'Spiritual Communion': Youths learn a traditional concept

A priest distributes Communion to pilgrims during the closing Mass of World Youth Day in Madrid Aug. 21.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

A priest distributes Communion to pilgrims during the closing Mass of World Youth Day in Madrid Aug. 21.

September 5, 2011

More than a million young Catholics learned the hard way about a venerable Catholic tradition: "spiritual Communion" or the "Communion of desire."

After a wild storm Aug. 20 at World Youth Day in Madrid left six people injured, Spanish police collapsed the tents where most of the unconsecrated hosts for the next morning's Mass were being kept.

Without the hosts in the tents, where organizers had 5,000 ciboriums holding 200 hosts each, Communion was distributed at Mass Aug. 21 only to pilgrims in the section closest to the altar.

In the end, it wasn't possible to locate another one million hosts.

A couple of hours before the Mass, organizers announced that most of those present would not be able to receive; they asked the pilgrims to offer up that sacrifice for the pope's intentions.

The idea of "spiritual Communion" — inviting Jesus into one's heart and soul when receiving the actual sacrament isn't possible — is part of Catholic tradition.