Monday, April 6, 2020

Consecration and congregation: Zoom Eucharists in Pandemic Lockdown

This is more of a placeholder than a post (though I might take the opportunity over the days of this week to add a thought or two or a link or three).

I have found myself, you may have also, embroiled in the past week or so in online and offline discussions about "online eucharist".

The discussions are catalysed by being in [COVID-19] Lockdown (so much of the Anglican world is locked down that it is a global discussion) and, perhaps, heightened/intensified by the prospect of Maundy Thursday and Pascha (Easter) being without eucharist this year.

Some posts - read by me, there are many other posts - on popular sites are worth drawing attention to re the online church in general and online eucharist in particular:

Ian Paul at Psephizo: here and here.

Bosco Peters at Liturgy: here and here and here.

Obviously many of us are getting rapidly used to worshipping via online services, whether organised by our local parish church or by Diocesan or national church offices. If one doesn't like the local offering, the Archbishop of Canterbury is ramping up his online presence!

Out of early Sundays in this period, in respect of eucharist, two matters are clearly emerging for consideration and reflection. (By "emerging" I mean at least this: I had not previously given them much, if any thought!).

1. Online eucharist with non-participatory communion for the participating congregation.
2. Online Eucharist with participatory communion for the participating congregation.

Let me explain (if you are not yet aware of the distinction here):

1. Observing the "rule" re participation in the eucharist, a priest with at least one other person in his or her "bubble" (secure domestic arrangement consistent with requirements of the Lockdown), celebrates the eucharist in front of a video device, the celebration including sharing of communion between priest and those in the bubble. But no parishioner in their home breaks or takes bread and eats it, takes a cup of wine and drinks it. (An emphasis on this approach is on "Spiritual Communion" for those unable to receive communion because they are not in the same bubble as the priest. I won't discuss Spiritual Communion further here.)

2. Above as for 1 but with this addition: in their own homes parishioners share in communion using bread and wine they themselves have provided. In this approach "consecration" is understood to have taken place via electronic means.

Incidentally, in relation to such matters, a widely read statement is this one from the London College of Bishops.

In the light of my title for this post an understandable question would be, "So, then, what is a Zoom Eucharist?" The answer is that (to date) Zoom as a video platform for meeting with others online is the best platform I am aware of for enabling the participants to the service to see one another (as well as the priest) via "gallery view." That is, a "Zoom Eucharist" (or any other form of Zoom service) offers the best sense of real time "participation" for a scattered congregation.

Now, naturally, a host of questions arise (as you will see if you read Ian's and Bosco's posts above):

- what is consecration in the age of online services?
- what is a congregation in respect of gathering together via online means?
- why a priest (or bishop) is needed (or not needed) if we can have (valid) communion via provision of our own bread and wine?
- Actually, is (2) (perhaps even, is (1)) above a valid communion service? (There are slightly differing issues to be considered for 1 and 2. On option 1, for example, there is an exclusion of participation of the baptised in communion which is contrary to the "invitation").
- If we accept the possibilty of consecration over the internet, does it make a difference if the service offered has been prerecorded, or must it be "live"?
- Pragmatically, why not just "get on with it" in this unusual time? (And ban it for normal times; and/or do the theological work on this later).

Now, these are lively questions and some think they have the answers and others are deeply puzzled.

Here I am not going to do the hard yards on attempting answers.

In any case, a bishop has some other questions to ask and answer at a time like this, including:
- what is lawful in ACANZP?
- what is the common ground which holds my Diocese together at this time?

Finally, an observation:
- I know of no Roman Catholic discussion about (2) above. (1) is happening in the Catholic world.
- That is, once again, we Anglicans are notable on a matter of the day, doing something which could be described as either "pushing the boundaries, bending the rules, never content to endure any constraint or limitation which we do not like" or "evolving and adapting to the ever changing contexts of the world around us". Take your pick!!

With best wishes for Holy Week!


Father Ron said...

Thank you, Bishop Peter, for even attempting to define 'what is proper and lawful' in the matter of the Celebration and Reception of the Eucharist. Being a recipient of your Licence to preside at the Eucharist in this diocese, I am acutely aware of the great privilege the clergy have in this matter of becoming a 'vehicle of grace' for others as well as one's self.

