Virtual assurance: Reflecting on the ‘confident prayer of the Church’ through online worship

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Tom Shields


The author addresses two constant questions in Roman Catholic sacramental theology against the background of the broadcasting of online Mass, especially during the restrictions imposed on in-person attendance to inhibit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These are: what constitutes sacramental communion in the Roman Catholic Church and what is the role of the priest in celebrating the Eucharist? Looking at the first of those questions, he briefly examines the recent work of Katherine G. Schmidt and her use of the sacramental theology of Louis-Marie Chauvet, which addresses both the idea and the experience of presence and absence in the celebration of the Eucharist. The author concludes that, while her work raises some important issues that need to be addressed, she does not entirely represent Chauvet’s thinking, and the fullest understanding of sacramental communion in the Roman Catholic tradition will always include the physical. It is in addressing the second question, that of the responsibility of the priest in celebrating the Mass with an online congregation, that the author believes a more satisfactory answer can be found as to the sacramental ‘value’ of virtual worship. Employing the ideas of authority, authenticity, and assurance, as they relate to the ordained ministry, he maintains that it is crucial the ‘confident prayer of the Church’ be visible and accessible.

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