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					One of the key challenges with online worship is how to incorporate the Eucharist. The
Eucharist is a physical experience from witnessing the act to receiving bread and wine.
But it is also a spiritual experience in that the key action is invisible, caused by God who
acts within the liturgy. So would it be possible to have a virtual communion, a virtual
sacrament?

The Revd Professor Paul S. Fiddes, who is Professor of Systematic Theology at the
University of Oxford and Director of Research, Regent’s Park College, has just written a
very interesting short paper called, Sacraments in a Virtual World?

With his permission I reproduce it here; your thoughts are welcome!

…………………………..

        Summary: An avatar can receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist within the
logic of the virtual world and it will still be a means of grace, since God is present in a
virtual world in a way that is suitable for its inhabitants. We may expect that the grace
received by the avatar will be shared in some way by the person behind the avatar,
because the person in our everyday world has a complex relationship with his or her
persona.Argument:

1. The key theological question is whether the triune God is present, and whether Christ
is incarnate (in some form, including the church) within the virtual world.[1] If the
answer is yes, then one can conceive of the mediation of grace through the materials of
that world, i.e. through digital representations.

Grace is, of course, not a substance but the gracious presence of God, coming to
transform personality and society. In sacrament, God takes the occasion of bodies in
creation to be present in an intense or ‘focused’ way to renew life.

2. One ought not to assume that cyberspace is a disembodied world. The net is composed
of a form of energy, just as is the familiar ‘physical’ world in which we operate everyday.
Moreover, the persons behind the avatars are in physical connection with the virtual
world - through many of the senses (sight, hearing, touch - i.e. keyboard, mouse).
Anyway, mental activity always has a physical base in the brain. Studies have shown that
people feel a bodily connection with those with whom they are communicating over the
net.

3. Theologically we should develop a notion of ‘virtual sacraments’ rather than an
‘extension’ of the consecration of elements over a distance, and their direct reception by
the person employing the avatar. Within the logic of the virtual world, the cathedral in
Second Life is a place where avatars worship God and avatars minister to avatars. The
‘person’ can thus only receive a virtual sacrament indirectly through relation to the
avatar. There is a mysterious and complex interaction between the person and the persona
projected (avatar), just as there is between the person and his/her personae in everyday
life. Avatars do not, however, worship merely an avatar-God because there is only one
God, for whom person and persona are identical and in whom ‘all things live and move
and have their being’, including the beings of virtual worlds.

4. There can be an ‘extension’ of the sacraments from the church sacraments of bread and
wine into the sacramentality of the whole world, since the world is held in the life of the
triune God; for an expression of this, see Teilhard de Chardin’s Mass on the World. Many
physical objects in the world can become a focus of mediated grace in continuity with the
church sacraments, while remaining dependent upon the sacraments of dominical
institution for their meaning. My suggestion about virtual sacraments thus falls
somewhere into the spectrum between church sacraments of bread and wine and other
sacramental media in the world. I do not want to suggest that virtual sacraments would be
simply identical with the church sacraments, though given the context of a ‘virtual
church’ I suggest they would be closer on the spectrum than - say - the sacraments of
sand and light in RS Thomas’ poem ‘In Great Waters’ :

                                      The sand crumbles
                                    like bread; the wine is
                                    the light quietly lying
                                 in its own chalice. There is
                                   A sacrament there …..

It might be said that the stuff of a virtual sacrament includes both sand (silicon) and light
(photons)! Is there any less sand and light in a virtual world than in Thomas’ experience
of the sea off the coast of Wales?




[1] This is not an outlandish question. The same question may be asked about the world
which is inhabited by a schizophrenic, which appears completely real to the
schizophrenic subject but which will be alien to others who share that person’s life.

				
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posted:7/26/2011
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