Liturgy Online – again

I want to return to a question that I began to raise a couple of weeks ago regarding liturgy online.

Let me concoct a scenario this time and ask a question.

Last year I went down to one of the glorious English Cathedrals to preach. Being robed and up at the sharp end of things, I was also asked to help in the distribution of the bread and wine. (I think I had bread). At the offertory, someone came round and gave me me a ciborium full of hosts and told me to stand next to the altar for the consecration.

Now, I was surprised by this as in the norms I know, the bread would need to be on the altar to be consecrated. However, in this house of God, there was just one host and one chalice on the altar. The rest of the bread and wine was presumed to be consecrated whilst being held in the hands of the Eucharistic assistants who gathered on either side of the altar holding up the elements during the consecration.

Now, firstly, do we think that is OK? (I know that some will think this is a dancing on the heads of pins question, but quite a lot hangs on it).

If it is OK, how far away might the bread and wine be and still be presumed to be consecrated? Is there a particular distance or does it depend on the intention of the consecrating priest, the intention of the gathered community or both. (As a curate I once baulked at celebrating the Eucharist on an altar on which a harvest loaf was perched for fear of having to eat the whole thing afterwards. My training rector at the time declared that it was not consecrated if I did not intend to consecrate it).

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 Sundayand 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.

Any thoughts?


  1. At the risk of proffering a can-opener… Define `consecrated’, I guess?

  2. Steve says

    This is an interesting question, and not just for the Bishop of The Isles. A proper answer needs lots of definitions, but one is that the Eucharist is a physical thing – real Jesus, real priest, real community present, real bread and wine, one place and not another (it is also a spiritual thing, so you can have ‘spiritual communion’ – ‘res’ without the ‘sacramentum’). Consecration is a physical setting apart of a physical thing for a spiritual purpose – can’t get away from the physical/spiritual divide. Looking at the 1662 communion service I was struck how physical it is, ‘take… into his hands’, ‘break the Bread’, ‘lay his hands on all the Bread’, ‘lay his hands on every vessel’. The Eucharist at St Eucalyptus-by-the-Skerry sounds a bit like cyber-sex.

  3. Steve says
  4. please lets go back to angels and pins.

    (shudders in horror at the very thought of virtual consecration)

  5. A few weeks I observed a similar instance to that you have described.

    At the offertory, the elements for the altar party were brought up to the altar and then eight “station teams” stood at the bottom of the altar steps. When the Bishop said the appropriate sentences of the consecration, those with the elements elevated them as appropriate.

    Now to consider your question in detail, the words of consecration come from the last supper when the disciples were sitting round a table in close proximity – all in the upper room.

    Our buildings are of varying sizes and depending on the size of the congregation, there are practical issues with us all being round a table (altar). Now the current trend for altars in the centre of the congregation. I do recall a proposal to replace the pews with seats at St Mary’s and move the Nave Altar further west. Consider the layout of the RC Cathedral in Liverpool with the altar in the centre of a circular building.

    But in the case I was present at and the case you were at the bread and wine for consecration were in the same physical room at the point the words of consecration was said. I will leave aside the issue of reserved sacrament for consumption later for the moment, however this can open another thread to this discussion

    My feeling that connecting the congregations by internet / phone / etc removes one aspect of community which I feel we are losing with our tendency for everything to be email / text / facebook / twitter / etc. To my mind nothing beats the ability to look someone in the eye and hold their hand and say Peace be with you and subsequently share our Lords Supper.

    With respect to you thoughts on consecrating a Harvest loaf, it had always been my understanding that anything on the corporal was intended for consecration (and subsequently anything not on the corporal was not intended for consecration). This was reinforced as a Midnight Mass at St Mary’s in the closing years of the 20th Century when the celebrant left a flagon of wine on the corporal – which had to be consumed (or decanted into small vessels for the tabernacle).

    However then what do we do about island communities. In Mull throughout the winter they use elements consecrated in Oban the previous week, and this is a means of connecting with others.

    Can the words of consecration be transmitted over our communication methods – a twitter message? No doubt the theologians can argue that one for years.

