Remote Consecration – Part 3
If you are advocating for remote consecration, do remember this will be with us beyond this relatively brief period of lockdown for Covid 19. Picture at least some of the following scenarios. The Easter celebration of the Pope is online and a household, instead of joining their local Christian community, gather in front of the screen with bread and wine. Mrs Smith prefers the way the previous vicar presided at the Eucharist to the recently arrived vicar. It is much easier for her to stay at home than to make the effort to adapt to the change, so, getting out her bread and port, she puts on a video recording of the previous vicar instead of going to church. A group of young people prefer each other’s virtual company rather than mixing with the older people in the church down the road, so they gather in a Zoom church with a hip new priest based in London, each of them in their own room with whatever approximates to bread and grape juice that is in the flat’s pantry. Many church leaders are saying that at least one of the things they will continue beyond this lockdown period is that they will keep on streaming services. On Sundays, Mr and Mrs Jones now find it far more convenient to stay at home with their own bread and wine and church on their screen than to make the effort they used to make to get to church physically. Especially since they have had words with Miss Brown.
I repeat, ad nauseam, 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. I also repeat: I do not think we should proceed with altering our inherited practice after only brief reflection or even a few blog posts. We have a rich, shared, ecumenical, international understanding and agreed declarations, and rapid altering of our practice could undo decades of arduous conversations and dialogue.
I have read of bishops who thought they could give permission for remote consecration [I have previously in this series argued whether or not this is ultra vires – beyond the authority of a bishop to do]. One bishop wrote:
I’m writing today to send you Easter greetings, but also to introduce a new standard for Sunday worship. We will now move to what many are now calling Virtual Holy Eucharist.The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, PhD, DD
We will continue the practice as long as the pandemic requires that we stay at home for the common good. I take this measure because there have been indications that we may be in for a longer haul than was initially anticipated.
Simply put, priests who have the technical know-how, the equipment, and the inclination will live-stream the Holy Eucharist on Sunday (or other appointed times). Instead, they may refer you to my weekly Eucharist. The people will attend from their own homes, maintaining physical distance as before. The people will provide for themselves bread and wine (bread alone is also permissible) and place it on a table in front of them.
The priest’s consecration of elements in front of her or him extends to the bread and wine in each of family’s household. The people will consume the consecrated elements.
Within days, however, the bishop backtracked:
With apologies for this late notification, I am writing to rescind my authorization of virtual consecration of the elements of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. After a gracious conversation with the office of the Presiding Bishop, I understand that virtual consecration of elements at a physical or geographical distance from the Altar exceeds the recognized bounds set by our rubrics and inscribed in our theology of the Eucharist. I am grateful for the collegiality of the House of Bishops and the love expressed to me, and to all of us, in the conversations, I have had.The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, PhD, DD
So what shape should our worship at home take during a time of pandemic? Clearly, we will still gather virtually and maintain the rich community we have established using a variety of electronic platforms. We do not consecrate elements virtually. However, our priests—gathering with one or more persons at a safe distance—may celebrate the Holy Eucharist and live-stream those liturgies or post videos after the fact. Participating in those prayers from home draws us into union with Christ and one another. Alternatively, we may worship using Morning Prayer as we have done during the preceding weeks, confident that praying this liturgy together also draws us into union with Christ and his Body.
Some people have various versions of the following “workaround”:
In essence, this strongest “workaround” idea I have come across is: if a household is clear that remote consecration does not work, people can sit in front of a recording or livestream of the celebration of the Eucharist and eat bread and drink wine in the understanding that it is not consecrated and/but, through yearning to receive communion, they are receiving “Spiritual Communion” [The term is not the most helpful without an explanation as every communion is spiritual – it is the capital letters that distinguish it].
This approach, it seemed to me, is akin to renewing baptism using water. We regularly renew baptism by sprinkling with water (asperges). Those of us convinced that baptism is only once can renew our baptism, and the amount of water we use is not significant. We can renew our baptism by going under in the Jordan River, just as one example.
My initial reaction to this workaround was extreme caution: I know of people who are immersed in water as adults after having been baptised as an infant. Those who have as strong a sacramental theology as Benjamin has (above), such people realise they are renewing their baptism – not being (re)baptised. In my experience, though, such clarity is not ubiquitous – many people, by such an immersion, are denying rather than affirming their baptism.
Further reflection helped me to see another issue. Baptism, by its very nature, is a once-only event. The human celebration of renewing baptism (eg. in a baptism anniversary, Easter, on entering a church and making the Sign of the Cross with water) is inevitably a looking back and affirming of this once-only event in one’s life. But Eucharist, by its very nature, is a repeated event. The human celebration described by Benjamin, above, is actually different to renewing baptism. This realisation ties in to my initial wariness.
It seems to me that the grace of Spiritual Communion is received in this context and the confusion avoided if bread and wine is not used in such a household.
To be continued…
image source: composed by Rev. Bosco Peters liturgy.co.nz – if used, please attribute
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?
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)
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
Carthusians Covid-19 and Communion
Learning from Hermits in a Covid19 World