Virtual Eucharist: Is this a Spiritual Practice?

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?


4 Responses

  1. Fascinating article Christine!

    Our theology does not often neatly integrate with our technology.

    I personally don’t feel it’s possible to extend myself that far into the virtual space of the Web. Although in the future this may become a critical debate as this ‘cyberspace’ converges with real time and space. I’ve heard the seed of it called ‘the web of things’.

    Some folks believe in the transubstantiation of the bread into Jesus’ actual body in real life. I see the bread and wine as symbols only, although to me they are actual avenues of grace. So, I do not believe in the transubstantiation of the bread into Jesus’ body nor do I believe our bodies, spirits, or souls translate directly into avatars within cyberspace. In turn I don’t believe we can receive any form of spiritual grace directly via a virtual representation on the Web.

    This is really a question of how we define reality and how we understand the idea of this placeless place we’ve created called ‘cyberspace’.

    As virtual reality technologies advance, and more and more people spend more time on the Web and in digital creations (aka: video games, virtual educational environs, etc) we will be faced with questions I feel we are not prepared to even consider today.

    It’s hard to even think about some of this because it is radically uncharted spiritual terrain. This is surely a challenge for the church fathers of our generation.

  2. Jason you are so right. Who would have thought that we would even be thinking of questions like this a couple of years ago.

  3. […] virtual Eucharist: Is this a spiritual practice […]

  4. […] virtual Eucharist: Is this a spiritual practice – Christine Sine […]

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