  6. Try visiting the Cathedral of Second Life on Epiphany Island …

  7. Many thanks for excellent responses so far.

    Just a few thoughts…

    Firstly, I think that some community building online leads to real community. Indeed, I think that the advent of such possibilities leads to virtual villages where there are new possibilities of real care and kindness. (Bad things are possible too because the people involved are real).

    I’d be interested to know from Kimberly (and others) whether the scenario I’ve painted above is a greater threat to catholic order than the ferrying of the consecrated host from one place to another or indeed the consecrating of loads of hosts for loads of subsequent services for the same people.

    The reserved sacrament question, Stewart, is actually very much what I was hoping people might think about. Just for the record, do you think that the elements held up in front of the bishop (and not put on either altar or corporal) were consecrated or not? They either were or were not, after all.

    I’m aware of Second Life but not a participant. The scenario I’ve painted above does not seem to me to be particularly virtual.

    Can we presume that the link goes both ways and that during the service the intercessions are led by someone at St Eucalyptus? Presumably that person could lead the people of both islands in prayer. Yes?

    As the intercessor prayed for those who are sad and downcast, I can imagine the people of both communities holding in their hearts Gloria Sourpuss the Ferrywoman.

    I quite like the analogy with cyber-sex – I had not thought of that. Presumably no-one indulges in that then.

    By the way, Stephen, is the real presence physical?

  8. Steven says

    As a former Presbyterian, my understanding of the sacraments is pretty weak, although I am keen to learn more, especially about the sacraments according to what Kelvin has called “catholic order”.

    Can anyone point me to some reading or website links which might enlighten me a little more?

    What is happening at the Eucharist?

    Please forgive me if I try and give me own, quite ignorant, views as a spring board to some more enlightened opinion.

    Firstly, one of the reasons I left a Presbyterian congregation to attend at my local Church of Ireland (Anglican) church was because of a felt need for regular Holy Communion. It was the tangible nature of Holy Communion that first drew me in. I could “receive” something in my hands and into my body. The physicality was important to me.

    Secondly, and spiritually, it is a place of grace in my life. I can start again at the alter. It is a tangible, that word again, place of forgiveness, renewal, restoration, thanks and communion all rolled into one. I have felt my heart strangely warmed at the alter.

    Thirdly, I still have little understanding of the theology behind all this. It seems obvious to me that this is much more than a mere memorial meal to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a memorial but it is much more than that. It is also participation in that very life, death and resurrection – which is why I suppose it becomes significant as to what we believe actually happens during Holy Communion. Christ is present, but how?

    This is where my own understanding breaks down and I need a little help.

    • Steven McQ

      Thank you for your questions – they are all very relevant to the things I’ve raised above. Your experience of finding comfort and grace at the altar is one which I recognise from my own journey.

      I think that the primary thing that is happening to us at the Eucharist is that God meets us, loves us, touches us and changes us and the world through that meal. Any Eucharistic theology or attempt to explain “what’s going on” is in my view subordinate to that experience.

      Having said that, for a quite wander though different Anglican notions of what’s going on, the Wikipedia page on Anglican Eucharistic Theology is a starting place. Some folk would recommend Dom Gregory Dix’s wonderful The Shape of the Eucharist. Others enjoy the sense of humour of Richard Giles in Creating Uncommon Worship. Maybe other folk will want to post their own recommendations here.

  9. Steve says

    Kelvin, I was thinking of the real Jesus at the last supper but didn’t want to get into the priest = Jesus thing. The real presence isn’t ‘physical’ otherwise we could find a physical change in the elements, but it is nonetheless real – if we believe our liturgy – and is carried by physical signs in a physical community.

    Does anyone prefer cyber-sex? Is that a good, healthy & human thing?

    • Thanks Steve H

      (There’s a danger of getting my Stevens and Stephens and Steves mixed up here)

      Yes – the difference between real and physical is exactly at the nub of the matter here, isn’t it? One might have real community amongst folk who are not physically together and one might not have any positive experience of community in a gathering of people who do happen to be in one place at one time.

      Somewhere in our liturgy there is a phrase about Jesus being with us in every place at all times.

