Material Eucharist

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David Grumett
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , November
     2016.
     336 pages.
     $120.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780198767077.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

David Grumett accomplishes something enormous in his Material Eucharist. He surveys an array of topics surrounding the Eucharist, topics as diverse as the physical elements of the Eucharist, death, social bonds, and even the Trinity. Grumett is eminently well researched and demonstrates remarkable command of primary source material branching from the patristic, medieval, and modern periods. He references mystics and poets alongside church councils and synods with ease, making the text accessible to a variety of audiences—one of Grumett’s stated purposes. 

In a similar manner, Grumett demonstrates a unique ability to speak of the Eucharist across various traditions. He acknowledges differences and nuances while still providing a cohesive account of Eucharistic beliefs, interpretation, and experiences. For instance, it is telling that in his final chapter, Grumett weaves together sources as diverse as John Calvin, Peter Martyr Vermigli, John Zizioulas, and Pentecostalism to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist. 

Chapter 5, Death and Resurrection, exemplifies Grumett’s strengths. Here, a historical and thematic account of how the Eucharist has been used in proximity to death and funeral practices gives way to academic and practical insight. Patristic and medieval sources suggest a strong link between receiving the Eucharistic wafer at time of death and hope of the resurrection. This was celebrated in not only churches but also homes and cemeteries. The practices surveyed associate the dead and those remaining behind with the resurrection of Christ through Eucharistic incorporation. Indeed, in many traditions, the transformation of the elements displays the coming transformation of human beings from mortal to immortal, by incorporation in Christ. His overview of historical practices and other considerations may help clergy to navigate death and funeral practices today. This is especially important in the West, which so often fails to adequately account for death and suffering. Grumett’s work in this area presents practices which take seriously suffering and death but offer hope.

Chapter 6 outlines ritual and liturgical practices of women which are also constructive. Two points are specifically worth mentioning. First, Grumett notes that “the primary maintainers of liturgical observance in the home have been women,” and that the “tremendous importance of this priestly ministry for promoting religious belief and ensuring its transmission to the next generation can scarcely be overstated” (239). Not only have women always been involved in liturgical, pietistic devotion but also, they have often led such practices in the domestic sphere. Such a claim should elicit reflection from even the more conservative quarters of Christianity on how women are included in the transmission of the faith and liturgical practices. Second, Grumett briefly signals the possible link between secularization and the modern evacuation of liturgical practices from the home. Given that “men have often failed to fill home roles vacated by women” (239), the dearth of liturgical acts in the home likely plays a part in ongoing Western secularization. Such insight enables faith communities to consider the links between home formation and more formal catechesis for their youth. It should also encourage conversation on how best to incorporate both men and women in liturgical practices, both in an ecclesial setting and at home.

Interestingly, Material Eucharist proposes a new cosmology, one oriented by the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Grumett cites sources as diverse as Tielhard de Chardin and Saint Maximus, arguing for a cosmic Eucharis in which Jesus Christ is the fulcrum between heaven and earth, the sustainer of all things, and the center for both human history and the cosmos. Given the importance of this section, it is surprising that Grumett did not interact with either the Radical Orthodox or Oliver Davies’s recent work The Creativity of God: World, Eucharist, Reason (Cambridge University Press, 2004)I believe Grumett’s text offers a helpful corrective to the Radical Orthodox who, despite their emphasis on the Eucharist, often end up flattening reality into a sphere of total, sacred, immanence. On the other hand, Grumett’s work would be strengthened by engagement with Davies who offers a similar cosmological proposal. Indeed, both authors interact with many of the same categories and biblical passages. They also utilize similar philosophers and theologians as foils to Cartesian and postmodern thought. This omission was disappointing in Grumett’s work.

Finally, Grumett’s chapter describing not only the ingredients in the elements but their preparation, use, and theological interpretation bears mention. Here Grumett offers a corrective to the modern obsession with the new and the indefinite. In a world dominated by fluidity, Grumett artfully recalls the earthiness of humanity: suspended between the creation, which sustains, and the church’s call to bring that creation into proper order by praising God. Grumett thus grounds the church by centering her identity and makeup in the Eucharist, in her weekly (or daily) use of wheat, oil, yeast, grapes, and water. Rather than making the Eucharist something in need of refashioning, he reminds the church that she is the one to be fashioned by the presence of Christ in the elements, which together tell the story of Christ’s recapitulation of the cosmos.

Overall, Grumett’s text is both thoughtful and thorough. Material Eucharist is an important offering for theologians, pastors, and laity alike. Though some of its sections may be less accessible due to their technicality, there remains something for everyone in their consideration of how the Eucharist may be received, the importance of its creation, its transformation of both individual believers and communities, and the manner in which it may offer a renewed ground for ecumenical discussions.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Sara E. Evans is a doctoral candidate in Theology and Liturgical Studies at the Univeristy of Otago, New Zealand.

Date of Review: 
April 6, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

David Grumett is Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. His publications include, Theology on the Menu: Asceticism, Meat and Christian Diet (with Rachel Muers; Routledge, 2010) and De Lubac: A Guide for the Perplexed (T & T Clark, 2007).

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