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Virtual Last Supper

Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 10

Virtual Last Supper

Remote Consecration – Part 4

First – make sure you have read Part 1 of Remote Consecration (3 minutes reading time);
Remote Consecration Part 2 (5 minutes reading time);
and Remote Consecration Part 3 (5 minutes reading time).

Let us be generous towards individuals who are doing their best in unprecedented times; let us not create a litigious culture. On the other hand, not everything is good, helpful, or appropriate. So here there are further additions to the discussion about whether or not remote consecration is possible – whether or not bread and wine can be consecrated with a priest or bishop not in the same location as the bread and wine but on a digital screen.

I think it is important to distinguish in discussions between (1) whether remote consecration can occur with the Eucharist being celebrated live, and (2) whether remote consecration can occur watching a filmed recording of the Eucharist. If you contend that remote consecration can only occur participating in a live (eg Zoom) Eucharist on a screen and not from a recorded Eucharist (i.e. only with option 1), then you have a new issue to deal with. Commonly, people are videoing a service and then, at the set time, broadcasting it as if it were live. Would, in your opinion of only live remote consecration working this as-if-live option not work. And how would you distinguish the as-if-live consecration from the really live consecration. [I have been fooled thinking I was watching a live service when in fact I was watching something recorded previously and now being streamed to give a live impression].

If you contend only actual live remote consecration works, what length of delay do you find acceptable before it ceases to be actual live for you?

There are further questions which apply both to options (1) and (2).

What happens if there is a technological hitch? Does it need gestures and the voice of the priest or bishop? Or just the gestures? Or just the voice? What if the technology fails half way through the consecration? I recently watched a live broadcast where the sound and visual was minutes out of sync! What, in that case?

Those who lead Eucharist (in my tradition) vow and sign to certain agreements and disciplines, for example: to use good quality bread and wine; to consume all the consecrated bread and wine. Furthermore, by word and action, it is clear to the gathered community which bread and wine is intended to be consecrated.

In remote consecration, how are these disciplines of reverence maintained? Is it clear what is being consecrated, or is it any bread and wine in the line of sight of the screen? Is all the consecrated bread and wine consumed? Do you have to be in the room during the consecration or can you simply leave the bread and wine in front of the screen for it to be consecrated? In a in-a-church-building Eucharist [In Real Life (IRL) Eucharist], if you happen to need to go out during the consecration, the service continues while you are out, and the bread and wine is still consecrated during that time you are out.

Some have a different workaround. They have click-and-collect Communion. Consecrated bread and wine is delivered to your door, or you collect it from the church building, or you can even have drive-through Communion or similar. Then you can eat and drink consecrated bread and wine at home while watching a live or recorded Eucharist.

Let us give some more attention to option (2). This is a step further removed from live screening of Eucharist. In this, some people argue that even a video recording consecrates bread and wine. Why Jesus didn’t just leave us an mp4 file of the Last Supper must really vex those who support this. I have read a theologian contend that lifting a plate of bread and a cup of wine at the time of a filmed consecration would thereby consecrate the bread and wine. Why these need to be lifted is unclear to me. There is no need to lift plate and cup for the validity of IRL consecration. There are some who argue that God can consecrate remotely and that to deny this is to deny God’s power. I suggest that we are not discussing whether God can do something (God can). The question being discussed is whether God does do this. God can consecrate coffee and cake instead of bread and wine – the question is does God consecrate coffee and cake if you don’t happen to have bread and wine in your pantry? [Yesterday, in a discussion about yesterday’s post, I was told of ‘Eucharistic popcorn and iced tea – with the justification: “Focus on the Spirit and Community, the Eternal, not the physical elements that pass away”.’ Seriously!]

There are some who argue that we should trial remote consecration. I’m afraid that I struggle with how one would trial it. How can one check whether the bread and wine is consecrated or not? Others participated in a Zoom Eucharist, or other such event being discussed in this series, and they speak of what a powerful spiritual experience it was for them. Hoping in no way to put anyone down about their experience, but I posit that one’s experience cannot be sufficient to either confirm or deny the validity of the reality.

I am also helped by the question, when you consider the gathered church as the Body of Christ, do you think more in terms of individuals being as it were a bag of marbles, or are we more akin to being grapes on the Vine? The latter gives far greater stress to physicality.