      Whilst I’m not hearing any support from anyone else yet, I have to say that if I turned up at either of the churches on the islands described above on a Sunday morning and found this going on in a holy manner, I think I could get my head around it better than someone getting Jesus out of a cupboard and proceeding to distribute communion from a Eucharistic celebration which the community had celebrated earlier in the month.

      The latter is actually happening. I’d prefer to see the former.

      Might what I have described be the best possible good in the circumstances?

      Am I alone?

  10. PMO5GAY says

    I can see it being really special for a sick member of the throng to have a wee pack of wafers and a bottle of sherry (Watts & Co. of course) given to them which they use when ‘attending’ the online service. On planet PMo that would seen very real.

  11. Steve says

    @steven – one good thing to do is to read the words of the different eucharistic rites. You could try . Another thing is to read the various NT texts on the eucharist including John 6 and 1 Cor 11. If I can recommend anything from the CofE on this SEC blog, I would suggest ‘The Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity‘ a short pamphlet by the Bishops of the CofE, available from Amazon – has a lot in a small space.
    @ Kelvin, consecration is about intention so I suppose they were. But what if the people were holding them up were at the other end of the nave, or outside, or in the next street??
    Could one ordain Gloria the Ferrywoman if she was a wise member of the church on the other island but was too busy with her ferry to do a distance-learning theology course?

    • No – we’ve already established that Gloria is a member of the Free Church of God of the Sabbath (continuing).

      She has no time for angels, pins, chalices or any of that nonsense at all.

      Though the faithful of St Anaglypta’s and St Eucalyptus’s love her and pray for her, she remains convinced that they are all in error of their ways and processing swiftly to perdition.

      So far as we can discern, God in God’s goodness does not appear to be calling anyone else on the islands to priesthood. Anway, Fr Indulgent seems to have many more years left in him and as the people always assert – they have a perfectly good priest already, thank you very much.

  12. Rosemary Hannah says

    The idea of Father Indulgent consecrating the host in one church and in another at the same time fills me with horror, not least because of the knock-on effect to other things in that church, like pastoral work, and visiting, and leadership. Like Kimberly in this I know of what I speak.

    And there is another thing. The altar is an altar of sacrifice, but it is also a table. It is the table of the last supper, and always must be – whatever table where so ever. If the priest does not have the host on or over the table, it loses that significance.

    Magical realism has to have realism. If we turn to magical realism as part of the explanation of how God becomes present in the Eucharist, if we on some way envisage time and eternity touching, so that we are all at the one table, in the one place which is an eternal place, we owe it to our sanity to set things up so we can approach that one table in something of our own reality.

    However, I think we have to take it, also with reference to our own sanity, that each time time and eternity touch is unique. We can, if we need to stretch it, take communion from that one consecration in time (last Sunday, but brought to us on Monday, because we are laid up at home) in another place, but not, not, the next Sunday from the same consecration we took it the week before (Mary at St Bloggs communicating on the first and the eighth of March from the same set of consecrated elements) because all human kind can then see is Mary taking bread and wine, walking back to her seat, and then walking up and taking the same bread and wine again.

    Or that is how it very tentatively seems to me.

    • Thank you Rosemary. I agree with you about Mary at St Bloggs. However, we both know that Mary at St Bloggs did exactly that last Sunday and may indeed stand up at her Diocesan Synod and defend her right to do so. Who, she will ask, will dare to take away her experience of meeting her Lord in bread and wine? She will look around and ask the gathered company – do you who have priests every week have the right to deprive me of my God?

      The question of pastoral care is obviously important. For our purposes today though, let us presume that Fr Indulgent has no problem persuading Gloria Sourpuss to ferry him over the water at any time of day or night during the week to tend the flock. Except, as she always makes clear, on the Sabbath day. This, for her, means no boat on a Sunday.

      Indeed, the folk love Fr I to bits and rejoice in the devotion he has to them. They are responding well to his attempts to set up visiting teams on each island and the online teaching that he has been doing for these pastoral groups has been something that they have all enjoyed tremendously.

  13. David | Dah•veed says

    Quest Father K – were the ciboriums and the flagons/chalices that you lot were each holding, as well as any extras on the communion table, open?

