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Cyber Communion

This is the sixth post in response to the paper by Bishop Tim Harris: The heart of the matter: Holy Communion, effective participation and virtual reality — some guidance from historical Anglican sacramental understanding.

As this post will be a potpourri of responses, do first read the following posts to be clear what is being discussed:
first post 
second post 
third post
fourth post
fifth post

Tim’s approach is to us the theology he discerns in the Book of Common Prayer 1662 (BCP1662) as a basis for discussing whether cyber communion is possible. His conclusion is that it is. My conclusion is that there may very well be robust theological reasoning that leads to authorising cyber communion, but BCP1662 does not provide this – in fact, BCP 1662 would argue the opposite: it is not possible.

  1. As well as the reasons I have already provided, cyber communion does not allow the communicant to “DRAW NEAR with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort” (BCP1662).
  2. It has been helpful that discussions (including elsewhere – eg. here July 26, 2021 at 11:48 AM) show that one of my suggestions may be misinterpreted. I suggest that Covid may be calling and challenging us to a renewal of the Daily Office. We might miss God’s voice in this if we fill the yearning with cyber communion. This, apparently, can be misunderstood as praying the Daily Office in front of a screen, being led by “a lonely figure in a dog collar, looking down at his Bible or Office Book to read the content of what he has to say in the way of prayers or exhortation with which he hopes to inspire the spiritual involvement of other people, whom he may neither know nor have a pastoral responsibility for”. To be clear – that is not at all what I had in mind!

    I do not in any way wish to denigrate people praying or leading prayer as a sole figure being projected via the web – I encourage such ministry and mission. I, myself, have in lockdown done this both live and recorded. Nor do I want to diminish the value of praying together on Zoom (or similar). Again, I have fruitfully been part of that. BUT what I was pointing to in the renewal and revival of the Daily Office was simply individuals or members of a household (or whatever) praying the Daily Office, solely or in a group – conscious that you are part of the Body of Christ, praying these Holy-Spirit-inspired psalms to the Father.
  3. I want to underscore a significant ecclesiological issue. Protestants of the “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour” variety (a phrase not found in the Bible, we might note in passing) struggle to justify church-going as it is. [Especially those of the once-saved-always-saved flavour]. If cyber communion at home (in front of your favourite priest or bishop – recorded, if, for example, you prefer Pope Benedict to Pope Francis) is just as valid as leaving your warm house and having to be with people, some of whom you don’t like so much; why bother?!

    Some who are honest (and getting clergy to be honest about stats is hard work) indicate that Covid has reduced congregation numbers by about a third. Some who have “hybrid services” – continuing to stream live services with an In-Real-Life congregation present – are considering stopping streaming as they are finding that regulars are preferring to stay home and watch online rather than make the effort of coming to the church building. Add to that any formal decision that, even if you are perfectly capable of doing so, you don’t need to go to church for communion – you can confect this at home in front of your favourite programme – and you may have a formula for increasing rapid church shrinkage.
  4. Tim seems to allow himself, in discussions, some slippage between his understanding of BCP 1662 and his understanding of the New Testament. Of the New Testament, Tim writes, “there is a distinction between ‘breaking bread’ which referred to having a meal together (any meal) and breaking ‘the bread’ which is probably the Lord’s Supper (derived from the Last Supper).” Before continuing Tim’s comment, I would simply insert here that the term “Lord’s Supper” κυριακὸν δεῖπνον occurs only once in the Bible and may not at all refer to what Tim simply assumes it refers to.

    Tim continues his comment, “The NT church didn’t have priests, but it did have presbyters (elders), which is what the Anglican use of ‘priest’ actually means (from preost = elder).” This is simply nonsense, sorry. It is akin to saying, “The NT church didn’t have bread, but it did have artos (ἄρτος).” Of course, the NT church didn’t use the English word “priests” – English didn’t exist yet. Just as the NT church didn’t use the English word “bread”. The English word “priest” in fact directly derives from the regularly-used NT word πρεσβύτερος presbuteros (the word “bread”, sorry, doesn’t derive from any NT usage).

    Tim then continues without any justification (a point quite similar to his response here), “Theologically, having a presbyter is not a ‘must’, but contributes to ensuring it is approached respectfully (with repentant hearts) and arises out of a pastoral eldership relationship.” There is no warrant for this contention – neither from the NT nor from BCP 1662; in fact, once again, quite the opposite.

    It is clear that Tim comes to question of cyber communion from part of the Christian spectrum that does not see priests (and bishops) as a ‘must’. This is an important point: if priests and bishops are not a ‘must’, then the whole question of the appropriateness or not of cyber communion disappears. The screen is little more than a visual aid – part of “ensuring [communion] is approached respectfully”. [How a presbyter ensures that communicants approach communion “with repentant hearts” is a question I cannot begin to answer].
  5. If we are to move beyond the BCP1662 framework/lens, I highlight the comment by BW (here July 24, 2021 at 11:27 AM): “transmitting a really absent priest to a shut-in with whom two or three and Jesus are already really present. And insofar as social media have contributed to the atomisation that is emptying churches, disintegrating societies, increasing suicides, radicalising politics, etc, the use of one to distribute a whole parish’s communion seems like the dark satire that Kierkegaard might have written if he were alive to see these times.”

    I also point to and strongly encourage you to read the Lutheran Why Virtual Communion Is Not Nearly Radical Enough.

As well as the previous posts in this series, this first post this second post, this third post, this fourth post, this fifth post,
Remote Consecration Part 1 (3 minutes reading time)
Remote Consecration Part 2 (5 minutes reading time)
Remote Consecration Part 3 (5 minutes reading time)
Remote Consecration Part 4 (4 minutes reading time)
Spiritual Communion
I encourage you to read
Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist and

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