Virtual Communion

In common with all Church of England parishes our village church is closed but our vicar is broadcasting a livestream of morning and evening prayer daily and this morning, parish communion. My other half and I set up a table in front of the television, with candles, a piece of bread each and a small glass with a little wine in for each of us. We joined in with communion and administered bread and wine to each other. It felt good and meaningful to us to participate in this way.

I was reflecting on the theology of what we are doing, which I think is only an issue if you see communion as sacramental rather than strictly memorial! Does consecration work at a distance?? For me the fact that we were doing this in real time, that our vicar was at that very moment pronouncing the words only a few streets away across the village from us was important and also that I could see that a number of others were watching online with us at the same moment so it was a shared moment. I don't think it would feel the same if I was watching the video of the livestream later in the day.
I don't believe that there is a 'blast radius' where all the bread and wine around the village was magically consecrated, So I'm thinking that the sense of validity comes from intentionality. That this bread and wine which we have set aside for this purpose and have presented before the priest as the words of consecration are spoken can 'be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ'.

We live in unprecedented circumstances and have technology available to us that former generations did not have when faced with similar challenges. So do we need some kind of theology of how 'virtual communion' might function?
«1

Comments

  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Thanks, Lucia. There were a couple of posts on this topic in the Church Online: Best and Worst Moments, but it’s probably worthy of a thread on its own.

    The two posts were these:
    We conferred by Zoom yesterday about Easter week services and discussed an online Communion for Mandy Thursday (presbyterian style) which seems odd, but will perhaps work. It was supported enthusiastically, someone pointing out that nobody else needs to know what is in the glasses. Has anyone else done that? It seems to me that the community aspect is so very important, but at the moment, we have little or no choice.
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    We had the same discussion concerning Maundy Thursday and Easter at our (virtual via Zoom) Session meeting earlier this week. I have known of it being done, but haven’t directly experienced it.

    We had a mix of feelings and views. Some (like me) were uncomfortable with the idea—not because the Spirit cannot blow where it will, but because the physical aspects of community and the sharing from the same bread and cup are missing. Others felt like it would help reinforce the congregation’s communion/community when that is needed. One person expressed the sense that it is a witness that God is more powerful than COVID-19, that the pandemic doesn’t “win.”

    Ultimately, the decision was to move forward with “virtual Communion,” leaving it to the minister (who will consult with others) to think through how to do it with the most integrity. There was agreement, I think, that it’s not ideal, and that under “normal” circumstances we wouldn’t consider it. But these are anything but normal circumstances. The services at which it is done will be streaming live, not recorded.

    We also discussed a festive Eucharist on the first Sunday we’re able to gather again in person.

    I very much like your idea that you administered the bread and wine to each other rather than simply taking your own piece of bread and glass of wine.

  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited March 29
    Lucia wrote: »
    So I'm thinking that the sense of validity comes from intentionality.
    That resonates with me. Of course I come from a more memorialist position.

  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    This.

  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    Thankyou, Lucia, for your post. I prefer also and am glad to be able to participate in live broadcasts of the liturgical celebrations. Like you, Lucia, I would not bother about 'blast radius 'but what you and your other half did, is equivalent to what I would call a spiritual communion. Your intention to participate as closely as possible in the celebration of the eucharist carried out by your local vicar, gives your communion its own validity. Thank you for sharing your experience and describing it so movingly.
  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    Thank you Lucia! I do think that a loving God would not deny her/his children the solace and nurture of her/his own self just because the setting was odd or the work-speaker not in the same room. Your giving communion one to the other is wonderful -- and I shall share that with many here. Thank you again.
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    Lucia wrote: »
    So I'm thinking that the sense of validity comes from intentionality.
    That resonates with me. Of course I come from a more memorialist position.

    I think the intention of Lucia and partner would be honoured in a time of trial, and the Third Person would have no difficulty in arranging a quick fly-by epiclesis of all elements proffered for the purpose.

    I believe that the anamnesis can never be merely memorial ("anamnesis" and "merely" do not belong in the same sacramental sentence) but that probably belongs in another thread - no doubt a well-dead horse. I believe that by the grace of God the full gamut of God's saving works were present in Lucia and other half's re-presentation for grace extends in strange and holy ways to troubled times
  • Speaking from a sacramentalist position, I think it's neither intention nor ex opere operato but rather, God sees us doing this stuff, and he freely chooses to do his Thing™ together with us. So yeah, even if consecration-at-a-distance has never happened before in the history of the world (and I'm not saying so), why should that stop God now?