    I was told once that if they were not open, then their contents were not consecrated!

    Is there a consecration limit on any one physical element? I know that there are churches where I am sure that the ciborium of hosts maintained in the tabernacle has hosts in it that have been consecrated many, many times and then returned to the tabernacle if not consumed during the most recent communion. And I can testify that they have sufficient staleness to attest accurately to their longevity of life.

    This has only occurred once because Father MP has realized that if he spends every moment with face buried in the iMac he will lose his marriage! He said it took about 8 hours just to put this one liturgy together.

    I have also found it a bit humorous when a flagon and ciborium are brought forward with the alms offering, but a few minutes later, as if in memory of the Feeding of the 5000, many more suddenly appear on the table just in time for the eucharistic liturgy!

    Seriously, I have wondered why we could not use overnight express, or at least 2nd or 3rd day delivery, to get newly consecrated elements to distant parishes without the regular services of a priest in time for the next weekly Sunday service of Morning Prayer with lay administered communion? The bishop could commission a priest and ministry team to have a eucharist specifically for this purpose and then afterward everything is lovingly packaged up for transit.

    For what amount might we insure each package in case it was lost?

  14. Hmm, this is a tricky one and it has been going round in my head all day long.

    For some reason it made me think of what to do when the Blood of Christ gets spilled on to the carpet, your sleeve, etc. In days gone by the object had to be set on fire, or sluiced out in a tiny piscine. Nowadays our dirty Blood-of-Christ-soaked linens are usually popped into a wee bag and taken home by Mrs Sally Sacristan and laundered in the washing machine using Persil’s best. For, as one leading Liturgy expert once said, if God got himself into it – he can surely get himself out of it too.

    So can God not get her/himself into the bread and wine on a neighbouring island if that is the intention?

  15. @Steve H – might not a better analogy than cyber-sex be some of the current attempts to show live theatre (eg the National) or Opera (eg the Met) on cinema screens in real time. Theatre and Liturgy have some deep common roots in Greek drama and I think this might be a more fruitful analogy than the one you proposed.

    @David | Dah•veed I can say with some experience that no “overnight delivery” promise is valid in the West of Scotland north of Glasgow. No ferryboat – no delivery.

    @RevRuth – I remember an occasion when a sacristan in a Cathedral which you and I know well was drenched in consecrated wine by the unintended actions of a retired Bishop whom you and I know well who had consecrated three chalices too much on Maundy Thursday. The then Provost of that Cathedral announced that we must surely eat her.

    @PMO5GAY – I’m not surprised that you might want that solution and I know that you are denizen of various online liturgies.

    @Rosemary – is it your view that the elements in the Cathedral I described in the original post which never were put on the altar and never hovered over it were perhaps not in fact consecrated? As I said to Stewart earlier – they either were or they were not.

  16. I will attempt some thoughts from my non-theological – engineering-biased background.

    As I stated previously I had been brought up to consider that items placed on the corporal were consecrated, and items not on the corporal were not. This is the main reason for two corporals are St Mary’s on Sunday.


    1. Our Lord did not have a corporal at the last supper.
    2. The reason for the corporal is to gather up the crumbs of consecrated elements.

    So by this reasoning the corporal is a practical item from ……… when (can the church historians amongst you say when corporals were first used) – and there is also the time when the altar – stone – has a hole in it which had a tablet fitted.

    So are items not on the corporal consecrated or not? From up bringing I would say not, but by the actions of Our Lord in the Upper Room and what I observed as few weeks ago yes they are consecrated.

    So consecrated or not?

    One of Kelvin’s predecessors was celebrating when there was a large number of sleepy flies around. He only uncovered the elements for the words of consecration and then covered them up immediately afterwards. If memory serves me right, Kelvin flings the covers of the chalices with gay abandon, and does not replace them after filling the chalices.

    Going back to Kelvin’s question about internet consecration – I think not.

    And as for Reserved Communion – maybe it is like batch baking eating one portion and putting the rest in store of a later occasion.

    As a passing thought I was once told a story of a church where the sacristy door was in the sanctuary and everyone bowed when passing through the door. However no-one knew why, until some mentioned that is was as a result of a tall Sacristan who had to bow their head to pass through otherwise they would hit their head.

