René Girard and the Eucharist as the Eschatological Sacrifice

René Girard’s final work, Battling to the End, has left many of his disciples feeling uneasy. When attending gatherings of Girardian scholars, it is not uncommon for this work to be addressed only in whispers, “Psst . . . have you read Battling to the End? What did you think?”

I will even admit to my own mixed views on Girard’s final work. On the one hand, I agree with Girard’s assessment that Christianity predicts its own failure.[1] After all, there is no need for Christ to speak of an impending apocalypse or to raise the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8), if Christ believes that his message will be universally received. However, I do not hold, as Girard does, that the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ have left humanity “deprived of sacrifice.”[2] In fact, in making the claim that Christ has left us in a situation where “we are faced with an inescapable alternative: either we acknowledge the truth of Christianity, or we contribute to the escalation to extremes by rejecting Revelation”[3] Girard falls back into the understanding of “sacrifice” that he held when writing Things Hidden from the Foundation of the World—an understanding that he later admitted “was completely wrong.”[4] I intended to present a case, based largely on the theology of Pope Benedict XVI and the work of Jean-Pierre Torrell, that Christ did not come to end sacrifice, but rather recapitulate and transform our understanding of sacrifice. This new understanding of true sacrifice will then be the only means for establishing true peace, and ultimately true culture.

I. Christian Sacrifice.

When he wrote Things Hidden, Girard understood sacrifice solely “in reference to the rituals of archaic religion.”[5] For him, sacrifice necessarily involved the violent expulsion of a victim by a group of “others.” He explains that with this narrow definition of sacrifice, “it seemed to me that the traditional definition of the Passion in terms of sacrifice furnished additional arguments for those who wished to liken Christianity to an archaic religion. This is why, for a long time, I resisted it.”[6]

Later Girard realized that sacrifice was more than the ritualistic violence imposed upon a victim whose expulsion was intended to recall a founding murder and bring about the conciliatory effects the murder produced. Sacrifice could also be understood as “consecration-on-behalf-of-others.”[7] While this concept functions as an anthropological reality within Girard’s later works, it is rooted in divine revelation, and cannot be understood or derived apart from revelation.[8] The consecration-on-behalf-of-others model allowed Girard to view the Passion as a sacrifice, not because Christ died a bloody death, but because the adoption of a non-violent, non-rivalrous stance by Christ constitutes a sacrifice.[9] That is to say, the defining characteristic of Christ’s sacrifice is not the immolation of Christ as a victim, but rather Christ’s kenosis, his offering of himself for the sake of others.

This latter concept of sacrifice moves us away from false notions that Christ brought an end to sacrifice and perhaps even to Girard’s corollary claim that “Christianity provokes the escalation to Extremes.”[10] With the understanding of Sacrifice-as-kenosis, we can see that Christ recapitulated and redefined sacrifice. True sacrifice is not marked by the immolation of a victim but by kenosis.[11] Jean-Pierre Torrell made this point in his monumental study, A Priestly People: Baptismal Priesthood and Priestly Ministry. When comparing concepts of ritual sacrifice (which roughly equates to immolation through violence) with spiritual sacrifice (which roughly equates to the offering of self or gifts), Torrell states that the latter is not a metaphorical version of the former.[12] Rather, he contends that Christian Sacrifice (marked largely by self-offering) is the only real form of sacrifice:

One could even maintain non-paradoxically that this priesthood and this sacrifice are the only “real” ones, that is the ones fully entitled to derive from the order of reality (res in Latin, whence our word real), but from the reality that is ultimately at stake here—in other words, for grace, from the divine life. We recall how Augustine puts it in The City of God: “The visible sacrifice is the sacramentum . . . of the invisible sacrifice”; and a little further on: “That which in common speech is called sacrifice is only the symbol of the true sacrifice” (10.5).[13]

II. Eucharist as Expression of Christian Sacrifice

We now turn our attention to the Eucharist as the authentic expression of Christian Sacrifice. Girard observed that the “Eucharist is really related to sacrifice, but rather than representing the violence against the victim, of it being the victim that you eat, you eat the total refusal of violence, which is Christ.”[14] I maintain that not only is the Eucharist related to sacrifice, but it is the definitive expression of Christian sacrifice. It is the only true sacrifice as it is the only sacrifice with origins that are truly divine.