    Basically, it's not mechanical, and it's not a game we're playing with a set of rules that must be followed. It's an action that takes place in a settled, ongoing relationship, where people x and y and z do this, and Person A says, "Why not?" and does that.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Thank you Lucia for your moving description.
  • kmannkmann Shipmate
    Lucia wrote: »
    I don't believe that there is a 'blast radius' where all the bread and wine around the village was magically consecrated, So I'm thinking that the sense of validity comes from intentionality.
    While I do not think that consecration 'works' over the internet (or over the phone for that matter), let's assume it does. What would this intentionality comprise of? It's impossible for the priest to know how many pieces of bread or how much wine which needs to be consecrated. He doesn't know how many people watch per account/screen.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    kmann wrote: »
    Lucia wrote: »
    I don't believe that there is a 'blast radius' where all the bread and wine around the village was magically consecrated, So I'm thinking that the sense of validity comes from intentionality.
    While I do not think that consecration 'works' over the internet (or over the phone for that matter), let's assume it does. What would this intentionality comprise of? It's impossible for the priest to know how many pieces of bread or how much wine which needs to be consecrated. He doesn't know how many people watch per account/screen.
    That’s assuming that consecration is accomplished by the clergy person and his or her intent, which isn’t an assumption shared by everyone, or even everyone who comes at this from a sacramental position.

    But even operating from that assumption, why can’t the clergy person’s intent be to consecrate all bread and wine of those watching? Does he or she need to know the exact number?

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    And indeed, the priest at our services would not know the number of hosts put into the ciborium - he's not put them in. The intent needed is, as you say, to consecrate the bread and wine of those offering it. You still miss the commonality of eating and drinking together whether you be friends or strangers, can't think of how to obtain that.
  • Zoom.

    Well, not really, but you know somebody's trying it!
  • LuciaLucia Shipmate
    Thank you for your kind and encouraging comments. I felt happy with what we did but I wasn't sure what our vicar would think about it!

    Given that for many of us it could be quite some time until we are able to celebrate communion with a priest present or with a congregation, would it be good for the churches to actually issue some guidelines on how this might be done? I appreciate there will be a range of views on the validity of doing this, but we have a range of views on many matters of practice. But I wonder if the churches could give some guidance along the lines of, 'If you choose to do this, this is how we recommend it is done.'

    When I spoke of intentionality I was thinking not just of the priest's intention but also of our intention that the specific bread and wine that we have set before God here in our home should become the body and blood of Christ to us.

    I'm interested in why some think consecration cannot work over the internet.
    Jesus could clearly operate at a distance, for example the healing of the centurion's servant.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Lucia wrote: »
    Given that for many of us it could be quite some time until we are able to celebrate communion with a priest present or with a congregation, would it be good for the churches to actually issue some guidelines on how this might be done? I appreciate there will be a range of views on the validity of doing this, but we have a range of views on many matters of practice. But I wonder if the churches could give some guidance along the lines of, 'If you choose to do this, this is how we recommend it is done.'
    I’m pretty sure that’s what we’ll be doing—providing notice and instruction so that people are prepared.

    I appreciate this thread, Lucia. As I said, when this was discussed in our virtual Session meeting, I was one of those with reservations. This thread has eased some of my reservations, and for that I am grateful.

  • Speaking from a sacramentalist position, I think it's neither intention nor ex opere operato but rather, God sees us doing this stuff, and he freely chooses to do his Thing™ together with us. So yeah, even if consecration-at-a-distance has never happened before in the history of the world (and I'm not saying so), why should that stop God now?

    Basically, it's not mechanical, and it's not a game we're playing with a set of rules that must be followed. It's an action that takes place in a settled, ongoing relationship, where people x and y and z do this, and Person A says, "Why not?" and does that.

    This.
  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Lucia wrote: »
    Given that for many of us it could be quite some time until we are able to celebrate communion with a priest present or with a congregation, would it be good for the churches to actually issue some guidelines on how this might be done? I appreciate there will be a range of views on the validity of doing this, but we have a range of views on many matters of practice. But I wonder if the churches could give some guidance along the lines of, 'If you choose to do this, this is how we recommend it is done.'
    I’m pretty sure that’s what we’ll be doing—providing notice and instruction so that people are prepared.