    • @Stewart – what, the Lord did not have a corporal at the Last Supper? You’ll be saying that he did not have a maniple either.

      Dangerous liberal nonsense, I say.

      @Brian – yes you are right, in that, if you do away with the need for priestly celebration then the problem goes away. In the case of our hypothetical but beautiful islands, we can be fairly certain that solution won’t do. After all, if it would, they would probably all be meeting for worship with Gloria Sourpuss by now anyway.

      @Steve H – I’d rather be in the theatre with the original players than watch on a screen. I claim that I’d rather shop in a real bookshop where there are physical books that I can touch and smell and feel than shop on Amazon. (However, my bank statement tells me that I may not be telling the truth about that one).

      I wish that we had applied the same degree of creativity and flair to finding a modern non-Eucharistic rite of prayer and praise as we did in the modern liturgical reforms that brought about our modern Eucharistic liturgy.

  17. Steve says

    Like Ruth, I have been thinking about this all day.
    1. At the English Cathedral I wonder if the desire was to emphasise the ‘one bread one cup’ symbolism – which destroyed all the layers of symbolism that Rosemary described so beautifully. Sacramental symbolism is so rich that one has to compromise somewhere – or rather one has to avoid being too literal but try and cram in as much as possible.
    2. On liturgy and drama, I have Christine Schnusenberg’s ‘The Mythological Traditions of Liturgical Drama’ on my desk waiting to be read and agree that there is this big link between liturgy and Greek drama, but I still think the real-/cyber-sex analogy is better, because in the eucharist, as in baptism, there is an element of physical touch that you don’t get with a stage production. While I am not a 1662 fan I do think the ‘manual acts’ emphasis something that the 1982 ‘the liturgy is printed with a minimum of instructions’ loses. Live theatre in real time is great, but how is it different from i-player drama – there is no touch-factor in either.
    3. I apologise for not respecting the convictions of Gloria the ferry-woman. If St Eucalyptus is a mission-shaped church perhaps they should try to help her move away from the double-predestination heresy? And is purfection the ultimate destination of good cats?
    4. On the question of reservation, it is a great Scottish tradition – both pre-reformation as shown by the sacrament houses of the North-East, but also post-Ref as Dr Eeles, greatest of pisky liturgists, has demonstrated. ‘This IS my body’ can’t just man ‘as long as it suits you lot and the curate can use me for toast afterwards’. But there is something that seems not quite right about communion from the tabernacle on most Sundays. Perhaps John Calvin and St Pius X were wrong and less frequent communion is an acceptable solution – the medieval/presbyterian practice of not having communion every Sunday can, I am sure help one experience the real gift of holy communion. But I would really miss it for the reasons Steven gave. No place in Scotland is THAT in accessible and the SEC has no shortage of priests, so communion every month should not be impossible. Perhaps the Mattins tradition needs to be rediscovered and reinterpreted (and linked to the practice of a daily office which seems to be becoming more popular)
    Having said all that, I was very pleased to receive communion from the tabernacle on Iona, given by a deacon (who is now, d.g., a priest). Perhaps it is better to just accept the less-than-ideal of communion from elements consecrated a fortnight ago, than to try to invent new solutions that affirm one element of symbolism but negate another.

  18. I think there is a prior question. That is, why should there be any need of priestly consecration of communion elements? [Here, unlike many other things, I think Sydney has it right.] Indeed why should there be priests (as distinct from presbyters)?
    The requirement for consecration of communion elements has no warrant in scripture. Consequently the believers gathered at St Eucalyptus-by-the-Skerry could quite properly give thanks for and share the bread and wine themselves (consecrate it if you prefer) acting under Father Indulgent’s oversight as leader of the parish.

  19. ChickPea says

    Those elements in the original post being held by a priest (yer holy self, Father), seem to me to have all the requirements. I’m therefore content that All Was Well in your hands. But were all of the ‘holders’ ordained ?

    Then there’s the view that we are ALL ordained…. tho maybe to slightly different roles…..but maybe my own belief is a factor in understanding why this bread that enters my hands is particularly special…….

