Virtual:”made to appear to exist by the use of computer software, for example on the internet.”— Oxford English Dictionary
NO MASS FOR US
As an 89.95 year old codger, I’ve decided to follow recommendations from our Bishop, family, and (last, and certainly least) the government: not to attend Mass (a public gathering). My Good Lady, five years younger but subject to some health problems, made this decision for herself, and since I’m an essential helper around the house, by implication for me.
Were it just myself, I probably would not follow this recommendation. We live in a rural area and go to Mass at a small country Church, isolated from metropolitan goings-on. Still, the situation is very much like buying insurance. The probability that your house will be burnt down is very small, but you want to be covered just in case. A Pascal’s Wager type of analysis applies: even though the probability might be small of being infected, there would be severe consequences should it happen.
So, ecclesial pundits advise us at-risk folks to attend a virtual Mass, that is online. Which I have done, and will do more frequently until Covid-19 bites the dust. But, as I’ll note below, this isn’t altogether satisfactory.
VIRTUAL LITURGY OF THE WORD
From time to time I’ve watched the daily Mass online either as recorded videos on YouTube or live (or recorded) on TV from EWTN. The YouTube Masses are from several sources: Toronto, Massachusetts, the Philippines, India, EWTN, amongst others. The two from Toronto and Massachusetts are not well attended, but the readings and the hymns are delivered well. Those from EWTN generally have a traditional setting, with the occasional Latin, fine choir and music, and stirring (mostly) homilies.
Nevertheless, there is still something missing in these. I miss seeing people around me participating in the Prayer of the Faithful; I miss references in that prayer to those I know; that the priest is not there physically somehow leaves a gap, no matter how fine his homily might be. But it is better than just reading the Liturgy of the Word from whatever source is available—online or publication.
But no matter how moving the music or how instructive the homily, there will alway be an essential missing ingredient in the virtual Mass: Holy Communion. Can Spiritual Communion satisfy that need, even if only partially?
SPIRITUAL COMMUNION < HOLY COMMUNION?
Several people have advised those who will not be receiving Holy Communion to practice “spiritual communion.” Fr. John Zuhlsdorf and Patti Armstrong, authors of two articles advising spiritual communion, have given prayers that might be used to call Jesus to come to oneself. The offered prayers are fine, but I will prefer to use prayers from the St. Gregory’s Prayer Book. (This book follows the Anglican Ordinariate liturgy, with its beautiful and reverent use of Elizabethan English. The book was given to me as a birthday present by my Good Lady.) I use these prayers, one of which is given below, at Holy Hour at the Adoration Chapel I attend (now closed in the emergency).
“I heard thy voice O Lord, saying ‘Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.’
“I come to thee weary and worn with my sins, and with the cares and distractions of the world.
“Let me rest awhile in thy Sacred Presence; let my heart find rest in thy Sacred Heart. Let me lie safe there and lie at rest. Let nothing for a moment separate me from thee, here in this world and in the world to come. AMEN.”—St. Gregory’s Prayer Book, “Prayers before the Blessed Sacrament,” St. Ignatius Press, p. 257.
I realize that an essential element in this prayer, the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, is missing. Nevertheless, it is my call to Jesus, “Come to me.”
The term “It from bit” refers to the grand speculation of the American physicist, John Wheeler (he who coined the term “black hole”), that the universe consisted only of information and that we, by observing things, create them (as in the “participatory universe”). See this article for a more detailed account.
I’m not sure whether it would be a good or bad thing if the Sacred Presence could be realized virtually, perhaps as information by quantum teleportation. Indeed, it smacks of blasphemy to think that the Sacred Presence could be realized without the intervention of a priest. I don’t think this would be possible, So the reality of Wheeler’s “It from bit” hypothesis, that the universe is only information, is thus negated.
The Trinity is real, and not to be simulated by computation.