    I appreciate this thread, Lucia. As I said, when this was discussed in our virtual Session meeting, I was one of those with reservations. This thread has eased some of my reservations, and for that I am grateful.

    Same here. I shall make sure I have bread and wine handy, when I go up to Scotland next Sunday!
    :wink:

  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    Our diocesan bishop (TEC in the US) sent an e-mail to all clergy stating she cannot authorize or allow consecration via phone or internet. She further states that if any priest is celebrating Eucharist on line they should not consume the Sacrament, since it allows them something not able to be shared with the congregation. She notes that the Governor of our state has mandated that all churches and other gathering sites be closed, and as we must fast from gathering in person so to we must fast from the Sacrament, and suggests that it is time to cherish our services of the word through use of Morning Prayer and/or Evening Prayer. She invites any and all to join in MP with her each morning and Compline each evening via the internet.
  • I've noticed in a couple of online Eucharists, celebrated by the priest solo, that the consumption of the Sacrament is NOT SEEN by the viewer - perhaps in deference to those watching, but who cannot participate physically.

    This doesn't quite chime in, ISTM, with @BabyWombat's Bishop's ruling. Surely, if the Sacrament is consecrated, it should be consumed (perhaps after the service has ended), as Reservation for the Communion of the Sick is a tad difficult at the moment...
  • OblatusOblatus Shipmate
    I've noticed in a couple of online Eucharists, celebrated by the priest solo, that the consumption of the Sacrament is NOT SEEN by the viewer - perhaps in deference to those watching, but who cannot participate physically.

    Even though the consumption of the Sacrament by somebody is an essential element of the rite? Maybe it's not seen that way by all. Don't know.

  • Oblatus wrote: »
    Even though the consumption of the Sacrament by somebody is an essential element of the rite? Maybe it's not seen that way by all. Don't know.

    Yeah, I found the instruction for the priest not to consume the sacrament rather odd, on those grounds.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Indeed. It doesn’t seem like the Sacrament if it’s not consumed, and I think most Episcopalians I know would find it very odd to merely watch someone consume.

    I’ve heard of numerous Episcopal churches using Morning or Evening Prayer, or what might be called ante-Communion (the Eucharistic liturgy up to the offertory). I also know of Episcopal churches using this rite of Spiritual Communion or something similar.

  • To me there seems little point in celebrating virtual Communion unless (a) the celebrant is seen to partake and (b) people at home are prepared to join in with elements - not necessarily the "proper" ones! YMMV of course.
  • I think that, in the services I've mentioned, the Sacrament was indeed consumed, but 'off-stage'. I'm guessing that the service was recorded beforehand, so that the film could be suitably edited at that point.

    What @Baptist Trainfan says makes logical sense, on reflection, and I found that the last solo Eucharist I watched didn't really allow enough time for the viewer to consume elements at home, anyway.

    I'm OK with watching the service, Consecration and all, and making a 'spiritual communion' the while.

    If 'virtual communion' works for others, though, I can't think that Our Lord and His Blessed Mother will mind too much...
  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    My apologies for causing confusion regarding the 'no communion for celebrant'; Two months ago or so, when we were still celebrating in churches but had concerns about transmission of any sort of virus our bishop directed that we distribute by bread (wafer) only (so no common cup) and that the wine consecrated at that Eucharistic celebration should not be consumed by the priest but after the service poured down the pisicina or on clean earth.

    I would assume (always risky when it is a bishop's thinking one assumes!) she means that if celebrating on line one essentially and appropriatly disposes of the consecrated elements without consuming them. My own short hand verison of this: No online Eucharists in this diocese, just a service of word and prayer, which could be MP or EP or some other non-Eucharistic service.
  • kmannkmann Shipmate
    BabyWombat wrote: »
    She further states that if any priest is celebrating Eucharist on line they should not consume the Sacrament…
    So in other words, she is saying that you should't celebrate it (hopefully). Or does she think that a priest can licitly celebrate Mass without consuming?
  • Some thoughts by a leading British Baptist theologian (there's a Part 2 as well): http://steverholmes.org.uk/blog/?p=7716
  • john holdingjohn holding Ecclesiantics Host, Mystery Worshipper Host
    FWIW, the bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario (some 8-9 dioceses) have ordered that no eucharist of any sort be celebrated while we are in this plague. I expect that the other three provinces will be deciding the same thing if they have not already done so.
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    Some thoughts by a leading British Baptist theologian (there's a Part 2 as well): http://steverholmes.org.uk/blog/?p=7716

    I read both articles, and I think in the Baptist context this makes sense - though I think you'd have to give thought to how the strictures in 1 Cor 11 apply -- which his treatment of somatic presence doesn't quite address.