Here we must note that the Eucharist is linked with the Passion. Just as archaic sacrifices are meant to represent the events of a founding murder and call forth its crisis-ending power, so too, the Eucharist is connected to the Passion. Catholic theology holds that the Eucharist is an anamnesis of the Passion.[15] The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Eucharist is “not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real” (§1363). It further states, “The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit” (§1366). Thus, those who participate in the Eucharist are participating in the sacrificial events of Calvary.

However, this is not to say that those who participate in the Eucharist are participating in the violence of the Passion. For unlike archaic sacrifices, the Eucharist is first and primarily a sacrifice offered by God.[16] This sacrifice offered by God is not grounded in human violence but in divine kenosis. Pope Benedict XVI stated, “Jesus is the true paschal lamb who freely gave himself in sacrifice for us, and thus brought about the new and eternal covenant. The Eucharist contains this radical newness, which is offered to us again at every celebration.”[17] The radical newness Benedict speaks of, understood through mimetic theory, is the manner in which the Christian notion of sacrifice recapitulates and perfects archaic concepts of sacrifice by demonstrating that true sacrifice is grounded in kenosis, not scapegoating.

By offering himself as a sacrifice, God exposes the reality that archaic sacrifices do not initiate from the divine will, but from a human thirst for violence. As Girard notes, it is humanity, not God, that cries out “crucify him!” (Luke 23:21; John 19:15; Mark 15:13, cf. also Matt 27:23). As the true sacrifice of Christ, the Eucharist exposes the failure of archaic sacrifices by revealing that the violence contained in archaic sacrifices does not appease the divine wrath, but rather a human thirst for blood. As such, the Eucharist renders all archaic sacrifices as false claimants to divinity. The true God does not cry out for vengeance but instead desires a non-rivalrous relationship with humanity.[18] Even as he is being crucified by humanity, Jesus responds, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

A. Eucharistic Recapitulation Establishes True Peace

Within mimetic theory, the purpose of sacrifice is to bring about peace and prevent a state of all-against-all violence.[19] Archaic sacrifices partially served this end, resolving mimetic crises and restoring order. But these sacrifices failed to establish true peace because they were false projections of the divine. The peace they established was only temporary, as they resolved all mimetic crises save one—that of the scapegoated victim.

The Eucharist, on the other hand, is the sacrifice that brings about true peace. It does so by addressing the root cause of all mimetic crises—the false notion that God and humanity are rivals.[20] In so doing it can establish true peace—a peace that resolves all mimetic crises.

Here we must note that while “by its nature the Eucharist is the sacrament of peace,”[21] the peace provided by the Eucharist differs from that of archaic sacrifices.[22] Whereas the latter brought an end to a mimetic crisis, they did so in an incomplete fashion, which always led to another mimetic crisis. The peace provided by the Eucharist is a true peace (or perfected peace) precisely because it addresses and overcomes mimetic rivalry in such a way that no further mimetic crises arise. This peace affects both vertical and horizontal relationships.[23]

On the vertical dimension, Pope Benedict observes that through the Eucharist “the community as a whole will become ever more the body of Christ.”[24] The Eucharist eliminates all obstacles between God and humanity. Not only is humanity able to live in harmony with God, but it is also capable of participating in God’s life by uniting itself to the body of Christ. What the Eucharist reveals is that God withholds nothing from humanity. He offers humanity his very life, his own body and blood, and in so doing, allows humanity to become united with him, thus preventing any rivalry. Humanity can no longer attempt to take anything from God, for God is already offering everything he has, including his life, to humanity.[25] Thus, the vertical relationship between God and humanity is perfected.

Benedict also speaks of the fact that the Eucharist unites people on a horizontal level:

The union with Christ brought about by the Eucharist also brings a newness to our social relations: “this sacramental ‘mysticism’ is social in character.” Indeed, “union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own.”[26]

The newness that is brought to our social relations is what I refer to as properly ordered interpersonal relationships. It is the replacing of personal and collective rivalries with unity among people grounded in Christ’s peace (which in turn is grounded in kenosis).

Whereas archaic sacrifices attempted to restore peace on the horizontal level by uniting a group against a single scapegoat, the Eucharist establishes peace by uniting humanity with Christ who is offered as the victim. Rather than call people to collective violence, the Eucharist calls people to collective kenosis. By revealing God as the victim of sacrifice, the Eucharist overcomes any call to violence. Instead of portraying the essence of the divine as violence, it demonstrates that divinity is lived in kenosis. Therefore, to participate in the divine life, humanity must be united not in violence, but in self-giving.

