St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta revisited

I was thinking just this morning that it was about time we paid another visit to our conversation about St Eucalyptus on the Rocks and St Anaglypta by the Skerry. It is some seven years since these two congregations came into being in the glorious imagination of my mind. Seven years is a long time on the internet and I was just musing that it might be worth revisiting the conundrum of their priest, which was how he could provide a Godly Eucharist in these two churches which are situated on adjacent islands which are well supplied with bandwidth but which have no Sunday ferry service.

Then just after thinking that it was worth returning to this question, I came upon, by mere happenchance, an example of someone in the Church of Scotland using the internet to conduct a Communion service.

Let me remind you firstly of the original fantasy conundrum and then I’ll point you something that is actually real and then I’ll ask some questions.

This was how I originally posed the St Eucalyptus/St Anaglypta conundrum:

Now, suppose we have two congregations which are linked in fellowship and love but who live on adjacent islands. Their priest, Father Indulgent wants everyone to have communion each Sunday and they are devout and holy and desirous of weekly communion. However, the person who runs the ferry link between the two blessed islands belongs to the Free Church of God of the Sabbath (continuing) and consequently will not operate any boat on a Sunday, for fear of eternal damnation.

What would we think, if Father set up a system (either closed circuit TV or via the internet) whereby he could stand at the altar in St Anaglypta-of-the-Rocks on one island but be seen and heard in St Eucalyptus-by-the-Skerry on the other island and then proceeded to have one communion service? Could he be deemed to consecrate the elements in both churches whilst remaining in one of them?

We will presume that the devout communities in each, respond with a loud Amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayer.

The thing that I noticed that is actually happening is a Church of Scotland minister near Dumfries who is putting online a 7 minute communion service, asking people to prepare bread and wine in their homes in order to take part in a weekly Eucharist. I’ve not forgotten Fr Madpriest’s longstanding commitment to providing a service like this online. I think that the offering from Dumfries is the first time that I’ve come across this kind of thing on a parish website.

When I first posed the case of St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta online, I was generally sympathetic to experimentation and could fairly easily conceive of the Holy Spirit in her wisdom joining in with the use of technology in order to provide the holy mysteries to the people. It seemed at the time (seven whole years ago) that most feeling amongst those who were commenting on my post were dead against the idea.

I wonder now whether that still holds true.

We now use the internet to connect one person unto another much more routinely than once we did. Clearly some people in some denominations have reached a point where it just seems completely normal to engage in a Eucharistic activity online. I suspect our answers to the questions can tell us much about what we think of community, church and God.

The Church of Scotland congregation that I mentioned above is real  and there communion service can be heard here: http://www.dumfriesnorthwest.org.uk/index.php/online-communion-service-16-march-2017/

The rubric on their website is this:

The intention is that you will participate and not spectate or listen in. You are taking communion in precisely the same way as you would at a church service but in your own home. The church is merely expanding way beyond the walls of one building.

I applaud this attempt to reach out to people – I think it is interesting. It does make me ask a lot of questions, which we’ll come to in a minute.

St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta are fictional but not purely hypothetical. I have to make decisions alongside others about situations which could benefit from this kind of thing all the time. At a time when I see so-called megachurches in the USA rolling out different “campuses” for Sunday worship with everyone connected to hear a preacher preaching from one central place remotely, I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a model here that might be useful in Scotland. Suppose we have St Mary’s, Auchentoshan and St Mary’s, Auchtershuggle – two churches with a glorious heritage of Episcopal worship who are on their uppers. They are 5 miles apart. Would they be better linked to one another in some way (and what way?) or would they be better linked to a larger church at some distance digitally – St Miriam’s Cathedral, Auchterboggan for example which might be some 40 miles distant? To whom should one give the diocesan largesse in order to maintain ministry across a wide area where people are distributed thinly but with commendable devotion?

Now, here’s a few questions.

  1. Should our dioceses in the Scottish Episcopal Church be encouraging some churches to experiment in this area?
  2. Is a communion service more a communion service at a distance if it is shared live and in real time rather than recorded?
  3. Does the Church of England’s recent declaration that “the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion are rightly administered” in the Church of Scotland cover this way of sharing communion in Dumfries. If someone hears it in Carlisle and participates with bread and wine, does the Church of England regard that person as having received communion?
  4. Seven years on, do we think that St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta should receive a diocesan mission grant to install a screen and closed circuit TV equipment to allow the two congregations to receive communion together with Fr Induglent on one island?
  5. If you were writing a mission development plan for St Miriams or St Mary’s, Auchentoshan  or St Mary’s Auchtershuggle, what would your top three goals for any of them be?
  6. Which sacramental acts do you think might be appropriately imparted via some kind of digital link?

