Following extensive consultation with one of the bishops who helped us in the early days, he very kindly produced a landmark paper on virtual sacraments Second Life and Sacrament 4 which provides very helpful and thorough theological and ecclesiological insights. It is this paper which forms the foundation for our position on virtual sacraments at the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life. In essence, our position at this point is that we do not believe it is possible to practice the Dominical Sacraments of Holy Communion or Baptism in a virtual context because of what is considered to be the necessity for a real, physical and personal interaction and relationship expressed in and through the sacraments. In the sacraments we do something personal, human and physical in which through our direct, real and personal relationship with others in the Church – the physical Body of Christ – the Holy Spirit of God gives us the gift of himself.
Two important points need to be made at this stage about each of the sacraments:
- There are authorised and approved services in which people can renew their baptismal vows. A real baptism could later be celebrated with a virtual service of thanksgiving in the Epiphany Cathedral which could incorporate elements of the Renewal of Baptism Vows of those alongside the newly baptised.
- Holy Communion
- What could be envisaged, if it is done clearly and explicitly, is for the persons behind their avatars to make a ‘Spiritual Communion.’ Theology has always recognised that this has equal value (at least in cases of necessity) to Sacramental Communion when this simply cannot be had due to the absence of a priest, due to imprisonment or complete isolation, or due to the individual or individuals not being physically capable of receiving the consecrated bread and wine. Believers who cannot physically receive the sacrament are to be assured that they are partakers by faith of the body and blood of Christ and of the benefits he conveys to us by them. In the context of Epiphany this would involve a ‘real’ Sacramental Eucharist to take place in real life with a priest presiding; participants would not need to physically partake of the consecrated bread and wine but the Spiritual Communion would be no less efficacious.
At this point it is worthwhile also commenting on weddings. To quote our advisor “Second Life Anglicans cannot ignore the legal/canonical implications of a Church marriage. In Christian theology the marriage vows, the holding of hands, the exchange of (a) ring(s) and the physical consummation of the marriage between male and female partners have constituted the ‘outward and visible sign of marriage’ and its legal constituents. None of these can be done virtually and the true identity of the persons is also essential both theologically and legally.” Notwithstanding this, a couple married in real life could theoretically renew their marriage vows in SL subject to full disclosure of their identity and marital status to the priest presiding.