    As for the altar question…….I’m not at all sure that an ‘altar’ (as such) is necessary – after all, a household table seems to have done fine the first time around, and for various house masses I have been priviledged to share. Were there knives, forks and plates, or a cup of tea on that first table – were these then consecrated, and needed to be consumed or burnt ? (Can’t find any mention of this in the current versions of the original account).

    “It’s not consecrated if the priest concerned didn’t intend it to be” satisfies me in most situations – but where do we then stand when the priest concerned has lost faith, tho not the job ? Hmmmnnnn…. and where then does that leave the devout worshipper taking the elements to themself ?

    …. and when I consider the “What (do I think) would Jesus say?” question, I confess to a suspicion that (probably unquestionably devout) people thru the intervening ages have bestowed a certain ‘magic’ (beyond ‘mysticism’) into/onto the simple, everyday act that occurred, turning the stylized ritual into Something Else Entirely…… tho whether this is necessarily A Bad Thing is another question altogether……

    Me, oh my, father K, these questions have occupied one or two before us, methinks – yet they are ever new and ever valid to consider, and need to be re-considered again as soon as we think we have found a neat answer……..

    Ever Relevant.
    Ever Interesting.
    Ever tantalizing.

  20. Rosemary Hannah says

    and there, Kelvin, you have it – the low regard in which prayer is held creates many of our problems.

    And what undermines my doubts about Mary is that there is actually one one Eucharist, ever.

  21. And only one Table, too.

    And every Bush is burning.

  22. I have started podcasting the eucharist on my new worship blog. The services have no congregation other than those who tune in. I am careful not to claim anything regarding consecration and one of the main reasons for the project is to try and answer the questions Kelvin poses.

    I am able to do this because I am, at this moment in time, outside of the Church. This makes me wonder if consecration is a political issue rather than a theological one. Perhaps the rules regarding consecration were imposed merely so that the elite could retain control. This certainly seemed to be the case with South American liberation theology.

  23. agatha says

    This is in no way an angels and pins question! I can’t think that virtual consecration can work, otherwise why would you not just wave generally in my direction and I wouldn’t need to go to church at all but could sit at home with a scone and a Ribena? Or a banana and a cup of tea? (Takes temperature, suddenly agreeing with Kelvin?)

  24. God is not dependant on his creation. Therefore, God does not need our worship. Therefore, God gave us worship for our own benefit, to help us be aware of God’s presence.

    If something we do brings us closer to God and not away from God it is of God. You know, Satan rebelling against himself and all that jazz.

    However, discernment, as always, is needed, and I believe we have been part of such a process regarding the blessing of the elements of the eucharist for at least 40 years. Hopefully, in my opinion, we will reach a situation where those who need to be in the locality of the eucharistic prayer and those who do not need such a fixed reminder of God’s presence with us will respect each other’s faith and will understand that God does what God does for us not vice versa.

  25. Ritualist Robert says

    As always, Fr K. lots to think about.

    It would seem impossible for virtual consecration to be valid.

    As for the English cathedral experience … perhaps we just need to leave it up to God to decide what’s valid in that case. It does sound, one has to say, rather odd, nonetheless.

    On a similar theme, I have always wondered whether it is quite right for the words of institution to be spoken as a paten/ciborium or chalice is held above the altar. This seems to be usual practice in Australia, and often where one would expect elevations the Elements are put down again. In my salad days in NZ, the paten/ciborium or chalice was almost universally held on the altar as the words of institution were spoken (often with the more catholic clergy more or less bending and breathing the words over the bread/wine – I guess as a symbol of the infusion of the Holy Spirit, then the paten/ciborium or chalice would be elevated. I have only rarely seen priests here consecrate on an altar, rather than over one … they’ve generally been priests I’d consider well trained (eg at Staggers or in South Africa). How is it in Scotland and England?


  1. […] CommentsMadPriest on Liturgy Online – againkelvin on Liturgy Online – againRosemary Hannah on Liturgy Online – againRosemary Hannah […]

  2. […] has been throwing cats among pigeons again, asking us to think about the nature of consecration and possibility of virtual […]

Speak Your Mind