Comments

  1. #3: I think that’s the CoE’s problem.

  2. Meg Rosenfeld says:

    Wouldn’t it be simpler to have Father Indulgent travel to the other island on a weekday and leave pre-sanctified elements there for a Eucharistic minister to distribute to a corporeally present congregation on Sunday morning? I seem to recall something along these lines being the case at the local Scottish Episcopal church when last I visited friends in Aberdour.

    • There was some talk about this the last time I put this question out there.

      To be honest, I don’t think the “here’s some that Father prepared earlier” system of communion is a terribly good one. Personally, I think that it is more disruptive of catholic order than the digital solution of them having mass together that I propose.

      I was asked some time ago whether someone could come and pick up freshly blessed hosts at our 8.30 am service for communion in a local Episcopal church which had no priest. I replied that they could – I was quite happy for them to receive by extension later that day from the bread and wine I’d just consecrated. They then asked me whether I could do double so they could use it for next week too. I refused that. This was met with some surprise and bewilderment. However, I think I was right to metaphorically fold my arms and say no.

      Clearly many people would not agree with that.

      See some of the discussion here:
      http://thurible.net/2017/03/15/st-eucalyptus-st-anaglypta-revisited/
      http://thurible.net/2010/10/18/liturgy-online-again/

  3. This is something that speaks to my situation. I live on a fairly remote island with no official piskie presence, and as such I am able to receive communion only rarely. Consequently this ought to be the perfect solution for me. But… it just doesn’t feel right. I don’t think I can put my finger on why, but possibly it smacks a little of trying to bend the rules. At heart I suppose I believe that if there is not a priest to offer mass where a congregation is waiting to receive then we need more priests, whether stipendiary or self-supporting.

    • If you were inclined, Would you feel you could say morning or evening prayer with people using skype?

      • I would think that having the audible reminder of those whom I join in praying the office each day would be of benefit, but I would nonetheless prefer to be able to do so in person. The offices are not primarily about shared worship in the way that Holy Communion, however.

  4. Fr. John-Julian, OJN says:

    Without question, the solution to your island churches would be for Father Rector (or one of the parishes) to buy a boat!

    Back on solid ground—I think this must be said: if I sit down at my table and with great care and reverence prayerfully eat a piece of bread and drink a glass of wine and say in my heart: “This is the Body and Blood of Christ.” I have done an extremely pious and very devout thing—indeed, something that might well be repeated often and even emulated by others. And for me it may carry all the inner, spiritual benefit of reception of the Sacrament.

    What I have NOT done, however, is receive Holy Communion.

    • The trouble with my story of St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta is that whenever I tell it, people want to change the story and simply make it possible for Fr Priest to get there. Back in the world that I live in and the church I have some responsibility in, it isn’t quite that simple. There are countless times when Fr Priest just can’t get there for one reason or another. It seems to have been this way for a long time. Providing someone to make sure that communion was available to all the people of Scotland was a big feature of the reformation. Scotland may be the wrong shape for Christianity.

  5. Paul Hutchinson says:

    Try working through the Dixian four/seven-fold action in this. Where is the taking and breaking?

  6. Fr. John-Julian, OJN says:

    Or, on the other hand, why not simply ordain some lay person in the congregation (like Jo above) with the sole faculty for sacramental ministry? Maybe even develop tradition/law recognizing a “limited” or “local” priesthood which, under discipline, could not be transferrable to any other location? I mean one need not be an accomplished theologian or historian or even a professional liturgist merely to celebrate Mass! (In fact, a trained actor could do a better job of it than most celebrants I’ve seen.) Then proper sermons can be sent in and read by the celebrant.

    • I don’t wish to sound as though I’m being dismissive of lay ministry – I’m not, and I’m not viscerally against your first idea in principle if it were done properly. However, my view of the Eucharist is that celebrating the Eucharist is about quite a lot more than knowing where to move one’s hands and which words to say.

      I viscerally recoil at the idea of anyone reading a sermon that Father prepared earlier. Others may disagree.

  7. I have 4 overlapping, tentative, responses:
    1 ‘Ecclesia supplet’ – the Church supplies (validity with right intention, notwithstanding liturgical irregularities).
    2 Sacraments are all about embodied, not disembodied, grace.
    3 Abstract situations only become ‘real’ with attendant particularities – it is those which best enable discernment of practical reasoning. In other words: if Aristotle is against cookie cutter ethics, it’s for a reason.
    4 St Clare on her sickbed attended mass audiovisually (which is why she’s the patron saint of TV) and it wa reckoned as a divine consolation.

