This is the fourth 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.
I think that Tim’s suggestion of using bread and wine at home whilst “able to watch and observe a priestly-administered Eucharist” (either live or on a video – Tim doesn’t specify) for Spiritual Communion is the strongest concrete suggestion made in Tim’s paper. It deserves careful reflection.
Let me give a parallel drawn from baptism. If a person is firmly clear that baptism is a once-only event, then such a person can commemorate this once-only baptism in a variety of ways. This commemoration of once-only baptism can include, for example, being sprinkled with water (asperges – say, early in the Eucharist). There is nothing significant about the amount of water that is used in such a commemoration. A person firmly clear of the once-only nature of baptism can, for example, be fully immersed (say) in the Jordan River as a commemoration of their baptism. There is no question of this being a “second baptism” (a theological oxymoron for those of us convinced that one can only be baptised once). There is no confusion. Such a commemoration (in my Jordan River example) can include readings, prayers, acknowledgement of the baptism received years earlier; it can be a rich, powerful, grace-filled, spiritual reality. But, I underscore, there is no confusion with baptism. Performing a second baptism is sacrilege. Commemorating a once-only baptism (and with water) can be a moment of grace.
The key to the above paragraph is that baptism is UNREPEATABLE. The issue with the eucharist is that, by its very nature, it is repeatable; it is repeated.
When I was training for the priesthood at our church’s seminary, St John’s College, Auckland, a group of theology students decided to celebrate an Agape Feast (a non-eucharistic fellowship meal). They decided that it would include bread and wine. Struggling to choose who would lead it, they then decided that they wouldn’t lead this themselves but invited a priest to have the honour of leading. When the meal was over, they were overcome with scruples and confusion. With a priest leading, and having bread and wine as part of it – had they actually celebrated the eucharist? They now called people in to help reverently consume everything remaining (as required in a eucharist – crumbs and all) in case they had celebrated eucharist.
Anglican theological imprecision about consecration and the nature of the eucharist (often a positive) combined with an exceptional event and made possible by the repeatable nature of eucharist, here, in the presence of the best theological lecturers our church could offer and with a community of people who were devoting their lives to daily, deep theological reflection, resulted in a celebration that those participating in could not, upon reflection, be assured whether this might be sacrilege or a moment of grace.
Is the celebration at home with bread and wine in front of what Tim refers to as watching and observing a priestly-administered eucharist (either live or on a video), is this a eucharist or is it not? Is this sacrilege or a moment of grace?
To be continued…
As well as the previous posts in this series, this first post this second post, this third 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)
I encourage you to read
Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist and
- Virtual Sacraments?
- Spiritual Communion
With or Without Bread and Wine
- Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 9
- Holy Communion, effective participation and virtual reality