Mimetic theory holds that eating the flesh of a sacrifice was an attempt to incorporate the power of the victim into oneself. In the same way, by consuming the Eucharist, the Christian incorporates the power of Christ. This power is that of kenosis. This kenosis is what unites people. Thus, the Eucharist recapitulates and perfects human relations on the horizontal level. Humanity is united no longer by its collective violence but instead by its collective self-offering, which is demonstrated through concern for each other, especially victims.[27]

B. Eucharistic Ritual as Recapitulation of Archaic Rituals

The Eucharistic ritual, i.e., the Mass, recapitulates and transforms archaic sacrificial rituals. Mimetic theory holds that ritual was necessary in the archaic setting to control violence and bring about peace. I contend that this dynamic remains true even after the Christ event. A ritual is necessary for us to participate in the sacrifice of Christ, and subsequently participate in the peace of the divine life. For, as Benedict XVI stated, “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.”[28] Pope Francis echoes this stating, “Liturgy has nothing to do with an ascetical moralism. It is the gift of the Paschal Mystery of the Lord which, received with docility, makes our life new.”[29]

Here I contend that the Mass, as the ritual celebration of the Eucharist, is a recapitulation and perfection of archaic sacrificial rituals. Like archaic rituals, it aims to establish peace—but this peace is distinguished from archaic (or worldly) peace. This is made clear during the Mass when the Priest echoes Jesus’ statement, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). The addition of “my peace I give you” denotes a transformation in the concept of peace. This peace is not intended to appease a god but is one that forges a non-rivalrous relationship between God and humanity.[30] This is evidenced by the placement of this statement in the Mass, which occurs after the consecration of the Eucharistic species just prior to the invitation to receive communion.[31] This placement affirms the difference between the Mass and archaic sacrificial rituals. In archaic rituals, collective human violence created a worldly peace that made the meal possible. The Eucharist changes this dynamic. Its claim is that peace with God is the necessary condition for participating in a meal with Him. The Eucharist, as the sacrifice offered by God, establishes this peace which is a prerequisite for humanity to enter into union with God.

With this in mind, I believe we can return to, what I believe is one of the more troubling aspects of Battling to the End, namely Girard’s claim that Christianity has brought an end to sacrifice.[32] Had Girard applied mimetic theory to the central aspect of his Catholic faith,[33] he may have realized that Eucharist serves as the authentic sacrificial braking mechanism for human mimetic violence.

Mimetic theory holds that at the heart of mimetic violence is undifferentiation. I contend that this undifferentiation is overcome in the Eucharist. Again, I turn to Benedict XVI who stated that the Eucharist leads us to “affirm the inestimable value of each individual person.”[34] Essentially, this means that the Eucharist unites people into one body, without compromising the differentiation necessary for human flourishing.

St. Paul expresses the idea of proper differentiation through the analogy of the body, observing that a body has many parts that are differentiated, yet all are members of the same body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12–27). Within mimetic theory, it can be said the gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed in a unique way to each individual (cf. 1 Cor 12:28) so as to maintain proper differentiation. The Eucharistic meal gathers these properly differentiated individuals into one body, while still retaining the uniqueness of each individual. Hence Paul states, “You are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it” (1 Cor 12:27).

This individuality is important for truly breaking the undifferentiation that leads to mimetic violence. In archaic rituals, individuality and differentiation are often suppressed. For example, Girard points out that in archaic rituals such as the Dionysiac bacchanal, the consummation of wine and other intoxicating substances “facilitate the abandonment of personal identities and help induce the hallucinatory atmosphere associated with a heightened practice of mimesis.”[35] The purpose of this is to unite people and bring about peace.[36] Ultimately such efforts will fail as they are grounded in the undifferentiation of individuals. The Eucharist, by upholding the uniqueness of each individual within the one body, both unifies and maintains proper differentiation. Thus, it does not require the consummation of hallucinogens for people to lose their identity. Instead, it requires the retention of individual identity in order to bring about a proper unity.[37]

Because the Eucharist gathers people in a way that prevents undifferentiation, it is the only true “braking mechanism” for human violence. Girard may be correct in his assessment that “when sacrifice disappears all that remains is mimetic rivalry, and it escalates to extreme,”[38] but he is incorrect in asserting that the Passion deprives humanity of any sacrificial mechanism to overcome violence. Rather, Christ left us the Eucharist as the true sacrificial mechanism—the only sacrifice that can both properly differentiate people and unite them to each other and to God. As such, it is the only properly ordered braking mechanism for human violence.

