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A proper understanding of the Church wrestles with historical and theological
complexities that underscore her nature as a mystery in history. Without going into
such complex issues, suffice it to say that fundamentally the Church is about
Christ. Hence, a Christless Church is as absurd as a Churchless Christian. In
response to the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19, Christian Churches
translocated their worship online. The decision to suspend public religious
assemblies momentarily, which caused discontentment and confusion to many
Christians, offered some a needed alibi to attenuate the value of Sunday worship
assembly. They questioned the rationale behind the insistence on Sunday worship
attendance since technology provides an alternative way of worshipping.
Consequently, the weakness of the faith of some Christians became evident in their
positions. In their estimation, true worshippers do it in Spirit and in truth (cf. John
4:23), after all, religion is in the heart (uka di n’obi). As a result, the Church needs
to adapt to modern development. This position runs contrary to ‘what it was to be’
Church and demonstrates a superficial appreciation of her mission. In any case, an
adequate understanding of the mystery of the Church arrests this challenge by
clarifying her true identity.
From whatever perspective (biblical, theological, spiritual, anthropological,
sociological and eschatological), the Church is a body. She is the body and bride of
Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-14; 2 Cor. 11:2-4; Eph. 5: 22-33); the assembly of
believers, the body of the people of God, the temple of the Spirit, a communion.
Presence underscores these expressions of bodiliness as an essential factor. The
Church needs real presence to be Church such that being the Church and going to
church are not mutually exclusive. From the perspective of spirituality, being and
doing are not separated. It is in doing that being is expressed – going to church is
essential to being part of the Church such that absenting oneself from the assembly
of the faithful contravenes God’s law (cf. Heb.10:25). In that case, appealing to the
alibi of the Church in the heart manifests extreme lack of knowledge of the
corporate nature of the sacred communion, the Church. As the communion of the
saved and instrument of salvation and fellowship with all creation, this divine
project serves man’s ultimate purpose.
The weekly Christian worship, in a special way, demonstrates this corporate nature
by our prayer patrimony, “Our Father”, for the Church offers us the opportunity of
assuming the filial relationship within fraternal context. The Church significantly
demonstrates human inter-subjectivity. She is always a relationship of “I with
You” and the “You” is Christ but since Christ comprises of all he saved, the
Church is an encounter of “I” with “totus Christus” (whole Christ) and not “solus
Christus” (solitary Christ). The “whole Christ” is a corporate concept of Christ the
head with the faithful. Arguably true, the Church is the most significant possibility
of assumption and expression of our identity as humans. It resonates with the core
of our beings expressing both dignity and indigence all at once and letting our
poverty encounter the greatness of Christ in whose providence we thrive.
In the Church, our brokenness meets our nobility in Christ and submits our poverty
to God’s greatness, who by his providence takes over our cares and concerns. Our
self-reserving, self-referential, self-congratulating and self-idolatrous obsession
makes us feel at the centre of the universe. However, at worship, we begin a
journey of self-discovery, which is a real exodus of self-giving that courageously
opens us to the reality of what life is and offers. It helps us to see in the entirety of
the community the meaning of communion in Christ. The gathering expresses the
human dimension of the Church; the concreteness of the assembly makes it evident
that the Church is not just a spiritual reality or amorphous entity not instantiated
in‘re’. Each gathered assembly (the ekklesia of God) is the point of contact that
opens up to all other so-gathered communities for the spiritual communion given
by God. The disciples gathered in the upper room before the Holy Spirit came
upon them and constituted them into a Church (cf. Acts 2).
The Church of Christ is neither just an invisible spiritual reality with no
“fundamentum in re” nor only a visible physical entity; she is a “both … and”
inclusive project of the Father. The Body of Christ is a mystery symbolically
expressed both in spiritual and physical realities with a permanent foundation in
Christ by the Spirit. For the Church to be consistent with her symbolic nature
respecting its various ramifications, she has to be concretely present and
encountered. By way of analogy, since there cannot be a marital act without the
physical presence of the couples irrespective of whatever assistance the digital
operation offers, so also regardless of the digital support in times of extreme
necessities, there cannot be Church properly so-called without the physical
presence of the assembly. This concrete presence symbolizes a mystical
communion. In consequence, sacraments (Confession, Chrismation, Eucharist,
Marriage, etc.) are not administered online.
