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On Live-streaming Mass: Tele-presence is Real Presence

“Lord I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed… ‘as you have believed, let it be done for you.’ And at that very hour (his) servant was healed” (Matthew 8:8, 13).

As I join the Church in celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and participate in the liturgies of Easter, especially the Eucharist as commanded us to do in his memory (Lk 22:19), I am confident that the Lord will once again deliver to His promise, “… I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). My faith unshaken as it is, I wonder what effect remarks by some quarters among Catholics opposed to the idea of livestreaming Mass can disturb the faith our weak and troubled brothers and sisters amid the coronavirus pandemic. A case in point is Robert Mickens who in his article The Mass has Ended, but the Clerical Abuse Continues makes an argument for the continuance of clerical abuse, reasoning by analogy to establish a basis for what he terms the absurdity and cruelty of livestreaming Mass. He argues that “You can’t have a virtual Mass any more than you can have a virtual Thanksgiving Dinner.” His argument reads:

Premise 1: Mom and dad prepare and share a feast over television or live-streaming with their kids,

Premise 2: But “… the kids and other relatives joining the virtual feast have no possibility of preparing,

Premise 3: “Only those who eat can be nourished”

Premise 4: The kids cannot partake of the meal, thus cannot be nourished; [rather experience it as torture],

Conclusion 1: Therefore, livestreaming Mass is not only absurd, but cruel

Conclusion 2: “The Mass is ended, but clerical abuse continues”

To begin with, argument by analogy is a fallacy, logically invalid however convincing the parallel drawn. We can establish this by analyzing another parallel, say, that of students taking an online class. The visual and audible expressions of the teacher interacting with his students on electronic media is effective in transmitting knowledge, skills or competences and generating understanding. The teacher only facilitates the process by virtue of his role as mediator. The whole institution by which this learning is facilitated has full authority to certify the fulfilment of the requirements which is why one can graduate with qualifications similar to another who attended classes physically.

Spectators scattered across the globe can experience the emotions aroused by the skillful players on a football peach experience, the sorrow of a loss and the thrill of a win. Participation is not limited to physical sensation of a good, but to the subject matter it conveys. Learning conveys knowledge and watching a football match conveys the emotional excitement desired. There is nothing absurd and cruel about livestreaming a lecture or sporting event. In that same manner, participation at sacred liturgy conveys grace not mere sensation of the tastes of the wafer and wine; that is not the intended outcome of Mass. The faithful gathered in one place or another, in communion with the whole Church above and below, fully participate in the sacrifice of Christ beyond the limits of space and time.

One Shona proverb reads, Mwana wamambo muranda kumwe, i.e. one’s jurisdiction is confined to his sphere of acceptance. If content is king, then context is the Kingdom. The authority or power or meaning of a subject lies within its context. Hence, we need to assess the practice of livestreaming Mass in (particular) the context of the pandemic and in (general) the context of the faith of the Church. The liturgy of the Eucharist is not a purely natural event like a meal that is meant to satisfy physical hunger and thirst. Far from its symbolism, it is a supernatural event whereby Christ becomes present in the visible signs of bread and wine, his body and blood, a presence that is not lesser than elsewhere in the universal communion of saints participating in one feast beyond space and time.

The Healing of a centurion’s Servant, can help us to put the practice in question in its rightful context as an act of faith. The centurion, with a deep and sincere desire for healing for his servant lying down sick at home approaches Jesus and makes this remarkable act of faith, interceding on behalf of the one who cannot be present to experience the healing real presence of Jesus. The Lord is “amazed” at his faith (Mt 8:10) and grants the desired grace “at that very hour” (Mt 8:13). We are stuck in our homes, on lockdown and self-isolation, struck down by a real health problem and its real effects that render us incapable of approaching Jesus in his person, physically present in the species of bread and wine in the Eucharist. Though it is impossible to participate in the full liturgy, God supplies the totality of his sanctifying grace even in our inadequacy. The priest intercedes on our behalf as well as his own wherever he is with the full, unquestionable authority of the Church (Mt 16:19), making our participation in livestreamed Mass a entirely valid, holy and pious act of our faith capable of conveying God’s sanctifying grace.

To you my fellow brothers and sister, faithful in Christ, and all the ordained ministers leading the Church in the sacred liturgies of this troubled Easter, wherever you are, Happy Easter, Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia Alleluia!!

The Common Priest

Tawanda Chamba is a freelance writer, independent researcher, and commoner. The is a father of one and husband on one.

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