III. Eucharist as Building Block for a New Culture

We now come to my final claim, namely that an authentic Christian Culture must be rooted in sacrifice. Here I draw upon the mimetic theory’s claim that culture is ultimately rooted in sacrifice.[39] If this is correct, a Christian Culture must be rooted in an authentic Christian sacrifice—a sacrifice rooted in kenosis.

This harkens us back to the final section of Girard’s book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, in which Girard argues that Christianity has introduced a concern for victims into human cultures.[40] Here I believe that we see the impact of Christ’s sacrifice. His sacrifice moves us away from cultures based on scapegoating and violence, and instead calls us to form a culture based on kenosis and concern for others.

This gives rise to a new culture—the Kingdom of God on Earth. And while we can correctly state that this Kingdom will not reach its fulfillment in this world, we cannot deny its actual presence and existence in the world.[41] As Girard noted, it has changed human history, and continues to do so on a daily basis.[42] While Girard credits this to Christianity, he never explores Christianity within his notion that the norms and taboos that govern a cultural mindset are derived from sacrificial systems. In short, he never explores the sacrificial systems that allow Christian ideas to penetrate the modern mindset. Had he done so, he may have recognized that the Eucharist is a sacrifice that serves the purpose of establishing the norms and taboos of the Christian culture. Whereas archaic sacrifices established who was “in” and who was “out,” and the rules that controlled violence, the Eucharist also serves to establish the rules for interpersonal relationships that keep violence at bay. However, it does so by establishing kenosis rather than violence, as the means for true peace within a society. As Pope Francis states:

The content of the bread broken is the cross of Jesus, his sacrifice of obedience out of love for the Father. If we had not had the Last Supper, that is to say, if we had not had the ritual anticipation of his death, we would have never been able to grasp how the carrying out of his being condemned to death could have been in fact the act of perfect worship, pleasing to the Father, the only true act of worship, the only true liturgy.[43]

I end with this thought, Girard is correct in asserting that apart from Christianity, humanity will fall into all-against-all violence. But the establishment of a truly Christian society necessitates participation in the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, it is necessary for Christians to participate in the Eucharist in order to fully enter into his kenosis, and thereby enter into proper union with God and each other. Simple knowledge of the Passion and scapegoating mechanism is not sufficient grounds for establishing a truly Christian culture. And while this Christian culture may not reach its fulfillment in this world, the Eucharist does leave us with a true sense of hope—a hope that what we experience in the sacrifice of the Eucharist will continually transform and perfect us. Far from leaving us in a bleak situation, it provides us with a foundation for hope, a hope that is not grounded in earthly mechanisms, but divine relationships.

[1] René Girard, Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre, trans. Mary Baker (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2010), 47. “Christianity has always known that this reconciliation was impossible: it is why Christ said he brought war not peace. Did Christianity predict its apocalyptic failure? A reasonable argument can be made that it did. This failure is simply the same thing as the end of the world. From this point of view, one could argue that the verse “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” is still too full of hope. The revelation has failed: in a certain manner it has not been heard.”

[2] Ibid., 118.

[3] Ibid., 103.

[4] René Girard and Rebecca Adams, “Violence, Difference, Sacrifice: A Conversation with René Girard,” Religion & Literature 25, no. 2 (1993): 28.

[5] René Girard, The One by Whom Scandal Comes, trans. M.B. DeBevoise (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2007), 40.

[6] Ibid., 40–41.

[7] I borrow this term from Scott Cowdell. Cf. Scott Cowdell, René Girard and the Nonviolent God (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2018), 67.

[8] One could apply the soteriological principle of “what is not assumed is not redeemed” to derive the anthropological conclusion that Christ assumed archaic ritual sacrifice in order to redeem ritual sacrifice by designating it as a consecration-on-behalf of others.

[9] Here it is especially important to note that it is Christ’s non-violence that constitutes sacrifice. This stands in contrast modern definitions that refer to Christ’s sacrifice in terms of gift or offering. For Girard, sacrifice is still connected to violence. Cf. Girard, One by Whom, 41.

[10] Girard, Battling to the End, 118.

[11] Jean-Pierre Torrell, A Priestly People: Baptismal Priesthood and Priestly Ministry, trans. Peter Heinegg (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2013), 42–43. Torrell analyzes the concepts of spiritual sacrifice (associated with self-offering) and ritual sacrifice (which he associates with the immolation of a victim, usually through violence) as presented in the New Testament. He concludes that it the two notions are not opposed to each other.