While digital technology creates new relations, communities and cultural praxis
that impact the general cultural practices of a people, these realities are,
notwithstanding, offshoots of the existing cultures. The digital anthropology is
embedded in the science of man. It cannot be disconnected from anthropology,
which funds its development in its study of the socio-cultural phenomena within
the digital interactive space. As such, a people’s appreciation of religious worship
or sacred mysteries will impact how they treat them relative to the online
possibilities. This anthropological disposition funds perspectives and conceptions
of faith expression.
Worthy of note is that, as the digital technology offers assistance to physically
absent couples to sustain their conjugal love, it will in no way replace the physical
presence or diminish its value. In truth, the online reality sustains the desire for
communion, creates and raises their expectancy, arouses their hunger for each
other as an appetizer and stirs joy for their physical meeting. Yet the Internet is
never a substitute for real presence in any conjugal relationship, be it between
humans or bridal relationship of the Church with Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2-4; Eph.
5:22-33; Rom. 7). How can there be a conjugal relationship without the real
presence of the bride; how can there be a Church without the actual presence of the
gathered assembly? In the sacred bridal interconnection with the divine Groom, the
assembly becomes the real presence of the bride ready for the encounter with the
Groom by the Spirit. This assembly that is a communion of shared beliefs and
“becomings” relives the experience and whets her appetite for the real stuff on the
marriage feast of the Lamb on the last day (cf. Rev. 19:7).
Unfortunately, our desire for autonomy from the authorities does subtly make us
promote online liturgy instead of onsite worship. The member-shopping drive
where some target a select number of elite or middle-class faithful, who are
religiously faithful to the online offertory, digital tithe and online harvests,
aggravates faith crisis. Ecco! The temptation to these can make us not to explain to
people the difference between the ad hoc and extraordinary online liturgy and the
weekly onsite worship. Such a lack of profound Catechesis atrophies the faith of
the faithful at the onsite worship.
Properly speaking, going to the Church is like expressing the pilgrimage nature of
life. Since life is a journey, then attending Sunday worship puts the inner stir in
active mode. It is a refusal to be destitute and deity at the same time. God, who in
his all powerfulness could save humanity by his Word or by willing it alone but
chose the human way of encounter (bodily process), wants us to meet. He invites
us to meet as a people called by his name (cf. Matt. 18:20). The Church is,
therefore, a mystery of corporate existence, which abhors individualism or lone-
ranger spirituality.
Finally, faith has both private and public dimensions. The public aspect not only
implicates the need for public witnessing but also finds concrete expression in
liturgical gatherings of Christ’s faithful by which the Church as a mystical body
and community of believers is specially demonstrated. There is no gain writing it
in capital letters to make the point that privatizing the faith can only atrophy or kill
it. To see digital connection with faith community, which online worship fosters in
the face of the pandemic, as a replacement for the incarnated, mystical and
sacramental communion which onsite worship enthrones would play into the hands
of those who want the demise of the Christian faith. The Tele-Church does not
represent the ekklesia of Christ and does not suffice for Weekly Eucharistic
assembly because a Tele-Eucharist fails the Incarnation criteria. Similarly, there is
no ekklesia on the Internet, rather virtual worship can serve as “praeparatio
evangelica” and indeed, “logos spermatikos”, seeds of grace that prepare the
faithful for an encounter with the whole Christ (totus Christus), which the Sunday
liturgical assembly represents. The reality of the onsite worship spells the nature of
the Church such that in moments of emergency, online worship serves only as a
support and not a substitute.
Fr George Adimike

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