Moderator’s note: This post is part of our short series “Liturgy in Migration.” This series is based on the new Liturgical Press book Liturgy in Migration: From the Upper Room to Cyberspace.
by Stefan Böntert
A few years ago, liturgy experiments in internet still occasioned headlines and sparked controversy-laden debates about the risks and side effects for the liturgical life of the church. More recently, the commotion has disappeared. Borrowing from the liturgy belongs ever more to the standard elements of the church’s internet presence. Standard liturgy broadcasts are only one aspect of this. Especially interesting are those projects that do not broadcast from the church space, but rather gather people at a computer in order to make use of images and sounds to reflect on Scripture texts, pray, and enter into dialogue with one another.
Viewed theologically, this migration of liturgy to internet raises difficult questions: Can we speak at all of religious activity in internet? Of what importance is physical presence when believers gather for worship?
To answer such questions, we must acknowledge that internet is a social medium which is not merely an instrument of the church, but rather something in which the church itself lives. In this, the church’s mission of inculturation must be considered. A look into liturgical history shows that the liturgical life of the church remained lively because it was ever able to adjust to changed general cultural conditions. Adaptation to the givens of the era is a main feature running through history, and this, in dialogue with tradition, was able to stimulate astonishing creativity. The Second Vatican Council emphasized anew how much the liturgy requires inculturation.
With respect to the internet, the question will be how its technical possibilities can be made fruitful in carrying out rituals of faith. Internet liturgy stands for a church which, in its activities, seeks out the public and seeks out spaces in which the message of the Gospel can be proclaimed, lived, and celebrated.
Realistically, we must also see the limits. All this is no panacea to counter the departure of many people from the church. With this in mind, it would be naïve for us to count only on a strengthened internet presence. The decisive key is surely that we value internet as an extension of life in the church.
Stefan Böntert is professor of liturgical studies at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Bochum, Germany.