Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Torture and Eucharist

Written by: on February 10, 2020

The In Torture and Eucharist, William Cavanaugh examines the torture that took place under General Pinochet in Chile caught my attention because is a very controversial observation of the Eucharist.

General Pinochet was a Chilean dictator who took power after overthrowing President-elect Salvador Allende and who ruled Chile between 1973 and 1990, harshly repressing the political opposition. Despite the repeated violation of human rights that took place under his mandate, he retained part of his power and privileges until 1998.

In 1974, General Pinochet creates the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), political repression police, and trust his address to Manuel Contreras. Directly located under the command of General Pinochet, DINA is responsible for the majority of enforced disappearances, of the murders and torture of numerous political opponents. The DINA participated in the creation and multi-field management of clandestine detention and torture, among which the “Villa Grimaldi” and the “Colonia Dignidad”.

What about Willian Cavanaugh

William T. Cavanaugh is a Catholic theologian whose interests, besides theology, include economics and politics. The role of the Church in the world of politics and economics is central in his thought. He has been a professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University since 1910. Before that, he taught at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology. The center studies the Catholic Church in countries of the southern hemisphere.

Cavanaugh sets his work in Chile during the repressive years of the Pinochet regime, 1973 to 1990. Before Pinochet started his dictatorial reign and for several years after, the Church in Chile had adopted a form of coexistence with secular powers. Cavanaugh argues that, in confining its work to the soul and leaving bodily matters to the state, the Church became ineffective in both areas. Essentially it consigned both soul and body to a murderous state.  

The solution had to be for the Church not only to become interested in bodies but, more, to become a body itself, a social body, with its roots in the Body of Christ, the Eucharist. This, Cavanaugh says, is what the Church eventually did.

Dr. Clark says that “Cavanaugh claims that the State’s approach to torture can be best understood as a disciplined liturgical process enacted upon bodies that are social, institutional, and physical. On the other hand, with the body of Christ, Jesus is master of our bodies, and the State attempts to claim that it holds this role. The State, with its practice of torture, disappears bodies such, that its victims practice the self-discipline of their own removal from public life. This torture can be understood as a perverted liturgy that fragments people into isolation, and membership of false bodies.

The Catholic Church professes that in the celebration of the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the ministry of the priest. Jesus said: “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven; He who eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I am going to give you is my flesh so that the world may have life… My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink ”(Jn 6: 51-55). The whole Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine: the glorified Christ who rose from the dead after dying for our sins. This is what the Church means when it speaks of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. This presence of Christ in the Eucharist is called “real” without excluding other types of presence as if they could not be understood as real (cf. Catechism, no. 1374). The risen Christ is present in his Church in many ways, but especially through the sacrament of his Body and Blood.

As I understand, the Church belongs to Christ. Of the risen and living Christ, who today bursts into our history sacramentally, and in a particular way as my brother who is a priest would say, eucharistically, in his sacramental body and in his historical body (in our lives and in our communion, made possible and sustained by the gift of Christ To the extent that the Church is received from Christ and is known of Christ and presented to the world as the property of Christ, it is a new humanity, and also today generates a new humanity, true humanity of Christ is the key to his freedom with respect to the world and his fecundity without limit. And it is to that key, and to the life that springs from it, and that will never cease to sprout in history as long as the world is world, where the Church has to look again and again, if we want to be able to look to the future with open eyes, if we want there to be a future, a human future, to have a human future again, and I don’t mean to the future of the Church, which always and he has it in the Kingdom, but to the human future of the world.

Clark “In this imagination, the Eucharist interrupts the world, and provides a new identity; we become part of the body of Christ such that communion is an anamnesis, a remembering, and re-enactment of the past. We are literally “re-membered” into the body of Christ”.

105 Ibid., 229.

106 Ibid., 234.

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/lostinaoneacrewood access 2/10/2020

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXDMJ4X-IfI access 2/10/2020

William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ, Challenges in Contemporary Theology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998)

Clark, Jason. Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship. 2018.


About the Author

Joe Castillo

5 responses to “Torture and Eucharist”

  1. Darcy Hansen says:

    Thank you for expounding upon the events in Chile and Cavanaugh’s theological observations of that time period. Do you see echoes of that perverted liturgy here in the states as churches choose to withdraw from cultural events, turning their backs on the societal challenges faced by many people? If so, how would a new understanding of Eucharist help move people to a new identity so as to disrupt the oppressive systems in place?

  2. John McLarty says:

    As a pastor, it always fascinates me when we take a high view of Eucharist and talk about the real presence of Christ, then watch the conversation descend into preferences about what kind of bread people want, the method by which the elements are served, how often it should be celebrated, etc. Even something as simple and holy as communion is a target for our consumeristic tendencies. How would our people feel if our primary imagery centered around suffering?

  3. Steve Wingate says:

    The risen Christ is present in his Church in many ways, but especially through the sacrament of his Body and Blood.

    Communion is in part a sacred means of realizing the cost of sin, Jesus’s love for us, and our response to that. And, yet, when I preside over this sacrament I wonder if the congregants are checking off some box or realizing its significance.

    May I ask you if you are also saying that Christ is in the bread and juice/ wine made by the power of the Holy Spirit?

    Thank you

  4. Greg Reich says:

    Thanks for the insight! You discussed the importance in recognizing the church as the body of Christ and Christ as the owner. Can it be that the reason that many within the church are easily seduced by the consumer bug is because we fail to recognize Christ as the head of the church? Have we made Jesus so common that we fail to revere Him as God?

  5. Shawn Cramer says:

    I’m reminded that the South African apartheid can be traced partly to segregated Communion. Does this sacrament also have the power to unite?

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