'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood’: Real presence and personhood in Midnight Mass and Lips of Thomas

Cormac Power*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This essay reflects upon the representation of the Christian Eucharistic rite in two highly contrasting works: the Netflix miniseries Midnight Mass (2021) and Marina Abramović’s iconic work Lips of Thomas (1975/2005). Within these works, blood plays a central role both iconically as a potent visual presence, as well as indexically in pointing subversively towards the ritual of the mass. There is a degree of ambivalence evident in these works, in that neither appears to offer us a straightforward critique of doctrine or of religious belief, but instead appear to engage in a kind of distanced fascination with the Eucharist, and especially the doctrine of real presence. This essay proposes that the representation of blood in these works reflects both a subversive and an engaged reflection on the notion of real presence. In developing an analysis of the ways in which blood features in these works, this essay presents the concept of ‘personhood,’ as defined by feminist theologian Catherine LaCugna, as a means of understanding the paradoxical status of blood in Midnight Mass and Lips of Thomas. While discourses around concepts such as subject, body, self, identity, character and persona are well established within the wider field performance and performance studies, this essay argues for the utility of ‘personhood’ as a distinct concept. In doing so, this essay points to the more general notion that theological and liturgical concepts can overlap with and productively inform our understanding of secular performance practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-61
Number of pages7
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number1
Early online date26 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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