatius and Kallistos Xanthopoulos, had to encourage monks to Commune more frequently, setting out guidelines for how often they should receive (three times a week if memory serves me correctly). That’s right. Monks!
Does this mean that devotion to the Eucharist is pretty minimal in the East?
Absolutely not! In fact, in some ways there is a heightened sense of Christ’s Eucharistic Presence in the East.
We’re traditionally required to fast beginning at midnight if we plan on receiving Communion at the Liturgy. Some Eastern churches have even developed an “obligation” that one go to Confession before receiving the Eucharist. Every. Single. Time!
Then there are the beautiful—and rather lengthy—preparatory prayers in the Byzantine tradition known as the “Canon of Communion” or Metalepsis. The expectation is that one would say these prayers at home in preparation to receive the Eucharist.
And if all that weren’t enough, you’d also be expected to get permission from your spiritual director to receive Communion frequently.
Adapting to Our New “Normal”
For us today, these requirements seem a bit extreme. But they show a heightened sense of Christ’s Eucharistic Presence that, perhaps, we today frequently take for granted.
In our own times, these “requirements” have been relaxed in an effort to restore the ancient tradition of frequent Communion and renew the Eucharistic spirituality of the East. But since we’ve become so accustomed to frequent, even daily Communion, how do we Easterners fill the void left in our spiritual lives when the Eucharist is inaccessible to us?
Acts of spiritual communion are not really a part of our Eastern tradition. However, as our renewed Eucharistic spirituality adapts to the circumstances and needs of the times, it makes sense that we would look for something to fill our current Eucharistic void.
That’s why I was delighted to come across this Act of Spiritual Communion from the Byzantine Eparchy (Diocese) of Phoenix:
O Lord, I believe and profess that you are truly Christ,
The Son of the living God, who came into the world
To save sinners of whom I am the first.
Although I cannot now be a partaker of your mystical supper,
O Son of God,
Come at least spiritually into my heart by your Divine Grace
For the healing of my soul and body.
For I will not reveal your mystery to your enemies,
Nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas,
But like the thief I profess to you:
+ Remember me, O Lord, when you come in your kingdom.
+ Remember me, O Master, when you come in your kingdom.
+ Remember me, O Holy One, when you come in your kingdom.
O Lord, I also believe and profess, that this,
Which I would receive, and which is now
Here present with us in Mystery,
Is truly your most precious Body, and your life-giving Blood.
May I one day partake of your mystical supper again for the remission of
My sins and for life everlasting. Amen.
+ O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
+ O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me.
+ O Lord, forgive me for I have sinned without number.
A Great Example of Development
This prayer is taken straight from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom celebrated in the Byzantine tradition. To adapt it as an act of spiritual communion, a couple of lines were cut out from the prayer, and a line from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Act of Spiritual Communion” was adapted and inserted into the prayer.
It’s a beautiful example of what I believe is an organic development in the East. Personally, I’d love to see the other Eastern Catholic Churches follow suit.
In the meantime, I’ll be adding this Act of Spiritual Communion to my daily prayer rule. What are you doing to stay connected to the Eucharist right now?
Phillip Rolfes is That Eastern Catholic Guy. A “canonical convert” from Roman Catholicism to Maronite Catholicism, Phillip loves researching and sharing the rich traditions of the Christian East. He lives in Cincinnati, OH. with his wife and four children, and is parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Catholic Church.