Virtual Last Supper

Remote Consecration – Part 2

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

I stress, 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. And so I offer this reflection to be added to the discussion many people are having about remote consecration – the question about 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.

During lockdown (shelter in place) to battle Covid 19, there has been much talk about fasting from communion. Some clergy have decided to fast from communion. If laity cannot receive communion, they reason, nor will these clergy, even though they could celebrate Eucharist at home. Others see the Eucharist as the most significant prayer and continue to offer the Eucharist to God. In, say, a religious community that daily celebrates the Eucharist, continuing that life whilst in lockdown seems as reasonable a position as these other two. I have also been stressing that God is calling us to deepen other forms of prayer at this time.

The question of whether it is even appropriate to record and stream the Eucharist was first raised with the advent of Television (and no doubt earlier with radio), but that question has no traction nowadays, that horse has so long bolted that we are now discussing the descendants of that original horse. Though, in this discussion, it is important to note that to the question, “Can bread and wine be consecrated via a Televised Eucharist?” the answer has been a resounding, “No!”

Already in the discussions a point is clearer: if you are at the end of the Christian spectrum where you think nothing changes about the bread and wine in the Eucharist, then terminology “consecrated bread and wine” is essentially meaningless as is “remote consecration”. If you simply take bread and wine (or rice cracker and Ribena) and remember in your imagination in your head that Jesus died for you, then there isn’t much of a debate here, is there? You could just as easily hold onto your Bible and remember Jesus died for you, and the reason you do this with bread and grape juice is that this is how you understand what Jesus told you to do and so you do it in obedience to his command.

So, what remains in this discussion is for those who understand something changes about the bread and wine, not simply the individual. There is something different about consecrated bread and wine, and there is a difference between receiving consecrated bread and wine to eating and drinking unconsecrated bread and wine.

Anglicans have an agreed doctrinal position for those who desire to receive communion but cannot:

When people who desire to receive the Holy Communion are unable to do so for any other reason, their desire and such prayers as they are able to offer ensure that they do spiritually receive the body and blood of Christ.

A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa page 729

This is based on the shared-by-Anglicans Book of Common Prayer (BCP 1662) which in the rite for Communion for the Sick states

But if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, or for want of warning in due time to the Curate, or for lack of company to receive with him, or by any other just impediment, do not receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood: the Curate shall instruct him that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and stedfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefore; he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul’s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.

Communion for the Sick

In case you think that liturgical discussions about services in the time of an epidemic/pandemic are new, this text continues:

In the time of the plague, sweat, or such other like contagious times of sickness or diseases, when none of the Parish or neighbours can be gotten to communicate with the sick in their houses, for fear of the infection, upon special request of the diseased, the Minister may only communicate with him.

Communion for the Sick

I have written about what is called “Spiritual Communion” here. Roman Catholics, of course, share the tradition of Spiritual Communion, but I have been contacted by people from other traditions and denominations envious of this being explicit in our doctrinal and liturgical agreement as they try, with integrity towards their own tradition, to navigate being church in lockdown.

The Anglican London College of Bishops used this Spiritual Communion approach in their communication The Eucharist in a time of Physical Distancing. They wrote

the rubrics at the end of the order for the Visitation of the Sick in the 1662 Prayer Book envisage a situation in which someone might be in such grave or advanced sickness that they are unable to receive the Sacrament at a bed-side celebration of the Holy Communion. In such circumstances (and for a number of other causes), the sick person may, by associating him or herself with the benefits of the Sacrament which is not being physically received, nevertheless receive the gifts and graces which it brings.

There is some ambiguity in the way that the London bishops have phrased this material that is important to critique and clarify. These bishops appear to interpret the BCP text to mean that a Eucharist is being celebrated, but someone is unable to receive communion “at that time” of this celebration. The bishops then go on to describe different ways of doing that. But, to be clear, this is not a requirement of the BCP, in fact, if anything, the BCP text tends towards the interpretation that the Eucharist is not being celebrated and yet the one desirous of receiving Communion “doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul’s health”.

Certainly, watching a celebration of the Eucharist on the screen and desirous of receiving Communion can be a Spiritual Communion. But, being desirous of receiving Communion at any other time can also be a Spiritual Communion. During lockdown, I am also aware of Spiritual Communion being celebrated in a manner akin to Missa Sicca or the ‘Dry Mass’ (without a consecration, bread, and wine). Someone can lead this on the screen, others can join in their homes, and, because it is not possible to receive communion physically, it is received as Spiritual Communion.

This post is already long enough, and reflecting further on remote consecration will be continued in a future one. But I leave you with this to think about: Spiritual Communion is founded on a person’s desire to actually receive Holy Communion. When it is possible to actually receive Holy Communion, such a person will do so. Remote consecration may draw on the theology of Spiritual Communion, but it differs in a very important aspect: if you are advocating that remote consecration is possible, that possibility would be with us beyond this relatively brief period of lockdown for Covid 19. In my continuing reflection on remote consecration, I will pick up how that might change the look of Christianity.

To be continued…

Other posts beyond this site worth reading:
Online worship: The Presence and Future of Zoom Eucharists?
What if this is the end of the Eucharist?

Previously:
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)

Some of the other resources and reflections on this site for this Covid19 context:
Exsultet
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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