Questions about liturgical presence and participation online may seem marginal for many of us who are digital immigrants (i.e., born in a world that existed offline alone). But for most of the digital natives – those born into a world with both offline and online realms – these questions are at their spiritual fingertips. From the broadcast of liturgical celebrations over the internet (which is not so different from the earlier TV broadcasts of worship services) to online sites of daily prayer, prayer chapels, memorial sites, pilgrimages, and eucharistic adoration, cyberspace now also has communities of faith that exist online alone (for example, in Second Life, a web-based interactive virtual reality environment). Liturgical life in cyberspace is vibrant, aggravating, and constantly expanding.
I submit that it is high time to think through these liturgical practices at a deeper level than by simply claiming that online liturgies are not really “liturgy” because people are not bodily present to each other. Forms of liturgical presence and participation have always differed, in offline liturgies too: an unborn is present at a worship service the mother attends in a very different way from a young nun making her final profession. Both are differently present than someone suffering from senile dementia or severe mental retardation. Moreover, many online liturgical sites make conscious use of the interactivity of the internet, and thus allow users to be actively present to each other (sometimes more so than the “real” worship services). I for one have found that the Spirit can – and does – move my heart deeper into prayer not only offline but sometimes online too.