The suspension of public Masses throughout Italy brings home the clear and present danger COVID-19 — the coronavirus — poses to the sacramental lives of Catholics.
It is a frightening prospect to face the possibility of being denied the sacraments if instructed to self-isolate, if quarantined in a hospital or due to state-sanctioned closure of our churches. The distress suffered by the faithful cannot be exaggerated if we are unable to go to confession, receive the Blessed Sacrament or extreme unction at the hour of death.
However, we can do much to reduce our anxiety if we find ourselves in such a situation by following two traditional devotional practices — the act of perfect contrition and spiritual Communion. This is not to deny that Our Lord has given special supernatural signification and effectiveness to the seven sacraments as unique signs and instruments of His saving grace that are absolutely necessary for salvation.
However, St. Thomas Aquinas was clear that God has not restricted Himself to these sacraments (ST III. 64. a2). By observing strict conditions clearly set out by the Church, these devotions will enable us to receive the forgiveness of our sins, even mortal sins, and the consolations of eucharistic graces.
As explained by the Baltimore Catechism, perfect contrition "is that which fills us with sorrow and hatred for sin, because it offends God, who is infinitely good in Himself and worthy of all love" (203).
Through an act of perfect contrition, you receive pardon for your sins outside of confession, even mortal sins, on condition that you determine to amend your life and make a firm resolution to go to sacramental confession as soon as this becomes possible for you.
Perfect contrition is a grace from God, so sincerely ask for this gift throughout the day prior to making your act of contrition: "My God, grant me perfect contrition for all my sins."
St. Maximilian Kolbe O.F.M., wrote the following at the outbreak of the Second World War, "Whoever can, should receive the sacrament of penance. Whoever cannot, because of prohibiting circumstances, should cleanse his soul by acts of perfect contrition — that is, the sorrow of a loving child who does not consider so much the pain or reward as he does the pardon from his father and mother to whom he has brought displeasure."
As explained in section 912 of the Baltimore Catechism, spiritual Communion is "an earnest desire to receive Communion in reality, by which desire we make all preparations and thanksgivings that we would make in case we really received the Holy Eucharist. Spiritual Communion is an act of devotion that must be pleasing to God and bring us blessings from Him."
At present there is confusion concerning the requirements for spiritual Communion caused by some bishops and priests saying that individuals in a state of grave sin, who cannot receive Holy Communion, should instead make a spiritual Communion. This is seriously misleading. In order to make a spiritual Communion, it is necessary to be in a state of grace, just as this is necessary for Holy Communion.
The key to spiritual Communion is to grow in your heart a constant desire for the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Maximilian Kolbe O.F.M., undertook this devotion at least once every quarter of an hour and Padre Pio recommended receiving Our Lord in spiritual Communion throughout the day during one's various occupations, writing, "Fly with your spirit before the tabernacle, when you can't stand before it bodily, and there pour out the ardent longings of your soul and embrace the Beloved of souls, even more than if you had been permitted to receive Him sacramentally."
Now is the time to make acts of perfect contrition and spiritual communion a daily practice. Here are guides in:
An essay by Deacon Nick Donnelly on perfect contrition and spiritual Communion can be found by clicking here.