Spiritual Communion in Mystical Texts from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Centuries
Keywords:Spiritual communion, liturgical mysticism, Eucharist, medieval mysticism, Low Countries
Since around the twelfth century, spiritual communion was defined as participating in the sacrament in a spiritual manner. This practice was based on Augustine’s distinction between the sacrament and the substance of the sacrament, which is spiritual union with Christ. Mystics such as William of Saint-Thierry contributed greatly to this practice, as they focused on the personal dimension of a spiritual union with Christ. Spiritual communion can take place when one is hindered from partaking in the sacrament, through meditation on Christ’s sacrifice or through watching the Eucharistic celebration. Yet, for mystics, spiritual communion is also the continual, inner celebration of the substance of the sacrament, which allowed them to harmoniously combine sacramental communion and spiritual communion. Spiritual communion is referred to by many mystics, including Gertrude of Helfta, Tauler, and the Evangelical Pearl. After the Council of Trent started to promote sacramental communion, the practice of spiritual communion declined.