  8. I attended the Mass at which Pope Benedict beatified JH Newman. I couldn’t see the pope. He was a tiny dot in the distance. But big screens made it visible. Is that so different? What does being physically present mean?

  9. Christ is physically present in the Eucharist, and only metaphorically or in some nebulous way. Our Lord Emmanuel.

    When I had a stroke a few years ago, the attending neurologist was in central Washington state, over 120 miles (200 km) away from Everett, where I live. This was possible because of the internet. He had the test results and CT scans that the people had in the hospital with me.

    He was “present” in a robot in the room with me. There was a television monitor for a face, where I could see him sitting behind his computer in his home. I talked to him, and he pointed the robot directly at me to hold a conversation. To tell a nurse “no,” he turned the robot to the nurse, said “no,” and shook his head as a person in the room would.

    It was fascinating. I wish I wasn’t the center of attention, so I could have enjoyed it more.

    As fascinating as it was, there was one thing to note. I still had an emergency department doctor in the room with me. There were two nurses with me. That neurologist in central Washington in his den in the middle of a blizzard still needed someone who could touch me.

    When a priest consecrates the Elements, it is more than saying words when praying. That priest is physically touching the Elements, holding them, as part of the prayer. Emmanuel. God is with us, right in the room, not watching on a monitor, because we need someone in the room with us.

    The US Episcopal Church has canonical provision to give sufficient training to a person called from a remote congregation so that person can be ordained to lead the Eucharist. These people have limited license, and could never be a rector or vicar without additional education. Such a community still needs oversight from a priest with full license.

    In the case offered here, it could be possible to concelebrate, with a priest physically holding the Elements at each location. The congregations could share a sermon, singing the same hymns.

    The priest in charge could alternate locations each Sunday, traveling by boat on Saturday and Monday. This way the person in charge can gain familiarity with both congregations.

    Just as long as it doesn’t become God in a box instead of God with us.

  10. Eric says:

    If a priest suffers an accident resulting in the loss of both hands and she then uses artificial hands, may she duly consecrate the Eucharist? Dexterity can be assumed given the developments in technology.
    If she can still celebrate then what if she is remotely controlling ‘hands’ – as a drone operator does?
    Is actual skin contact by the priest necessary or only desirable? if the answer is the former then we have to reconsider the connection between theology of priesthood and theology of disability.

    Of course, this is just one dimension of Kelvin’s hypothetical. But to me it seems important to unpack.

    • Yes – very good question.

      Remember that this whole conundrum came from my being at a cathedral in England where I was asked to help with the Eucharist and was told to stand by the altar holding a ciborium full of hosts which were (or perhaps in some people’s views were not, I don’t know) consecrated by the celebrant. The hosts were not on the altar and were not touched by the celebrant.

  11. I think in a church where you can believe that the bread and wine are either symbolic or actually Our Lord there will be differing answers depending on what an individual believes is or is not happening. Having said that I think it raises far more questions about the nature of Church than the nature of the Eucharist. If people on far flung islands can worship by extension then why can’t the person sitting in their flat across the road from the Cathedral? I can understand the desire for this but I do not think this is the answer. I remain convinced that a mid week Eucharist is the way forward in such a situation and I have not been convinced otherwise, yet.

    • This reminds me of the idea of omnidistant learning that we were trying to develop from Scottish Churches Open College a number of years ago – the idea that the learning experience of someone in Lewis should be the same as the learning experience of someone living in Edinburgh.

  12. Kate says:

    Long answer short.

    The celebrant [together with the Congregation] invokes the presence through the Eucharistic prayer. We all accept that prayer is limited in neither time nor space. There is therefore no requirement for the celebrant and congregation to all be co-located in time or space. Indeed, is that not the true mystery? We share in the fellowship and sacrament of the Last Supper though separated from First Century Jerusalem by thousands of years and by thousands of miles? What, against that, are the few miles between the two islands, or a few days for that matter? We partake of one bread irrespective of time and space, a bread blessed once and for all by Jesus Himself and to partake we merely do as He instructed – we remember Him. In sharing one bread, we are one body.

    In concentrating on form we risk not seeing the wood for the trees, we risk diminishing our appreciation of the great mystery of the Eucharist across time and space. One of the advantages of receiving communion in a consecrated church is that it is easier to experience fellowship across time with fellow Christians if we are not also separated geographically from them.

