To combine the holy at the abstract seems risky for an organization that insists on the literality of a material practice non-Catholics often find either figurative, baffling, or both. But in the context of the Church’s past use of technological innovation and new media, the move to increase its web presence isn’t just understandable, it’s traditional.(…) You can visit a Catholic Church on Second Life–the most popular 3D virtual community which boasts over 20-million registered accounts. The 3D church, known as Catholic Now, offers Liturgy of the Hours for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, but the conflict of the virtual and material is evident in their decision to not offer the Eucharist to their worshippers’ avatars. On the Catholic Answers message board, user aztec1975 defends this decision, writing that “The consummate actions of a priest cannot be fairly represented since there are no physical species of bread and wine to [be] transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ.” It’s a decision that some don’t agree with. In the same message-board thread, Secret_Square suggests the virtual has the ability to reaffirm the physical, following the logic that offering the full service online could be a sort of gateway drug: “I think the trick to effective Catholic evangelization [is]…appealing to those who might be interested in the Church but are too shy or embarrassed…to explore it in real life.” The idea is that the virtual does not replace the physical but that it is merely an imperfect surrogate that might encourage real physical participation.
Whitney Mallett, Follow The Leader, for The New Inquiry, December 2012.