Liturgical Life of Facebook?

As most readers will know, Facebook has just announced that it has reached the two billion user mark.  One in four people on the planet are now using Facebook at least once every month.  Over 800 million people “like” something on Facebook every day.  And every day, more than 750 million people “friend” each other on Facebook.  To add to the startling numbers, 100 million users are also participating in groups on Facebook — “meaningful communities,” in the words of Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook.

In light of these numbers, Zuckerberg might just be forgiven for thinking of Facebook along ecclesial lines. [For those interested in the comparison: the global Catholic population currently stands at 1.285 billion].  Zuckerberg, in a celebratory post on the latest milestone of “the Facebook community,” also announced that he wants to deepen the communal appeal of Facebook, by (among other strategies) supporting “group administrators.”  Zuckerberg’s reasoning is based on a look at churches:  “A church doesn’t just come together.  It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation.”

The Christian blogosphere is beginning to respond to Zuckerberg’s comparison between “the Facebook community” and church in various ways, but what really interest me here is this:  if Facebook is like a church, what are its liturgies?  The answer to that question may actually be a bit uncomfortable.  The micro-rituals of Facebook intersperse contemporary lives in seamless ways.  I wonder, for example, how many of us check their Facebook pages first thing in the morning, or last thing at night?  Full disclosure: I don’t, but it took a conscious decision on my part to make myself turn to the liturgical calendar instead of my smartphone first thing in the morning, and another conscious decision to end the day with prayer rather than checking on friends on Facebook.

At the same time, I think that setting up overarching, facile dichotomies – between my faith and my Facebook page – are actually not all that helpful.  Both are a part of the digital age, after all, through which the church currently journeys on its pilgrimage through time.

I am interested in the experiences and thoughts about this of the “PrayTell Blog community,” which – like Facebook – comes together in cyberspace.

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13 comments

  1. I can imagine scenarios where a parish could extend its community through one or more Facebook groups. Here’s a parallel example. There was a time B.C. (before children) when I attended monthly NPM meetings and several workshops and concerts each year. As my schedule got busier, my attendance dropped to just one or two dates per year. But then someone started a Facebook group called St. Louis Catholic Musicians where I could regularly interact with my old colleagues, meet new ones, share ideas, ask questions–the kinds of things we used to do in person. If anything, I am now more connected to them than before, and when I see them in person I don’t feel like it’s been forever since we’ve talked.

    The key is a combination of physical presence with online presence to renew and strengthen those connections. I can imagine parish organizations moving toward this model: men’s and women’s clubs, adult faith formation, youth groups, service organizations, maybe even choir rehearsals (how could we make that work?)

    As for people who are unable (or unwilling) to attend Mass regularly, streaming of parish liturgies, recordings of homilies, and interactive online discussion boards could help to keep them connected to the community between times when they attend. It could also enrich the experience for people who do attend regularly, and be an on-ramp for people who are considering joining the church but are nervous about showing up for the first time.

  2. Thanks for jumping in, Scott. These were the kind of reflections and ideas I was hoping for. As to your question re choir (rehearsals) and how one could make that work, it is already working: namely through CloudHymnal (https://cloudhymnal.org/). The choir I sing with uses CloudHymnal, not only in rehearsals and actual liturgies, but one can also practice one’s part online. And: it’s totally free, anybody can join.

  3. A parish Facebook page that acts as a parish newsfeed might serve as a sort of rudimentary community-building tool (or even a tool that is a good deal more than rudimentary), but that isn’t really a case of putting the tool to liturgical use. A secure website to which the parish music director uploads .wav files of the coming Sunday’s responsorial psalm to help the cantors prepare and rehearse brings us a degree closer: the technology serves the preparation of the liturgy, if not directly supporting the celebration itself. A live stream of the liturgy allows people to watch off-premise, which may be a relatively weak degree of participation? (Or perhaps that’s not actually participation?)

    I have thought for a number of years that spatial proximity needn’t be a condition for a private confession; talking to a priest via Skype or some other hopefully-secure video link should be just as efficacious as being behind a screen in a confessional. For that matter, why not a wedding? If the couple are physically together, why does the church’s minister need to be a couple of feet away from them during the recitation of the vows?

    For baptism, confirmation, ordination and Eucharist, actual physical presence would seem to be a prerequisite.

    1. @Jim Pauwels:
      the question of the importance/meaning of spatial proximity certainly deserves re-thinking when it comes to digitally-mediated practices. I agree with you re private confession; Face-Time” IS a version of face-to-face.
      Take a look at this “internet baptism” posted on Facebook: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qThUe1-RvXU
      Just hypothetically, IF the person undergoing baptism here were to ask to be received into full communion with the Catholic church, would we decide to baptize her, or baptize her conditionally, or???
      I think we have only just begun to confront the questions that are opening up before us.

