Can the church celebrate the eucharist in ‘contagious times’ such as the coronavirus pandemic, and if so, how?
In this book, published in January 2022, Richard Burridge investigates a wide range of proposed options, both in the everyday physical world (fasting the eucharist, spiritual communion, solo and concelebrated communions, lay presidency, drive-in and drive-thru eucharists, and extended communion) and in cyberspace (computer services for avatars, broadcast eucharists online, and narrowcast communions using webinar software like Zoom).
Along the way, he tackles the whole range of concepts of the church, ordination, and the eucharist. This book is essential reading for anyone desiring an informed and provocative guide to the theology and practice of holy communion in our challenging times.
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Initial debate and coverage
The book was launched in both the UK and the US in January and February 2022. See the recorded video debates around the book at these two events: Book launches for Holy Communion in Contagious Times
The book gained some very welcome coverage in January 2022 by the Church Times giving prominence (as well as a cartoon!) to Richard’s Opinion article, Is a Zoom rite a valid form of communion? (PDF) and also a news feature by Madeleine Davies, Communion online is valid, says Burridge (PDF).
Bishop Pierre Whalon ‘Receiving Holy Communion during COVID-19 lockdown’ in Theology May 2022 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0040571X221097547
Robert D. Cornwall in Word and Way, May 2022 https://wordandway.org/2022/05/24/review-holy-communion-in-contagious-times
‘No one will finish reading this book without a deeply enhanced sense of the meaning of the eucharist. Painstaking and impressively well-documented and researched, it will be an invaluable resource, stimulating much debate and reflection.’ Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury
‘Never content to do theology in an ivory tower, renowned biblical theologian Richard Burridge has forged ahead in a personal quest for possible ways to celebrate holy communion during the COVID-19 pandemic and similar health crises. Whether you or I agree with his conclusions or not, his arguments give us much to think about in this ongoing important debate for all who follow Jesus of Nazareth and his way of love in difficult times. I still use his 2008 commentary on John’s Gospel and have little doubt that this new work likewise will be one that I reread many times in the years ahead.’ Michael B Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church
‘This remarkable book meets the need for Christian thinking to come to terms urgently with the challenge of the digital revolution. In this carefully researched and original book of quite extraordinary scope, the author does not only show a convincing way through the problems of celebrating the eucharist online: he also brings to light the deepest meaning of the relation of God to a world that includes cyberspace.’ Paul S Fiddes, FBA, professor of systematic theology, University of Oxford, principal emeritus and senior research fellow, Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford
‘Richard Burridge brings his prodigious energy, theological and pastoral passion, and diverse network of colleagues to engage the vitally important issue of ongoing Christian liturgical tradition in the internet age. I’m grateful to Professor Burridge for putting this book into the world at this challenging moment.’ Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president, Seminary of the Southwest
Richard Burridge asks questions that the church needs to face. His theological depth and willingness to be radical in his thinking make this book essential reading for anyone wishing to explore the rapidly developing and expanding world of virtual church life with an even partially open mind.’ David Walker, bishop of Manchester
‘The global pandemic raised many questions for the church about how holy communion might be celebrated when we are unable to meet in person. With characteristic expertise, Richard Burridge guides us through these debates with close attention, both to the tradition of Christian teaching on the eucharist and developments in modern communication technology. He offers some provocative yet deeply considered proposals that deserve consideration by all who have wrestled with these issues.’ Graham Tomlin, bishop of Kensington and president of St Mellitus College
‘The Richard Burridge skill set is to provide magisterial, detail-orientated studies that explore all the issues from a full range of perspectives. This extraordinary book is no exception. With rigor and careful attention to detail, Burridge sets out a provocative argument while considering all the options. Read carefully, learn much, and think deeply.’ Ian S Markham, dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary and professor of theology and ethics
‘As a fellow “zoomicant” in lockdown’s wilderness, I appreciated not only the spiritual nourishment but also Richard Burridge’s thoughtful and detailed exploration, which helped me still be part of God’s people even when gathered at a distance.’ Richard Coles, parish priest of Finedon and broadcaster
‘The eucharist is the food that makes us hungrier for God. Each time the bread is broken, God unmasks his fidelity and love. Without it, as Burridge shows with his usual contagious love of scholarship and public theology, faith curdles into self-reference and we forget the call to model community life. Read this as a vaccine against a diseased Christianity.’ Mark Oakley, dean of St John’s College, Cambridge, and canon theologian at Wakefield Cathedral
‘There are few more qualified to tackle the tangled question of what communion is and does than the Reverend Canon Professor Richard Burridge. Holy Communion in Contagious Times brings to bear his prodigious gifts as a Bible scholar, as a priest, and as a person considering how the church balances isolation and spiritual need. This book will challenge and maybe even shift your thinking about the most sacred acts in our faith.’ Greg Garrett, professor of English at Baylor University and canon theologian at the American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Paris