    I also think these two sentences taken together:

    "Signals in fibre optic cables and electromagnetic waves are physical realities; our shared presence together in an online—virtual—meeting is therefore a mediated physical presence"

    "This granted, could we imagine a different distinction, between mediated presence and unmediated presence? Possibly, but: (a) it will not make much difference; (b) it is probably again nonsense;"

    Lead to consequences that I suspect he'd actually be uncomfortable with (aka the cable can be very long indeed, and the second applies equally to time shifting).
  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    kmann wrote: »
    So in other words, she is saying that you should't celebrate it (hopefully). Or does she think that a priest can licitly celebrate Mass without consuming?

    I would understand her comments as meaning "no celebration of the Eucharist" at this time; on line 'gatherings' for services of the word and prayer, with sermon are preferred.

  • AIUI, our Diocesan Bishop is refraining from celebrating the Eucharist - even privately - until such time as it is possible to celebrate with a congregation physically present.

    This is his own personal stance, but he makes it plain that, if other clergy do wish to celebrate privately, he's happy with that, and gives them his blessing - even if they live-stream their solo services.
  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    Watching the YouTube videos lovingly prepared by our rector, I have come to the tentative conclusion that the inward spiritual grace arises when I feel nourished by the service the celebrant is offering, so personally I am finding spiritual communion to be effective. This will not be the same for everyone, but I am happy to report that at least something offered to sustain us in these times works for me. This is not universal, to put it mildly.
  • No, but it seems to be working for me, too.
  • PDRPDR Shipmate
    edited April 6
    I am OK with the diet of Morning Prayer, Litany & Ante-Communion, and then Evening Prayer, but then, although Communion is very much central to my faith, frequent reception is not. The idea of hearing Mass without communicating is a bit strange to me, but doing my training in an Anglo-Catholic theol. college, I ended up doing it a lot! I suppose I got intellectually used to it - which is not to say I thought it was quite right, but I had to live with the PTBs.
  • kmannkmann Shipmate
    Having spoken to several people I see that this reveals quite different views on the nature of the sacrament. While some people say that the priest should refrain from celebrating (because he is then living in solidarity with the rest of the Church), others, me included, think that the priests should continue to celebrate and that a celebration done on behalf of someone actually has a positive effect, even if we cannot receive in the normal manner. To use the phrase Catherine Pickstock uses in the transitional section of her book After Writing, I believe that your eating can indeed 'slake my hunger.'
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    As I have been thinking about this professionally recently, I offer these contrasting views for and against.

    Personally, I find the former more convincing than the latter. Aside from questions of denominational discipline, both seem to revolve around whether a virtual gathering can be a Eucharistic assembly. I am unconvinced by what appear to me to be mere assertions that it cannot be, and obviously Paul could not have envisaged the kind of ‘virtual’ gatherings which are now possible.

    I also find that the emphasis in the second on one bread and one cup unduly literalistic and going beyond what the text says, and the heavy reliance on 1 Cor 10.16-17 does what respected commentators (Barrett, Fee) say should not be done - i.e. makes firm pronouncements about Eucharistic practice.
  • Did you realise that there is "Part 2: Against" section to the first piece you cited? It's not very obvious, but look under "Recent Posts" on the right hand side of the page.

    By the way, Stephen Holmes is an excellent theologian. Now at ST Andrew's, he used to be at King's, London and, following his own mentor Colin Gunton, taught me a great deal about the Trinity!
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Yes. I’ve read the part 2 as well where he deals with possible objections to his part 1 proposal.
  • Good. The United Reformed Church have just produced this paper. Point 5 is particularly interesting (and creative): https://urc.org.uk/images/Virtual-Communion-in-the-URC.pdf
  • I'd completely missed this thread until @Ricardus asked about the issue.