      1. @Teresa Berger:
        If memory serves, the RC Church long ago (one might say the RC Church was a co-inventer of the FAQ…) addressed the issue that appears to be presented in that video:

        The person pouring water or immersing the catechumen must be the person who pronounces the baptismal formula. Fortunately, that person needn’t be a cleric, though the rest of the baptismal ritual (chrismation) would probably be completed by a cleric before the baptism could be registered as one performed according to the rite of our church.

        So, in this case, I don’t imagine the RC church would conditionally baptize – it would baptize – unless it had evidence or at least testimony that the the immerser, as it were, was also pronouncing the baptismal formula. Et cet.

        That said, given the ritual drift in Protestant churches concerning baptism, I imagine we’re going to have a generation of RC pastors (the B16 generation) who may be inclined to conditionally baptize candidates if they cannot be confident of the manner of a candidate’s baptism. (There’s long been the issue of Baptist churches that baptize in the name of Jesus only, but with mainline churches that don’t reliably use the canonical Trinitarian formula, it may become more of an issue if it gets probed by a generation of pastors more inclined ask rather than not ask, as it were. I am mindful of when this baptismal formula issue has arisen within RC parishes themselves…)

      2. @Karl Liam Saur:
        If your memory serves you right — namely that the church has laid down a rule that the person pouring water or immersing the baptizand MUST be the person who pronounces the baptismal formula — then indeed the case is settled (for now). I wonder when that pronouncement was made, and what necessitated it? And I would be very interested in the text, too.

      3. @Teresa Berger:

        This is not a legislative source, but an illustrative reference – see section I.1.b

        http://rcchurch.com/uploads/Baptism_Guidelines_web.pdf

        “The minister declares [the baptismal formula]. This must be pronounced by the same person who administers the water, and at the same time. . . .
        Thus, some factors that would *invalidate* a baptism include:
        …Having one person pour the water while another person pronounces the words of the formula (cf. 1b).”

        I’ve certainly seen long lists of the myriad ways baptisms can be invalid (not just illicit). I suspect the most common reason why the scenario in the video might arise in a Catholic church would be if a priest, intending to convey a certain misplaced inclusivity, invited sponsors to infuse/immerse a catechumen while the priest pronounced the words but himself failed to pronounce the words while the infusion/immersion happened…. E.g. (with a lay minister):

        https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/quebec-catholic-church-says-295-baptisms-invalid/article25277085/

      4. @Teresa Berger:
        This is not a legislative source, but an illustrative reference – see section I.1.b
        http://rcchurch.com/uploads/Baptism_Guidelines_web.pdf
        “The minister declares [the baptismal formula]. This must be pronounced by the same person who administers the water, and at the same time. . . .
        Thus, some factors that would *invalidate* a baptism include:
        …Having one person pour the water while another person pronounces the words of the formula (cf. 1b).”
        I’ve certainly seen long lists of the myriad ways baptisms can be invalid (not just illicit). I suspect the most common reason why the scenario in the video might arise in a Catholic church would be if a priest, intending to convey a certain misplaced inclusivity, invited sponsors to infuse/immerse a catechumen while the priest pronounced the words but himself failed to pronounce the words while the infusion/immersion happened.

      5. @Teresa Berger:

        Teresa – re: that very interesting YouTube video, I would definitely “punt” the question of the validity of that baptism to the chancery office and let them decide :-).

        I’d note that, in the Roman Catholic world, while it’s not necessary in all instances that the baptism be in church, nor that it be done by an ordained minister, both are expected in the normal course of things, and watching that video may help us to think about why the normal course of things might be preferable.

        When dire or urgent circumstances require us to diverge from the standard approach (as when a labor and delivery nurse baptizes a newborn in danger of imminent death) the presence – either physical or virtual – of the ordained minister isn’t a requirement. So to apply that observation to the video, the virtual-community pastor wasn’t doing anything necessary by pronouncing the baptismal formula remotely; the woman who was doing the immersion could have spoken the words (as the Catholic church understands these things). I guess I’m not seeing that the Internet link was doing anything necessary.

        What about this, though: it’s fairly common that a godparent isn’t able to attend the baptism celebration; in those instances, a so-called proxy godparent is designated for the day of baptism. Could the “real” godparent take part in the ceremony via a video link, allowing us to dispense with the proxy rigmarole?

      6. @Jim Pauwels:
        I agree with you, Jim: the woman who was with the baptizand could have simply baptized her — but then, it would not have been the snazzy “first internet baptism” this community obviously wanted it to be.
        As to the presence of godparents in digital mediation: an intriguing thought worth pursuing.

  4. And this just in from fake news, re Facebook: the company announced a new button, “Praise Jesus,” in their line-up of possible reactions to posts. —
    I wonder when PrayTell will create some buttons for us to use? I have ideas…

  5. Thank you Teresa, for the reflection on Facebook. There is such an overwhelming amount of information coming at us all the time, I find myself going in circles worrying that I am missing something really important in the conversations or posted blogs/articles in the midst of all the junk. It is a community of sorts, of course, but one that has the side effect of creating anxiety more than insights on a daily basis!

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