As a matter of fact, at my last Eucharistic presidency at SMAA, I took the precaution (liberty) of reserving some of the consecrated wafers in order to take the Sacrament to the sick in our parish. Since that time, however (after dispensing the Sacrament to one person in an R.C. nursing home at his specific request), since that time, Diana and I have shared this 'reserved' element of Eucharist on the intervening Sundays.

I intend, on Easter Sunday, to 'celebrate' a simple Eucharist to be immediately consumed at home by Diana and myself - as an earnest of our relationship first, corporeal, with Christ on Easter Day, and then with our sisters and brothers around the world, in an act of what I am personally disposed to call 'spiritual Communion'. (My understanding here was directly derived from my experience of living with a Religious Community (SSF) when an unordained Brother might not have corporeal access to the Eucharist.)

We are in a time of trial - when access to the corporeal Elements of the Eucharist is NOT universally available to all who might desire to partake of them. The deeply affecting theological conundrum facing the Church (and all its members) is: can God not provide an adequate substitution for the ordered dispensation of the grace of sacramental life in the interim? After all, there is a well-known hymn of the Church which has an indication that there will come a time when 'sacraments shall cease!' (when we are in the nearer divine presence). The question here might be: In the absence of Christ Present in the Eucharist, can we not call upon the 'Christ within' to sufficiently nourish us for the time being?

Teilhard de Chardin, in the desert, asked God to provide the elements missing in his Eucharistic devotions. That Teilhard was satisfied with the outcome of his devotional intention was surely a spiritual grace in a time of great need!

It is surely important to realise that Jesus, himself, used elements that were freely available to confect the first Eucharist. His disciples followed suit (according to the Acts of the Apostles). Since that time, the Church - beginning with the Apostle Peter - saw fit to make rules around the celebration of the Eucharist, so that (as we Anglicans are wont to say) "Things are done properly and in order". When possible, we have a duty to abide by the tradition of the Church. In cases of severe deprivation, will not God provide?

This is not offering a perfect solution for a time of 'Eucharistic Fast. I pray that this fast may soon be over, so that we all may return to some semblance of traditional congregational (small 'c') gathering around the Table of The Lord to celebrate His eternal and redemptive Resurrection. (Alleluia - sotto voce)

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Ron
I appreciate your concerns and your creativity.
Of course an advantage of an evangelical approach to spirituality and spiritual nourishment is that the Bible is still readily available.

Father Ron said...

Indeed, Good Bishop. The Word of God in the Bible is a touchstone leading us to the 'Word made Flesh' in Jesus Christ. Both are equally important to our discipleship. Deo Gratias! Agape this Holy Week!

Anonymous said...

From the 1970s, I remember a party conversation with a wry premise more or less like this: in a terrible storm, a ship of sailors who are all faithful Anglican lay communicants wrecks on a deserted island during Holy Week. On Easter, the crew recite both laymen's and priest's parts of the Prayerbook communion service over the last of the ship's bread and wine, and partake of it. So-- Is Christ really absent from those species of bread and wine, or is he only virtually absent for those whose understanding of the Lord's presence, for some reason, requires clergy?

After some excellent dry sherry, the authoritative consensus converged on this: "Where two or three are gathered in my name..." If you can fit a whole diocese where the bishop is, obviously that unity pleases God most. If you cannot fit all the faithful in his *great church*, then provisionally use lesser large buildings, and let his elders hold separate but roughly simultaneous eucharists. (In sub-apostolic Rome, deacons used to carry the elements blessed by the bishop through the streets to eleven or so smaller celebrations.) If you cannot do even that, then hold still smaller eucharists wherever it is convenient with episcopally preconsecrated elements. (In fact, it was ordinary in the earliest centuries for the faithful to communicate themselves at home from consecrated bread brought home from the Lord's Day liturgy.) In short, the most authoritative tradition of the Body guides our shipwrecked sailors to do only two things on Easter: (1) Stay out of the rain; (2) Have, as far as possible, one eucharist with the rest of the Body.

Kindly note that those sherry-sippers of my youth tended to have high doctrines of the Lord's eucharistic presence-- half were Catholic or Lutheran, a few Orthodox-- but they had a simple, ecumenical, patristic notion of the clergy: the bishop and his delegates unify the Body. Full stop. Everything more than commonplace about a eucharist comes of God using the visible unity of the local Body for his transforming purposes. At bottom, talk about the magical powers of the clergy confuses the bishop's unifying and visible rule with the Holy Spirit's use of that in the place to which he is appointed.

