Today's reflection on the Eucharist comes from William Cavanaugh's important and now classic study Torture and the Eucharist. The book focuses on the experience of Chile and the Catholic Church, there, before and during the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, 1973-1990.
... the Eucharist is the key to Christian resistance to torture.To participate in the Eucharist is to live inside God's imagination. It is to be caught up into what is really real, the body of Christ. As human persons, body and soul, are incorporated into the performance of Christ's corpus verum, they resist the state's ability to define what is real through the mechanism of torture.
If torture is essential anti-liturgy, a drama in which the state realises its omnipotence on the bodies of others, then the Eucharist provides a direct and startling contrast, for in the Eucharist Christ sacrifices no body but His own. Power is realised in self-sacrifice; Christians join in this sacrifice by uniting their own bodies to the sacrifice of Christ ... In giving their bodies to Christ in the Eucharists, a confession is heard, but it is not the voice of the state that is heard. The torturer extracts a confession of the unlimited power of the state. The Eucharist requires the confession that Jesus is Lord of all, and that that body belongs to Him.
The state counts on the inherent instability of the language of pain so that it may appropriate the suffering of the tortured for its own purposes, to lend legitimacy to its claims of power. Christian thought, too, implicitly recognises the alienability of pain in theories of atonement, but here Jesus' pain is appropriated by others to redeem, not increase, suffering. Jesus' sufferings is redemptive for the entire world. His one unrepeatable sacrifice, His death by torture on the cross, serves to abolish other blood sacrifices once and for all. We do not find other bodies to torture and sacrifice, but only remember in the Eucharist the one sacrifice which takes away the world's pain.
In constructing the body of Christ, the Eucharist overcomes ... temporal isolation as well. Torture brings the victim's world down to the limits of the body, and also limits the temporal horizons to the present ... The eschatological dimension of the Eucharist, on the other hand, opens temporal horizons in both directions and connects them with the present. In the Eucharist the church keeps alive the subversive memory of Christ's past confrontation with, and triumph over, worldly power. At the same time, the Eucharist anticipates the future realisation of a new society, the Kingdom of God, which will shatter the obdurate monuments of the mighty.
Above all, modern torture is predicated on invisibility, that is, the invisibility of the secret police apparatus and the disappearance of bodies such as the church which would counter the state's power ... The state's project is to create victims only, not martyrs, for power of this kind shrinks from the light ... The Eucharist ... creates martyrs out of victims by calling the church to acts of self-sacrifice and remembrance, honouring in Jesus' sacrifice the countless witnesses to the conflict between the powers of life and the powers of death ... Christianity itself is founded on a disappearance. The tomb is empty, the body is gone ... And yet the disappearance is not the last word. In the very act [of breaking bread] Jesus assures His followers that they will have His body, a body which the powers of death cannot bury or erase. When they heard the Emmaus story, the disciples cease to mourn, for they now recognise that will always know Jesus in the breaking of bread.
William Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist (Blackwell, 1998), pp.279-281.