Virtual Eucharist: Is this a Spiritual Practice?

by Christine Sine

In the light of my recent blog posts on what constitutes a spiritual practice I thought that I need to highlight this fascinating discussion currently going on across several blogs about whether or not we can legitimately celebrate the Eucharist on the internet.  Mark Brown CEO of the NZ Bible Society posted this article a few days ago featuring the Revd Professor Paul S. Fiddes, a Baptist minister and Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Oxford and Director of Research, Regent’s Park College, who has just written a short paper arguing in favour of celebrating Eucharist in the virtual world.

Professor Fiddes summarises

An avatar can receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist within the logic of the virtual world and it will still be a means of grace, since God is present in a virtual world in a way that is suitable for its inhabitants. We may expect that the grace received by the avatar will be shared in some way by the person behind the avatar, because the person in our everyday world has a complex relationship with his or her persona.

I struggle with this view as does Bosco Peters host of the NZ blog Liturgy

Baptism, immersion into the Christian community, the body of Christ, and hence into the nature of God the Holy Trinity may have some internet equivalents – for example, being welcomed into a moderated group. But my own current position would be to shy away from, for example, having a virtual baptism of a second life avatar. Nor would I celebrate Eucharist and other sacraments in the virtual world. Sacraments are outward and visible signs – the virtual world is still very much at the inner and invisible level. Similarly, in my opinion, placing unconsecrated bread and wine before a computer or television screen and understanding this to result in consecration tends away from the liturgical understanding of the Eucharist (liturgy = work of the people/ something done by a community) towards a magical understanding of the Eucharist (magic = something done to or for an individual or community).

Though I love to encourage interactions around our faith on the internet I do believe there comes a point where faith itself loses its reality if that is the only place that we come together to worship and share the sacraments.

However even though I struggle with issues like this I realize too that some may equate this idea with my own suggestion that we need to connect to the gospel story as it is expressed in every part of life.  Is performing the eucharist online more than connecting to the story of God in our everyday activities?  What do you think?

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