Samuel TORVEND. Still Hungry at the Feast: Eucharistic Justice in the Midst of Affliction. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press Academic, ©2019, pp. xvi + 144, $19.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8468-9. Reviewed by Linda M. MALONEY, Enosburg Falls, VT 05450.


There are so many riches packed into this little book that a “review” in the traditional sense is very difficult. The overall theme is the ethical dimensions of Eucharist. The author probes Scripture, ancient and contemporary practice, and liturgical theology in order to open new (or ancient, but lost) perspectives on why and how Eucharist is a spur and an aid to doing justice. Some samples:

Chapter One, “The Worldly Trajectory of the Eucharist,” is based on the Emmaus narrative (Luke 24:13-35) and asserts that the trajectory of the liturgy “draws those who receive the body and blood toward all those who are in want and need” (p. 12) and that the ritual flow demonstrates this.

Chapter Two, “Discerning a Surplus of Meaning,” points out that symbol, from Greek that means “throwing together,” “is capable of gathering more than one thing within itself, holding together a range of meanings” (p. 22, italics in original). Thus the symbolon that is Eucharist seems to call for an “expansive” rather than a reductive understanding, somehow holding together “broken bread and broken bodies” (pp. 30, 33).
Chapter Three, “Eating with the Hungry and the Outcast,” asks not only whether the hungry poor are welcome in our eucharistic assemblies rather than being outsiders marked for charity, but also whether it is not “incumbent on eucharistic assemblies and their leaders to ask why [in a land so wealthy] . . . children and adults continue to form the largest percentage of hungry people among all—all—developed nations?” (p. 49).

Chapter Four, “The Banquet of God’s Vulnerable Creation,” is driven by the question: “What might be the relationship between the reformed eucharistic liturgy and the palpable hopes and anxieties of people throughout the world regarding the fate of the earth and the suffering of those currently affected by global warming?” (p. 51) and hammers home that “there is no such thing as a nonmaterial Eucharist” (p. 53). The author connects this issue to the Incarnation and questions how, in light of it, “Christians [can] live in a world marked by a tolerated inequity” (pp. 60–61, emphasis in original).

Chapter Five, “An Economy of Grace,” follows up by pointing out that “economy” was originally about household management, and yet “the household of the world is marked by deathly inequities” (p. 67, emphasis in original), with the note that “as of 2017, 50 percent of the US population qualifies as ‘poor’ or ‘low income’” (p. 67, n. 1). Relating this to Jesus’ feeding of the thousands, the author concludes: “Here is the challenge: to recognize the Mass, the Eucharist, as an incarnation of the economy of God practiced by Jesus of Nazareth, and then to lean into this practice of caring for the household” (p. 83).

Chapter Six, “Holding all Things in Common,” speaks of the difference, in antiquity and now, between “patronal” and “communal” meals (potlucks!), questions how Christians who practice Eucharist can put up with a world of patronage and poverty, and asks “what is social justice but the public form of Christian love for others, for one’s neighbor, especially those who suffer injustice by virtue of gender, orientation, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic and educational status[?]” (p. 100).

Chapter Seven, “Eucharistic Limitations,” recalls Thorstein Veblen’s concept of “conspicuous consumption” (the subjugation of women being one means thereto!). Torvend opines that “in an overconsuming culture, fasting is the refusal to consume more than one actually needs” (p. 105) and relates this to Jesus’ forty-day fast. The call is to see our world “from below” and act accordingly.

The book concludes with three homilies by the author. The last line of the third poses the whole book’s crucial question: “Will our participation in the economy of heaven enliven our commitment to its flourishing here on earth?” (p. 127).

*The reviewer is an old acquaintance of the author and, as a fellow Episcopal priest, shares his perspective to a great extent.