Questions about a prayer’s validity and whether priests can make mistakes

By Jenna Marie Cooper | OSV News

Q: We’ve been wondering about the wording in the prayer used for those who attend Sunday Mass virtually. The phrases: “Come AT LEAST spiritually into my heart” and “I love You AS IF You were already there” don’t reflect good theology. Don’t we believe that the Bible and our faith assure us of God’s constant presence and unconditional Love? Please address this question since it is used by most parishes every weekend. (Location withheld)

Jenna Marie Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist whose column appears weekly at OSV News. Send your questions to (OSV News photo/courtesy Jenna Marie Cooper)

A prayer of spiritual communion is not meant as a global theological statement on God’s omnipresence in general. God is indeed present always and everywhere, and he loves us unconditionally no matter where we are. It’s not as though God is somehow absent from us unless (or until) we say a certain prayer.

Yet at the same time, as Catholics we believe in the doctrine of the “real presence,” meaning that the prayers of consecration at Mass literally turn the offered bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Because the bread and wine become Jesus’s body and blood, we believe that during the Eucharist He becomes present to us in a uniquely intense and physical way; and that on an individual level, his presence to us is especially intimate when we personally receive him in holy communion.

Acts of spiritual communion are meant as a way for those who cannot receive communion at a particular point to try to “bridge the gap” between their current circumstances and their desire to receive Jesus sacramentally. You could look at a spiritual communion as a way of making ourselves especially open to God’s constant presence.

A monstrance is pictured during Eucharistic adoration at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The Prayer of Spiritual Communion written by St. Alphonsus Liguori has been superimposed on the photo. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

Q: Can priests be wrong? (Madison, WI)

A: Taking your question at simple face value, yes, of course priests can be wrong! Priests are mere human beings, not all-knowing demigods or supercomputers running on perfect algorithms. And no priest is going to be an expert in all areas of knowledge. Like the rest of us, priests can and will be wrong about at least some things some of the time.

Priests do receive quite an extensive training in graduate-level theology, so – in general — when a priest explains church teaching, he is speaking as qualified professionals in his field. Many priests have roles of authority (like, for example, pastor of a parish) which empower them to make practical decisions. So even if we, e.g., believe that our priest is “wrong” in his prudential decision-making in a given instance, it may nevertheless be a choice the priest is legitimately able to make.

We Catholics also have a concept of “papal infallibility,” which means that the Pope is protected from error in certain very specific circumstances, namely when he “proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals” (See Lumen Gentium, 25). That is, the Holy Father is infallible when he specifically and deliberately raises some aspect of established Catholic teaching on faith or morals to the level of infallibility. But this is a rare occurrence; the last time it happened was in 1950 with the proclamation of the dogma of Mary’s Assumption. There is no belief that the Pope would be infallible in areas unrelated to faith or morals.
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Jenna Marie Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist whose column appears weekly at OSV News. Send your questions to


Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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