Anonymous said...

Cockaigne, or at least its primatial see, sees things in much that way. On Maundy Thursday, those who will have domestic celebrations will leave their elements in boxes throughout the cathedral nave to be preconsecrated in place for pickup on Friday and use on Sunday. For the duration, the city will have an extra hundred Anglican house churches; if any endure after the plague passes, that would be wonderful, of course.

Meanwhile, those not so concerned about receiving communion will be able to watch a fixed-camera livestream of the primates's own service in a cathedral side chapel. Nothing prevents anyone at home from both celebrating and watching, but then nothing requires it either.

The only lay Sydney Anglican in the province has said that he will preside at his own house eucharist rather than use the archbishop's preconsecrated host. The cathedral dean has drily agreed that the former has offered for the Lord's use precisely the visible unity with the Body that he says that he has.

Likewise, a Zoom enthusiast is badgering Sunday's hosts to agree to do everything on camera, so that everyone can see everyone. But most are expecting a different experience that is more like a *seder* for Passover, which is, under the circumstances, poignant. There is no value in churchifying a domestic rite, and if there were Zoom could not do it.

At some point, every church is closer to other churches than it is to its own fringe.

Which raises the main complication-- what of ecumenical households? It is no longer the 1970s, after all, and inter-communion across certain lines is not as commonplace as it was then. The city's other archbishop has required his priests to offer at least a private mass for Easter at their usual altars. But he told reporters that, in a plague season that compels improvisation, Rome does not expect the faithful, clerical or lay, to get everything right.


Jonathan said...

Random and disconnected thoughts from down south:

1. Personally I have participated in one Christian informal communion service and would have no hesitation to do so again if the context seemed appropriate as I see a distinction between authorised Anglican communion (which needs to be duly administered) and communion reverently participated in that is outside of this.

2. I see no pressing need to do 1) above as there is a fairly powerful prayer of spiritual communion which I find very helpful.

3. There will be differing denominations with differing policies and folk can participate according to their conscience.


Peter Carrell said...

Hello Bowman and Jonathan

“In extremis” is always an interesting context to do anything in Christ’s name and it is notable that “in extremis” provides exceptions for even the tightest of canonically ordered structures (so, here in NZ, at a Catholic monastery in a rural situation some miles from any village or hamlet, the abbot cheerfully explained to us visiting Anglicans that we were welcome to receive communion because Catholic hospitality enabled it to be offered when there were no reasonable alternatives available ... I gather that there may be some debate about whether that principle of hospitality overrides the normative principle of “Catholics only”.)

So, for the life of me, I cannot see how a group of laypersons washed up on a desert island and no prospect of rescue any Sunday soon, could not work together on sharing what bread they had (and wine if it survived the shipwreck) in thankful memory of our Lord’s sacrifice and in joyful hope of our shared resurrection with him and in that context rejoice that they had shared communion as the body of Christ in that “extremis” context. Questions of “validity” and canonical legality etc are always fascinating and perhaps would be much debated through the idle time on the island, but I suspect the following Sunday, the group would gather together and break bread again, whatever the course of their debate.

I also think - Jonathan’s point - that different denominations will approach this current situation differently and, providing each works out the what, how and why of communion or not at this time consistently with their own first principles, then ordered communions will be held online (or not held).

My sense is that Anglican leadership around the world - for the most part, but not exclusively - is not yet judging this time to be “in extremis.” That fasting always does us good, even fasting from eucharist.

What is perhaps interesting to speculate on is when “in extremis” would be discerned: if not for one month [NZ is in a specific one month Lockdown, it won’t be shortened, it likely will lift, but might be extended] then two ... three ... six?

Anonymous said...

About hospital chaplains--


jonathan said...

Can't get that link to work for me Bowman...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Research on worship online--


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman for the link - that article reinforces a point I would make - that we need to evolve from initial online worship which replicates what we do when in church [building] to a "mature" online worship - interactive spiritual and social experience - which goes about things a little differently. Replacing pulpit with couch!

Corinna said...