[12] Ibid., 56. “There is no room for doubt here. Even if such an extended sense of priesthood and sacrifice seems disconcerting, it is, to be sure, spiritual; it is also thoroughly real. Such consistency in using the cultic vocabulary, as well as using the word hiereus for the officiant of that interior worship, forbids us to consider it metaphorical.” This stands in opposition to Patrick McCormick’s presentation of sacrifice, cf. Patrick T. McCormick, A Banqueter’s Guide to the All-Night Soup Kitchen of the Kingdom of God (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2004). See also, Heim, S. Mark Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross and Allison, James The Joy of Being Wrongs for similar claims that present Christian sacrifice as being sacrificial only in an analogical or metaphorical sense.

[13] Torrell, A Priestly People: Baptismal Priesthood and Priestly Ministry, 56–57. The “this” to which he refers (with emphasis) is Christ’s priesthood and Christ’s sacrifice.

[14] René Girard, Reading the Bible with René Girard, ed. Michael Hardin (Lancaster, PA: JDL Press, 2015), 114.

[15] CCC 1362 states, “The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body.”

[16] In the liturgy the notion of God as the one offering the sacrifice for humanity is most explicitly stated in Eucharistic Prayer IV, which states, “Look, O Lord, upon the Sacrifice which you yourself have provided for your Church.” However, other phrases such as “pray . . . that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to the Father almighty” can be rightly criticized as creating confusion as to who is offering the sacrifice. Documents such as the Catechism make it clear that “it is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who . . . offers the sacrifice (CCC 1410). The faithful offer the sacrifice not as individuals, but because they are the Body of Christ and therefore can participate “in the offering of her Head” (CCC 1368). However, the language employed by the liturgy does not make these nuances clear. This can create confusion as to who is offering the sacrifice (God), and who the is the beneficiary of the sacrifice (humanity/the Church). It can also confuse people into thinking that two separate sacrifices are being offered (“mine” and “yours”). I humbly submit that further study is needed on this issue—the results of which may require clarifying linguistic changes in the liturgy.

[17] Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis (Washington, D.C.: USCCB Publishing, 2007), 9. My emphasis.

[18] Here I hold that the emphasis in the words of the institution narrative, which states “this is my body” and “this is the chalice of my blood,” should be placed on the word “my.” Often, priests will emphasize the word “is” to emphasize the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. While this theology of real presence is correct, placing the emphasis on the words “is” seems anachronistic. It does not consider the broader context of the Eucharist as establishing a New Covenant and its perfection of all human attempts at sacrifice. Placing the emphasis on the word “my” highlights that Christ himself is the victim, and that the Eucharist transforms and perfects archaic sacrifices.

[19] Scott Cowdell appears to agree with this claim when he writes, “Jesus’ sacrifice does what the old form of sacrifice is supposed to have done, albeit making peace in a new and better way” (Cowdell, René Girard and the Nonviolent God, 70).

[20] The Genesis account of the fall begins with an account of the serpent deceiving humanity into believing that God was trying to prevent them from becoming like God. The implication is that God is not the benevolent deity who provides and cares for his creation, but rather a deity who is trying to secure his place by preventing his creation from reaching their full potential and becoming like him. In short, God is not Father or friend, he is a rival. This origin of sin is never truly addressed in archaic sacrifices, but only in the Christ Event, which recapitulates the Fall through the new Adam and new Eve, thus destroying the Kingdom of Satan and establishing a Kingdom of God.

[21] Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis §49.

[22] Jesus makes it clear that he offers peace when he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (John 14:27). This peace is not the conventional peace offered by the world, but something new that can only be offered by Christ himself. This latter sentiment is necessary to understand in order to prevent mimetic theory from devolving into a blend of Gnosticism and Pelagianism, whereby the knowledge of the scapegoat mechanism alone can save humanity.

[23] While mimetic theory holds that archaic sacrifices are the response to a mimetic crisis, the gods were seen as the cause of the crisis, and therefore it was the gods who needed to be appeased. Thus, while the tensions on the horizontal level were released, the sacrifice was focuses on the appeasement of the gods, and the crisis was believed to be the result of a malformed vertical relationship with the gods.

[24] Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis §13.

