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Metaverse and the Church

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By Fr Peter St Hillaire

When I was asked to write a short article on the Church’s possible migration to metaverse services, I must admit while I heard the term before I was not too sure of what it entails. So, I did a little research to get an understanding of what metaverse is all about.

According to an article by Phyllis Zagano dated August 21, 2021, in the National Catholic Reporter, “A metaverse is a virtual world… where individuals exist as avatars… where individuals would be able to hide their identities, interact and present their views anonymously.” Incidentally I came across a video on Instagram where a 12-year-old girl was telling her father she was pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby, who happens to be a robot in her virtual world where she spends most of her time. This gave me an understanding of Zagano’s definition of metaverse.

The pandemic has indeed made the digital platforms an essential tool for connectivity, that one must have. In conversations with persons who attended Masses, prayer meetings and other Church activities via the digital platforms for the past two years, many are now comfortable fulfilling their Sunday obligation via these means. However, the realisation that the Church is evolving into the digital era, begs the question as to whether one decides to have an avatar of oneself attend Mass wherever one wants, can be seen as acceptable. This leads to another question: what about the sacramental aspect of the Mass?

The Catholic Church is a sacramental Church, and whatever sacraments are performed in this virtual reality cannot be valid. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of the liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of men” (CCC 1074).

Furthermore, “Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which is ‘the sacrament of unity’… For this reason, ‘rites which are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating, should as far as possible be celebrated in that way rather than by an individual and quasi-privately” (CCC 1140).

I recently watched a YouTube video with a Pastor DJ Soto where his avatar is performing a baptism in the virtual reality with the avatar of the person being baptised. This is a cause for concern as the lives lived through a virtual life can cause one’s reality to become blurred and ultimately neglected. The Catechism notes further

that: “When the faithful assemble in the same place, they are the ‘living stones,’ gathered to be ‘built into a spiritual house’” (CCC 1179). I am not sure if a spiritual house is being built in the virtual world if there is no physical gathering of the faithful.

The AEC Bishops issued a pastoral letter on communications in 2017, New Ways of Being Church in a Digital Milieu. I am certain they did not foresee this new development in the digital world. While the Church Universal embraces technology and all it offers in assisting in evangelising and conducting Church business, one must be mindful that in this new virtual reality one can lose touch with the true essence of our Catholic practice in the importance of gathering in the presence and communion of God, and therefore the physical fellowship of the people of God.