Eucharist and Technology A Heideggerian Critique of Virtual Communion



Published Nov 10, 2020
John Olson


Responding to debates within Christianity during the COVID-19 pandemic about the merits of virtual communion—the practice of individuals receiving the Eucharist alone while a priest enacts the liturgy via video conference call—this piece argues that the church should abstain from the sacrament in times of separation and isolation. Against the case made by Lutheran theologian Deanna Thompson, whose work focuses on the virtual quality of Christ’s presence in the church, I use Martin Heidegger’s reflections on technology to examine how practices of virtual communion commodify the Eucharist and thus seek to domesticate and control Christ’s presence therein. After giving an overview of Thompson’s case for the virtual presence of Christ in the church, I turn to Heidegger’s examination of the technological worldview and evaluate how Thompson’s treatment of Christ’s real presence falls into the trap which Heidegger sees therein: namely, treating otherwise free and dynamic beings as static standing-reserve. I then conclude with a section evaluating how Heidegger’s examination of human Being-in-the-world opens up an alternative understanding of the Eucharist as a dynamic world rather than as a static thing. In such an examination, Christ’s presence is disclosed not in the things of bread and wine but in the dynamics which they perform and the patterns of movement they establish, so that one’s proximity and understanding of Christ comes from a shared attunement as opened up in the character of the eucharistic world which he is. As a result, the Eucharist can be understood as both free from human determination on the one hand while on the other hand still bearing fruits in the Christian life even where the sacrament cannot be practiced.

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Deanna Thompson, Martin Heidegger, Eucharist, Technology, Virtual Communion