[25] Here we can think of this dynamic as the opposite of the Prometheus myth, in which mortals are in competition with the gods. Whereas Zeus withholds fire from the mortals, creating a rivalry in which Prometheus steals fire, the true God is the one who offers everything to humanity, holding nothing back, be it fire or participation in his very being.

[26] Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis §89.

[27] This is the premise that underlies Girard’s notion of the modern concern for victims. The concern for victims and desire to come to their aid is the fruit of Christianity. See René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 161–169. While Girard believes that this is due to knowledge of the Christ event, I place this in my overall thesis that ritual is necessary. The Eucharist is the ritual that allows us to participate in Christ sacrifice and therefore receive and adopt his kenosis.

[28] Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est §12.

[29] Francis, Desiderio Desideravi §20.

[30] The full scriptural quote makes it clear that Christ’s peace differs from that of the world, as it adds, “Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (John 14:27).

[31] The significance of the sign of peace in the liturgy may not be obvious to everyone. In fact, several bishops expressed their concern to Benedict that the sign of peace can become “exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion” (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis §49).
In response to the synod’s concern, Benedict charged the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments with the task of exploring the sign of peace and its placement in the liturgy. In 2014 the Congregation determined the placement to be appropriate, and acknowledged that the sign of peace “has its own profound meaning of prayer and offering of peace in the context of the Eucharist” (Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Circular Letter on the Ritual Expression of the Gift of Peace at Mass, 2014, 6a; my emphasis).

[32] Girard argues that what is seen in the present “is the loss of sacrifice, the only system able to control violence . . . . The Passion [of Christ] brings war because it tells the truth about humanity and deprives it of any sacrificial mechanism. Normal religion, which creates gods, is the one with scapegoats. As soon as the Passion teaches people that the victims are innocent, they fight. This is precisely what scapegoat victims used to prevent them from doing. When sacrifice disappears all that remains is mimetic rivalry, and it escalates to extremes” (Girard, Battling to the End, 198; author’s emphasis).

[33] Here I am not intending to forward an argument about the Hierarchy of Truths within Catholicism, but simply to acknowledge that the Catholic Church believes the Eucharist is “the fount and apex of the whole Christian life” (Cf. Lumen Gentium §11).

[34] Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis §89.

[35] Michael Joseph Darcy, “René Girard, Sacrifice, and the Eucharist” (Duquesne University, 2016) 108–109. Here Darcy is referencing Girard’s analysis of the Dionysiac bacchanal found in Violence and the Sacred, 136.

[36] “The rite is not oriented towards violence, but toward peace” (René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory [Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977], 136).

[37] Liturgically this is expressed in the notion that “all have their own active parts to play in the celebration, each in his own way: readers, those who bring up the offerings, those who give communion, and the people whose “Amen” manifests their participation.” (CCC §1348).

[38] Girard, Battling to the End, 198.

[39] Girard notes that “prohibition serve a basic function. They maintain a sort of sanctuary at the heart of the community, an area where hat minimum of nonviolence essential to the survival of the children and the community’s cultural heritage—essential, in short, to everything that sustains man’s humanity—is jealously preserved . . . . Our substitution for the biological mechanism of the animals is the collective, cultural mechanism of the surrogate victim. There is no society without religion because without religion society cannot exist” (Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 211).

[40] Cf. Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 161.

[41] Girard documents the impact of the Christ event upon the word in his chapter entitled “The Modern Concern for Victims,” I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 161–169. Even in his bleaker moments when he seems to be pondering the inevitable apocalypse, Girard notes “that humanity has accomplished something, which is undeniably due to Christianity. The now-defunct idea of reconciliation has nonetheless had successes that have shaken the world. The suspended epiphany of the identity of all men, which was the best part of Christianity, has always created new obstacles for history to overcome. If its action had been different, it would have meant that there were only differences, that history meant nothing and that there was no truth” (Battling to the End, 47).

[42] Girard observes, “Our society is the most preoccupied with victims of any that ever was. No historical period, no society we know, has ever spoken of victims as we do. We can detect in the recent past the beginnings of the contemporary attitude, but every day new records are broken. We are all actors as well as witnesses to a great anthropological first” (I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 161). He later argues that this is a result of Christianity.

[43] Francis, Desiderio Desideravi §7.

Featured Image: School of Roberti, Institution of the Eucharist, late 15th century; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.


Brian Carpenter

Fr. Brian Carpenter is the Parochial Vicar at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend, IN, and is an adjunct faculty member at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, IN.

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