In this engrossing analysis, Cavanaugh contends that the Eucharist is the Church's response to the use of torture as a social discipline. The author develops a theology of the political which presents torture as one instance of a larger confrontation of powers over bodies, both individual and social. He argues that a Christian practice of the political is embodied in Jesus' own torture at the hands of the powers of this world. The analysis of torture therefore is situated within wider discussions in the fields of ecclesiology and the state, social ethics and human rights, and sacramental theology.
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. Cavanaugh has first-hand experience of working with the Church in Chile, and his interviews with ecclesiastical officials and grassroots Church workers speak directly to the reader. The book uses this example to examine the theoretical bases of twentieth-century "social catholicism" and its inability to resist the disciplines of the state, in contrast to a truer Christian practice of the political in the Eucharist.
The book as a whole ties eucharistic theology to concrete eucharistic practice, showing that the Eucharist is not a "symbol" but a real cathartic summary of the practices by which God forms people into the Body of Christ, producing a sense of communion stronger than that of any nation-state.