Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Greetings in the name of our Blessed Savior Jesus Christ as we walk with him in the Way to the Cross trusting that it will be for those we shepherd and to us the way of life.
As it seems prudent during this time of public and self-quarantine given the recent requests of national and local government as well medical professionals, for us not to gather in our churches or go to extraordinary means to offer the sacrament to our parishioners in piecemeal manner. Therefore, as I am not rescinding the prior prohibition on distributing the sacrament, I want to offer you some guidance on the matter of Spiritual Communion.
This is especially important as we draw near to Easter Sunday, the Sunday of the Resurrection. It seems appropriate that of all Sundays a priest, if at all possible, should be in the local church, or elsewhere to preside at the Easter Eucharist on behalf of the people of God and in festal celebration of our Lord’s victory over Sin, Death, Satan, Hell, Judgement and Wrath—wherein he trampled down death by death. The Anglican tradition has been for the priest to do this with two or three others being present even if they do not receive the sacrament (see my prior Episcopal Directive).
The ACNA Book of Common Prayer 2019 presciently has a prayer “For Spiritual Communion” on p. 677.
Dear Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the Holy Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I desire to possess you within my soul. And since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I beseech you to come spiritually into my heart. I unite myself to you, together with all your faithful people [gathered around every altar of your Church], and I embrace you with all the affections of my soul. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.
I recommend that you take a moment either after the offertory and before The Sursum Corda, or immediately after The Fraction and before the minister receives to draw attention to this prayer and give a very brief instruction about it. Some have chosen to read it in the place of what normally would be the “Prayer of Humble Access”. The celebrant would then receive the sacrament and, if not fasting in unity with the members of the congregation, the attending priests or deacons then receive. Once again, I reference the guidance of my previous directive. I share with you a comment a parishioner from Christ-St. Paul’s sent to the rector after last Sunday’s Palm Sunday Eucharist, “The spiritual communion was necessary and filled my soul.”
I also recommend for your consideration a seven-minute video, which our retired Archbishop, The Most Rev. Robert Duncan, has made, explaining the history of Spiritual Communion in the life of the undivided Church of the first five centuries, as well as in our Anglican history and the long tradition of the Book of Common Prayer. It is professionally produced, timely, and very instructive. While perhaps too long to show in the midst of Sunday worship, it will benefit those in our congregations if the link is available in advance of the Easter Eucharist.
One brick in this long tradition he did not reference is that found in the 1662 BCP. This prayer book, that is still the standard for many of the Churches across the Anglican Communion, has a rubric regarding spiritual communion in “The time of plague, sweat or other like contagious times of sickness or disease….” Reading such a rubric reminds me of just how relevant the teaching of the Bible remains. As we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes, ‘Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.’ (Eccl 1:10) The rubrics as do the Holy Scriptures continue to guide and teach us. I quote a portion of the rubric for your reference. “But if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness,…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 stedfastly 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 Savior Christ profitably to his soul’s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.”
One final word. Having followed what many of you are doing on line or by report, as well as in written word, I want to tell you how grateful I am for the ministry and the effort you are making to reach your people, as well as many others far and wide, with the good news of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is an honor to serve with you in this most unusual season. This continues to be a Holy Week unlike any we have ever known. Let us continue to be vigilant not only in social distancing but also in social care—in the ministry of intercession for our world. As Jesus challenged his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “So, could you not watch me with one hour?”
Gratefully yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Mark Joseph Lawrence