    For what it's worth, my Parish has recently started Zoom communions, which I have found very helpful. The priest consecrates, and we watch her receive, but no one watching does so. Indeed, until reading this thread, the thought had never entered my mind. As far as I know the Church of England hasn't offered any guidance on this.

    As for it never having arisen before, I think there's a scene in "Shogun" where one of the characters receives "imaginary" communion from a Jesuit on the ground where a new cathedral is going to be built. Can anyone remember the details?
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    (Reading through the responses now - I may post later when I've marked and inwardly digested.)

    One random thought occurs to me: that this crisis is making Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament de facto mainstream among Protestants ...
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    Not so fast. Each participant in our virtual church takes communion at home, in both kinds.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    One random thought occurs to me: that this crisis is making Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament de facto mainstream among Protestants ...
    You think so? Perhaps among some mainstream Anglicans, but I’m pretty mainstream Protestant, and I’m not seeing that at all. Among my people, if Communion is celebrated in a streaming service, it’s with the expectation that those participating virtually are also communing. The idea of a celebration where no one communes or only the one presiding communes makes no sense at all in our theological and ecclesialogical understanding of the sacrament.

    Or am I misunderstanding what you mean?

  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    No, I think you're understanding correctly and I'm just wrong :smile:
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Well, or maybe you’re seeing something on your side of The Pond that I’m not seeing on my side. That’s always a possibility.

  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    I am a life-long Methodist. We are much lower on the candle than our Catholic and Orthodox brethren and higher than Baptists and the like who deprecate communion to the rank of an ordinance.
    Our minister, who is Korean, is a mixture of high and low church that is new to me. He has people stand for the reading of the Gospel -- an innovation to this Methodist -- but introduced a very low-church form of communion over Zoom. People were encouraged to get whatever they wished for communion, with one example suggestion being chocolate milk and a cookie. I confess to being rather shocked by this. It seemed downright disrespectful. But I may just be a dinosaur. I don't think most of the congregation was disconcerted by the idea in the slightest.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    tclune wrote: »
    People were encouraged to get whatever they wished for communion, with one example suggestion being chocolate milk and a cookie.
    That would shock me a bit. Okay, more than a bit.

    We got notice of the need for elements days in advance, so that people could prepare. We were encouraged to have bread—and were provided with an easy recipe for bread that folks looking for something to do (or for their kids to do) could use—and wine or juice, or if those weren’t possible, water. (The story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana was cited.) Then we were encouraged to place “a special napkin or piece of cloth that reminds you of a holy dinner with friends” on a table where we were going to watch the stream, and then to place the bread (on a special plate or in a special basket) and cup on that napkin or cloth.

  • I've begun the practice (Hellbound Heretick™ that I am) of consuming a piece of bread, and a sip of wine, at Communion-time during the Sunday Eucharists that I'm watching online at the moment.

    It may indeed not be an acceptable practice (I'm C of E), and some sort of spiritual communion is being encouraged, but it works for me. I accept that it may be anathema to others, of course.
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    I can see no reason why streaming any sort of Communion service would necessarily lead to de facto Adoration of the Sacrament amongst Protestants and this irrespective of whether the celebrant alone receives Communion (on behalf of the others) or not.
    This would then presuppose that Protestants attending a 'live' and not 'virtual' Communion service would recognise the Presence of Jesus in the 'consecrated' elements. I don't think that this is the case. I have known of several fellow Christians who have attended services where the religious community,(might be Catholic or Orthodox or even Lutheran or Anglican) teach the Real Presence and yet would not accept that while being physically present. This is one of the reasons why certain Christian bodies only allow those who share to the full their understandings to communicate.
    I just learned today that Jehovah's Witnesses ( who may or may not be counted as Christians and who do not believe in the Roman Catholic teaching of transubstantiation )celebrate the Lord's Evening Meal once a year on the date corresponding to the Jewish Nisan14. However 'only those with the hope of reigning with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom are allowed to partake of the emblems.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited April 22
    I am happy to follow Bishop's Finger' example of a sip of wine and a morsel of bread at home - much less happy with chocolate milk and a bikkie unless there is literally nothing else to hand. But I can see little point in just watching a Minister celebrating the Eucharist online, whether live or recorded.

  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited April 22
    Whoops, ignore this!

Sign In or Register to comment.