So, I’ve heard from a couple of friends that their church offered “Virtual Communion” for Sunday worship. Is this “legitimate?” Will it work? Can Holy Communion be transmitted through a live stream?
What helps me think through this liturgical practice is an article on the Lutheran World Federation website entitled, “DIGITAL WORSHIP AND SACRAMENTAL LIFE IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC written by Professor Dr. Dirk G. Lange. I won’t go into all of his reasons to support his view that “Virtual Communion” is NOT a valid practice for Lutherans, but here is a taste of his article.
He referenced the “Solid Declaration” in the Book of Concord on an article about Holy Communion. (The Book of Concord holds the doctrines of world-wide Lutheranism.) The Solid Declaration states: “But this blessing (Holy Communion) or the recitation of the Words of Institution of Christ by itself does not make a valid sacrament if the entire action of the Supper as Christ administered it, is not observed.”
What does this mean? Dr. Lange wrote: “This aptly named ‘action rule’ lays special emphasis on the complete liturgical celebration of the Eucharist or Holy Communion…The Words of Institution of Christ itself does not make a valid sacrament. The Words of Institution are not magical words. Rather, the whole liturgical celebration culminates in this great thanksgiving in the Holy Spirit that works God’s radical, self-giving gift…there is an insistence on the fullness of the rite and on the people gathered doing something greater.”
But some would say, “Well, we are gathered through a Zoom meeting. That’s the best we can do in these times of a pandemic. What’s wrong with this? Can’t the Holy Spirit work through a live stream or other modern technology?”
Dr. Lange has an answer. He wrote that “the church has in many times and places not be able to celebrate the Eucharist together (persecution, times of war, times of famine, times of illness, and more.) In these times he encourages Lutherans to rely on prayer, meditating on God’s word and use the daily prayer service which has been done for centuries and does not include Holy Communion.
Dr. Lange’s reasoning makes sense to me. Even though I miss Holy Communion and its promise from Christ of forgiveness, life and salvation, I need to learn to wait, trust God more and rely on other ways to focus on God’s grace and to worship the blessed Holy Trinity.
So, friends, ponder anew what the “Solid Declaration” in the “Book of Concord” has to tell us since our normal worship practices have been disrupted. If your friends receive “Virtual Communion,” I suggest not to condemn them, but enter into a gentle and engaging holy conversation about receiving this particular blessing from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God!
(Photo of “First Communion,” Pablo Picasso, 1896, Public Domain, wikiart.org)