    The very pithy version. In terms of the primary function of the Eucharist, separation in neither time nor space can prevent the essential validity of communion. Secondary aspects and benefits such as personal revelation, improved fellowship etc might, however, be made more effective / powerful by co-location in time and/or space of the participants. Digital links and recordings in this regard can also help diminish the sense of separation (thereby improving secondary effectiveness of communion) and are beneficial if physical co-location is impractical.

  13. Fr. John-Julian, OJN says:

    If, as you suggest, Kate, the Eucharist is merely the “fellowship and sacrament of the Last Supper” then it is foolish to spend the money and time on organizing a Church, constructing church buildings, training and ordaining priests, consecrating bishops, or calling an assembly. All that is needed is a bit of New Age advice on how to mentally channel the Upper Room so we can “remember” hard enough. Why bother with anything else? Jesus did it at the Last Supper and so in devout and pious re-membrance we can eat out bread and drink our wine at our own dining room tables and that’s that.

    If, on the other hand, the Eucharist is NOT merely a memorial of the Last Supper—if it is, in fact, a sacramental and mystical participation in the life and death of the Lord, with Christ’s own sacrificial presence confected by an Assembly of his mystical Body and its priestly epiclesis, then for it to have any spiritual integrity, it DOES depend on touch and on word and on the Church’s priesthood. It DOES require words heard by physical ears and actions done by physical hands and seen by physical eyes—we are not fleshless angels drifting about in some numinous haze. If the Eucharist is to be “sacramental” in any true sense of the word, it absolutely requires “outward and visible signs” in order to ac-cess an ”inward and spiritual grace”—or it is not a sacrament at all.

    [By the way, in passing, we American Episcopalians owe immeasurable gratitude to the Episcopal Church of Scotland for their bishops’ insistence to Bishop Seabury that we include an epiclesis (“Invocation” was our word for it) in our Eucharistic prayer. You saved us from just such “memorialism.”]

    • Kate says:

      I wasn’t saying we memorialise the Last Supper. I am saying we participate in the Last Supper itself. Very different.

      But let’s park that because the point of agency can be explained very simply. Christ is our living High Priest. I think that is something almost all Christians accept because the Bible is pretty clear. As High Priest, Christ is present at the Eucharist so naturally He is the agent ahead of any bishop or presbyter or deacon or lay person. The hierarchy beneath the High Priest is irrelevant for this question: it is sufficient to recognise that the High Priest is present and is the agent. Clearly then simplistic touch cannot be important.

      As I say, the minister might well have a role, even an important one, in helping the congregation to understand the sacrament, in making the experience as effective as possible but the presence of a minister is strictly unnecessary, although a church is entitled, I think, to insist that a minister leads the Eucharist to ensure good order and a proper reverence. Kelvin posed his questions, I think, in terms of agency and no minister is needed because the High Priest presides, but if he poses the same questions in terms of proper reverence then he might get quite different answers as to the appropriateness of digital links – but the answers are then subjective rather than objective as they are for the question of agency.

      • Fr. John-Julian, OJN says:

        Kate, I’m afraid that there is not space here for a fulsome exposition of the metaphysics and theology of the Holy Eucharist. Let me say only that the Last Supper is NOT the core of the Holy Eucharist—the Eucharist is NOT a re-enacting of (or participation in) the Last Supper. It is the mystical union with the Person of the risen Jesus through the activity of the Holy Spirit who confects the Sacrament.

        Jesus is “The Great High Priest” (as in Hebrews 4:14-16) only because of the sacrifice of himself upon the cross—i.e., he was both sacrificing priest and sacrificial victim (see Aquinas, Summa Q. 22). That sacrificial crucifixion had not happened yet, so he was NOT a priest at the Last Supper—when he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”, NOTHING HAPPENED TO THE BREAD AND WINE AT THE LAST SUPPER. It is metaphysically impossible to say that Jesus was both sitting (or lying) at table and also present in the bread and wine that sat there in front of him on the same table. Bilocation was not one of Jesus’s miracles!

        The ACTOR in the Holy Eucharist is the Holy Spirit who effects the consecration in Eucharist. In our American modern language we address the Father: “Recalling [Jesus’s] death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts [of bread and wine]. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son.” And for 2000 years the Church founded by that same Holy Spirit has declared that the proper (and necessary) agents of that consecration are (a) an assembly of Christians, and (b) a bishop or priest truly ordered by that same Church.

        So the Eucharist is NOT a mystical participation in the earthly Last Supper. It is a mystical communion with the risen (post-Resurrection) sacramental body of Christ.

        Kelvin: this is getting to be a bit too much—just cut out this reply, if you wish, and let it die here. JJ+

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