Many of us do not now have access to the Eucharist, "the source and summit of Christian life." (CCC 1324) But let's not just throw up our hands and despair! We have recourse to a Morning Offering to unite ourselves to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered publicly and privately by priests all over the world. To an act of Spiritual Communion when we cannot receive the Eucharist. To an act of perfect contrition when we cannot confess our sins to a priest and receive absolution. All of these prayers are a source of grace and a protection against despair.
We have access to indulgences, which are prayers and practices especially recommended by the magisterium and enhanced with special graces. Recently, an apostolic letter allows us to gain indulgences without fulfilling the usual conditions of confession and communion if we are prevented by the Coronavirus from doing so, provided we resolve to do so when possible.
But of course, even without the current Coronavirus epidemic, one might not be able to attend Mass or receive the sacraments because of illness, caring for a sick person or an infant, weather, lack of access to a priest, etc.
So. How shall we Catholics pray when when we are separated from Mass and the sacraments?
A Morning Offering
Even under usual circumstances, a morning offering is an important way to begin the day, and to properly orient everything that will happen. Under current conditions, it's even more important. A morning offering actively unites us to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as it's being offered throughout the world, and by our own parish priests who, even if they are prevented from holding public Masses, are all saying a Mass each day.
There are many versions. Here's one:
O my Jesus,
through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you all my prayers, works, joys,
and sufferings of this day,
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered throughout the world,
in reparation for my sins,
for the intentions of my relatives and friends,
and in particular for the intentions
of the Holy Father. Amen.
An Act of Spiritual Communion
It has long been a Catholic understanding that when circumstances prevent one from receiving Holy Communion, it is possible to make an Act of Spiritual Communion, which is a source of grace. Spiritual Communion is an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and lovingly embrace him at a time or in circumstances when one cannot receive Him in sacramental Communion.Archdiocese of New York
There are many versions. Here are two:
I wish, my Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility, and devotion with which your Most Holy Mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of the saints. Amen.recommended by Saint Josemaria
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love you above all things,
and I desire to receive you into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment
receive you sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you.
Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.
An Act of Contrition
Even more troubling than the lack of ready access to Holy Communion is the lack of access to the sacrament of confession, especially when there's so much talk of illness and death. Fortunately, whether our sin is mortal or venial, when we are not able to confess our sins to a priest and receive sacramental absolution, we have recourse to an act of perfect contrition.
A person who is conscious of grave sin . . . and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.Code of Canon Law 916
It's important to note that an "act of perfect contrition" isn't the same as a "perfect Act of Contrition." It's not the exact words of the prayer that matter, it's the inner disposition.
Perfect contrition is sorrow for sin arising from perfect love. In perfect contrition the sinner detests sin more than any other evil, because it offends God, who is supremely good and deserving of all human love. Its motive is founded on God’s own goodness and not merely his goodness to the sinner or to humanity. This motive, and not the intensity of the act, less still the feelings experienced, is what essentially constitutes perfect sorrow.EWTN
An act of perfect contrition will be an act of the mind and the will, not just a rote recitation of a prayer. We will be sorry for our sins not because of potential punishments, but because of our love for God. We will not be attached to our sins. This means we hate our sins, even the ones we find ourselves falling into again and again. We do not excuse them in ourselves. We resolve to fight against them. We must prefer even death to sin. We must resolve to confess our sins to a priest when it is possible to do so.
There are many Acts of Contrition. Here is one:
O my God, I am heartily sorry
for having offended thee,
and I detest all my sins
because I fear the loss of heaven
and the pains of hell,
but most of all because they offend thee,my God, who art all good
and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
For the back story, see this post: Catholic Indulgences: what they are, when they are, and why you should care
A new apostolic decree says we can still obtain indulgences for things like doing the Stations of the Cross, spending 30 minutes reading scripture, or saying a family Rosary, even if we are currently prevented from fulfilling the conditions of receiving communion and making a good confession. Newly included is an indulgence for participating in Mass on TV, when one is unable to attend Mass in person.
“If, with a spirit detached from any sin, they unite spiritually through the media to the celebration of Holy Mass, the recitation of the Holy Rosary, to the pious practice of the Way of the Cross or other forms of devotion, or if at least they will recite the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and a pious invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, offering this trial in a spirit of faith in God and charity towards their brothers and sisters, with the will to fulfil the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer according to the Holy Father's intentions), as soon as possible.”Decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary on the granting of special Indulgences to the faithful in the current pandemic
Make a perfect act of contrition, intend to get the indulgence, do the action required for the indulgence, pray for the Holy Father, and resolve to receive communion and confession when you are able. Under any circumstances, if one is unable to fulfill all the conditions the indulgence becomes partial, which is still really good!
There's a unique opportunity to gain a plenary indulgence today by watching online when the Pope gives a special Urbi et Orbi Blessing from Rome. Usually these are reserved for Christmas and Easter. The ceremony will be broadcast by Vatican News on their website. 6pm Rome time, 1pm EDT, 12pm CDT, 11am MDT, and 10am PDT.
Bonus Ways to Pray . . .
Acts of Trust, Surrender, and Abandonment to God's Will: During difficult times for our family over the past year I have made a habit of acts of trust, surrender, and abandonment to God's will. There is great comfort in it, especially when it feels like things are out of your control. Because they are. To give that control to God is to gain peace.
The Rosary: I'm so grateful for the exception given to us by the Holy Father that allows us to continue to earn an indulgence for a family Rosary. With all this time at home, we're all running out of excuses to not say a Rosary!
The Stations of the Cross: Maintaining our family Lenten traditions has been such a blessing for us! It's Friday, and that means we'll be doing the Stations of the Cross together. If you're on Instagram, look for us live at 6pm PDT if you'd like to join us!