I feel that I have gone as far as I can at present in thinking through about the possibility or not of Remote Consecration. From my reflections, I highlight the importance, in consecrating bread and wine, of the community gathered around one table. And I note physicality, from the Incarnation through the Resurrection stories, as a significant part of Christian sacramental spirituality.

You may be disappointed that this series has not come out more vehemently, heatedly condemning any who hold a different opinion. In my experience, few people change their position through rational debate, and even fewer by reading something online. I hope the effort I have put in is at least appreciated by some. I continue to think that Remote Consecration needs a bigger, wider, ecumenical, international discussion. And for idealists: in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we are reminded that Christians cannot even be united when to pray for unity (in January or now)!

Other posts beyond this site worth reading:
Praying Eucharistically
Christ’s Body, the Church’s Supper, and the Real Presence in Social Distance

Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 1 (3 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 2 (5 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 3 (4 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 4 (4 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 5 Teilhard’s Mass on the World (4 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 6 Agape Meal (4 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 7 (6 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 8 (5 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 9 (5 minutes reading time)

Some of the other resources and reflections on this site for this Covid19 context:
Holy Saturday in a Covid19 World
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter in a Covid19 World
Coronavirus solitude self-isolation and spirituality
Streaming services, online spiritual resources in coronavirus times
New Zealand Prayer Book Daily Prayer
NZ in lockdown
Covid 19 moves churches into the Third Millennium
Spiritual Communion
Carthusians Covid-19 and Communion
Learning from Hermits in a Covid19 World

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5 thoughts on “Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 10”

  1. Peter Carrell

    Thank you Bosco – very clear and bringing to the fore sharp questions about the character of what we might be doing (attempting to achieve) if we were to “remotely consecrate.”

    Some thoughts:
    1. I would not place much distinction on “remote consecration” being affected by whether the service is live or prerecorded-but-live-at-a-certain-specified-time. If (as I believe) consecration is a “whole family of God” act (albeit presided over by priest and bishop) – we pray the Great Thanksgiving together – then a remote congregation (scattered in homes participating by laptop) praying with the priest (even when prerecorded) is “praying together” (albeit scattered across space and joining yesterday’s time with today’s time. (The latter does happen with a service for extended communion (reserved sacrament). To try to be clear: at this point I am not arguing for or against “remote consecration” but IF the church determined that remote consecration could be done then my concern would not be prerecording BUT it would be about access to the service after the designated time (because individuals using such a service, maintained say on YouTube, would not later be participating as part of a congregation-tuning-in-at-a-specific-time).
    2. My concern remains, with yours, that what we do when we commune together is gather for a sacred meal: around one table in one place with our bodies, consuming bread and wine placed on that table – and, of course, that is what our Lord did when he instituted the Lord’s Supper.
    3. My concern also remains, with yours, on ecumenicity: what is Rome up to on this matter? What is Constantinople doing? They are not our only ecumenical partners in global Christianity and, clearly, some of our partners are remotely consecrating but personally I would like to see some shift in our larger partners before agreeing to any shift in Anglican practice.

    1. Thanks, Peter.
      On your point (1), I continue to think there is a distinction between (a) live and (b) prerecorded-but-live-at-a-certain-specified-time. In (a) the presider and collection of households are all praying at the same time. In (b) the presider may not be praying at the same time as the collection of households. If this is “joining yesterday’s time with today’s time”, then why are you seeing that different to those watching this later on a YouTube recording – surely they are simply joining the afternoon’s time with this morning’s prerecorded-but-live-at-a-certain-specified-time and yesterday’s time? To press the point – what if only one household tuned in at the prerecorded-but-live-at-a-certain-specified-time and the presider is not praying at that time? How are they different from another household accessing this recording at a later stage?
      Easter Season Blessings.

      1. Peter Carrell

        Haha! Good reply at the end there. My main point about people viewing later is that they would not be synchronised together compared with the initial congregation. Yes, with prerecorded I would be keen to know that the presiding priest was also virtually present the next day. I think it would be disconcerting if (as I believe has happened in England) the presider forgets what day of the week it is and rings me halfway through the service to ask me some advice about her or his gardening work that morning!
        Anyway the more confused I am on these points the more reason not to go ahead 🙂

  2. Corinna lines

    Hi Bosco, I’m not going into any of this, but just wanted to say that I have very much appreciated reading your thoughts over the last few weeks. So thank you for your work.

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