The limitations of the virtual Church

Yesterday, Bishop Gebhard Fürst, ordinary of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and holder of the media portfolio in the German bishops’ conference, expressed his doubts about so-called church services via social media, specifically Facebook.”A true church service needs the presence of the entire person,” he said in an ecumenical newsletter. “We see and experience ourselves in the entire atmosphere of a church service.”

Earlier this month, the first Catholic service on Facebook took place in Germany. The evangelical churches have been doing this for the past few years, both in Germany and in other countries, including the Netherlands.

Bishop Fürst admits he is not much of a social media user himself, although he agrees that it has value in modern communications and appreciates the current course that Rome is taking in this respect.

Although I use my share of social media, I must say I agree with Bishop Fürst. Social media are a great asset that we can use to communicate, write, think and discuss our faith, but, from a Catholic perspective at least, that does not mean it is equal to the unique environment of the liturgy of the Mass. This is obviously different for the various other Christian faith communities who have a different understanding of church services.

The Mass, our Catholic church service par excellence, is at its heart not a matter of communication between people. Rather, it is the communication/communio between God and people. And God comes, as the bishop indicated above, to the entire person, not solely the intellectual part of him, or the part of him that interacts behind a computer screen or smartphone.

Mass is a full-body experience. We are there, in heart and mind, for the experience of the encounter with God. That is something different altogether from a discussion about faith, from reading a reflection on Bible text or theological article (or even a blog post), from expounding on our own understanding of what we experience. There are places for that, and social media amply provides them, but the Mass is not that place. It is where we gain the topics, the experiences, the thoughts, the ideas that we talk about later. We shouldn’t  close our eyes for God in order to talk about Him amongst ourselves. First we see, we experience, then we share.

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