In these times of the corona virus pandemic, the creativity of many priests has brought us eucharistic celebrations broadcast on the internet. The enthusiasm surrounding this initiative is remarkable. The computer screen, say many of the faithful, has become our altar, our Jacob’s well, our church!
Allow me a few thoughts (and let me say first up that I also watch mass services online). My apologies for disturbing the peace yet again!
When the Gospel tells us that the time will come when we will worship in spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4:23), it is not saying that the time will come when we will worship virtually and online.
We don’t need technology to worship in spirit and truth. But we can use technology to see, with our own eyes, what have always been able to see with the eyes of the spirit. If we worship in spirit and in truth, then technology makes it possible for those moments of adoration to appear in front of our eyes. But if we don’t worship in spirit and truth, watching online brings us nothing because technology doesn’t have the power to teleport us to any mass in the world. Only the Spirit can do that, and the Spirit acts in our hearts, not on the internet.
The Church’s doctrine has always held that it is possible to be spiritually united to a celebration of the Eucharist, anywhere in the world. Saints and martyrs have done so throughout the ages, at times when they were deprived of the Eucharist, for the most varied reasons. “The Church provides” what we cannot, says the code of canon law. It is an inner, mystical, prayerful attitude of the believer who stands before the Lord and deeply desires to accompany the sacrifice on the altar.
So, am I expected to watch mass on the internet or on television when I cannot be physically present? No. My spiritual union with the Eucharistic mystery or with my brothers and sisters who celebrate it all over the world does not depend on the internet, but on the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, if I have the opportunity, I can watch it, and that may be a sign of my desire and my thirst for God.
Does it help? Of course, it does! It helps to pray, to visualize, to have the mental images that connect me to the universal Church and my parish. The images can help me emotionally and intellectually, though the homily that I can hear, by the images that I can see and by the words that I can share.
But it can be a distraction too. The other day I was watching a mass service online when a prompt appeared: “You are watching this transmission together with Ana and João. Send them a message to say you’re here!”. Then a litany of comments came rolling down the screen, along with memes and likes. I felt like those little busybodies at Mass who watch to see who enters and who leaves. Next to me, Frankie in his playful tone, “So now you’re on face during mass eh mom? I never would have thought!” He suggested that I put it in full screen mode to keep the comments hidden. After all, at Mass on Sunday it doesn’t occur to us to keep chatting with our “friends” on the church bench or on our phones!
Let me be clear, I’m not writing this to advise against accompanying the mass on the net. In fact, on Sunday our Famílias de Caná webpage will have a live transmission of our parish Mass celebrated by Father Zé Fernandes (without songs this week). Moreover, I’m convinced that at the end of all this, a lot of people who didn’t attend mass before will start to do so, thanks to the experience of faith they’re having with the help of the web (although I sincerely hope that no one prefers an online experience to the real thing!). So, I congratulate the priests who have taken this opportunity and was the first to support Father Zé. So, why am I writing this post then?
In all the comments and articles I’ve been reading, I’ve seen an enormous enthusiasm for this “virtual community of believers”, but not very much enthusiasm for the “Domestic Churches” that are growing, strengthening and deepening in our midst.
I’m not sure if this state of emergency is a favorable time for us to grow as online communities. Perhaps for some people it is, especially those who live alone. For me, a mother of small children, it is not, and I have even left some WhatsApp groups so that I can focus on the essentials.
But I know that this state of emergency is a favorable time for us to grow as Domestic Churches, here and now. Let’s not make our homes an escape room, from where we try to escape as artfully – and virtually – as possible! Let’s make them true temples of God. It may be good to follow the mass online. But when we turn off the computer, don’t say, “There, it’s done!” Because our Sunday prayer has barely started …
Dear priests, please don’t offer us prayer guides, full of complicated words and long texts, written suddenly, as if up to now families have not had the need to pray together. Challenge us to pray simply!
Dear priests, please don’t say that we are a large online community. Tell us first that we are small, real communities, that need to turn off the computers and kneel in the middle of the living room, in the presence of each other and of Jesus, who is among us!
Dear priests, please don’t tell us to accompany the Rosary guided by you. Encourage us to pray the Rosary guided by our family at home, spiritually united to you, the Holy Father and the Universal Church!
Dear priests, please don’t allow us to say that our altar is the computer screen during these times. Correct us and tell us to come together in prayer, in spirit and truth, around the dinner table, with uplifted hearts centered on the Eucharist!
Don’t let us say that Jesus sits by our cell phone, as he once did at Jacob’s well. Correct us and tell us that Jesus sits on the sofa of our living room and says to us, “Give me a drink!”
And please, do not let us say that we participate virtually in the Eucharist, because in the Christian faith, as you know better than me, this concept does not exist. Correct us and tell us rather that we participate mystically in the Eucharist, whether or not we are “connected” to a computer, as long as we are “connected” to Jesus and the Universal Church.
Dear priests, we need to join intimately in your Eucharistic celebration. But we also need you to join intimately with our family celebration!
In this article, which I wrote a few days ago, I shared with you how my family prays together.
In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you! (2Cor 6:2)
(Oh by the way Cor stands for Corinthians not Corona – sorry for the gag, but it just came up here at home the other day 🙂
Domestic Churches, this is our time! Are you ready? Our prayers start now!