I'm in the 'deeply puzzled' camp. I thought NZPB pp729-737 was something we could use (selectively) for a lay 'agape meal', but have since had it explained to me that all the NZPB forms of worship are based on the theory of Divine Presence and this service expects reserved sacrament. It seems that all that is left for lay households is to read the relevant chunk of Corinthians or John 17 during a normal meal? Still seems to me that an option could be for clergy to celebrate online with consecrated elements while the rest of us celebrate symbolically at home, with our own bread/ wine and no claim that they are consecrated.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Corinna
It is true that no liturgy in NZPB is expressly designed for use for an "agape" meal which, put differently, means our church has no common agreement, resolved via synodical process, for how we might have an agape meal-with-liturgy.

(I have never ever heard anyone in our church - before this - say that "all the NZPB forms of worship are based on the theory of Divine Presence"! There is no single "theory of Divine Presence". There are also different ways in which Divine Presence in the context of a worship service is understood: Morning Prayer v Holy Communion etc; some services requiring a priest or bishop, some not.

I assume that what the conveyer of that statement to you is AT LEAST saying is that the requirement for a priest or bishop to preside over some services and not others rests on certain presumptions. But to then say one such presumption involves a theory of Divine Presence needs quite a bit of unpacking (not least because most priests and bishops I know would not presume to have some kind of "control" over the Divine Presence ... "as if!?!?!?")

What I think Anglicans (of all stripes and shades) accept is that (whatever our theories of priesthood, communion, etc) Holy Communion is to be an ordered service for and of the congregation, from whose midst a set aside (consecrated, ordained) person (=priest, bishop) leads the service within which the faith of God's people gives rise to the prayer that the bread and wine would become for us the body and blood of Christ and thus nurture and sustain us as we follow Christ.

The challenge then with an "agape meal" concerns whether it is or is not an event in the life of the congregation which effectively is a Communion service and this should be ordered in the way of all Communion services.

Anonymous said...

Hi Corinna

" option could be for clergy to celebrate online with consecrated elements while the rest of us celebrate symbolically at home, with our own bread/ wine and no claim that they are consecrated."

Thank you for this thought. To those who know the rites of the blessed isles, your meaning must be clear, but to me here up yonder, it was not. If you have time, I would be grateful for your answer to three questions.

(1) Which, if either, is the option that you have in mind?--

(a) Online spectators watch video of clergy saying prayers of consecration, and offline doers instead have an agape meal (eg spring lamb, eggs hardboiled, bread, wine, etc) that is served with readings and prayer. That is, if one cannot attend where there are clergy, one can either watch on one's phone for the best *as if* one can manage, or else one can host an agape brunch that is not communion but would remind one of the body and blood of our Lord.

(b) Online clergy officiate for three simultaneous observances: (i) those in church who are doers with them (bread and wine, consecrated), (ii) those elsewhere who are spectators only (no bread, no wine, no consecration), and (iii) those elsewhere who are both doers and spectators synchonizing courses of their agape meal with the prayers etc of the eucharist in church (bread and wine served, not consecrated).

(2) Where you live, do eucharistic ministers bring presanctified elements and a service to shut-ins?

(3) Which best describes the concern behind your suggestion? (a) It is a way to participate in the eucharist when one cannot attend. (b) It is a substitute for a eucharist in which one cannot really participate.

Thanks again for your comment!

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

A Postscript

If the internet annihilates space among those with cameras, mics, and screens, as some have suggested, does it also annihilate the distinction between priests and licensed laymen as eucharistic ministers?

The question arises when we consider four facts together--

(a) The first presbyters administered sacraments, not as individuals, but as a collective. In the epistle of St James, for example, it is the elders (plural) who anoint the sick.

(b) The first bishops were the proper celebrants of the one eucharist in their cities, towns, or rural areas, but could delegate this task to individual presbyters assigned to other meeting places. In Rome, for example, deacons carried bread and wine consecrated by the bishop there to 11 other churches where assigned presbyters were presiding in his stead.

(c) Some bishops today license lay readers to take the reserved sacrament, consecrated in the usual way, to shut-ins.

(d) Here up yonder (and perhaps also there down under?) a popular megachurch model has a celebrity pastor preaching and praying at one church while congregations in other places watch this on a screen and pray along with an approved leader who need not be ordained. Such a megachurch still has elders, but they act as a collective much like those in (a) above.

In short, when several different roofs separated members of the one local body, the presbyterate was transformed into the priesthood. If the 'net can reunite them into one body again led by its bishop, must each roof have its own presbyter? Or might the priesthood devolve back into an order of senior teachers for the whole diocese? And should those lay readers be non-professional deacons?