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The Road to Emmaus and the Mass

by Brant Pitre May 14, 2020 0 Comments


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Now he doesn't stop there though because as you will see in the next couple verses, this is like a really good Bible study, and they don't want it to stop, so in verse 28 it says:

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent."

Pause there. Try to imagine what would that Bible study have been like. What would it have been like to walk with the risen Jesus and have him explain the

Scripture, to have him explain the Old Testament and how it pointed forward to him? I would give my — well maybe not my right arm because I use that for writing for — I would give my left arm to have been there and heard what he had to say, but we don't know what he talked about, we don’t know what passages. We do know how they reacted though, which is that they were like “we don't want this to stop. Stay with us, it is evening and the day is now far spent.” So it continues:

So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Alright, pause there, there is so much going on here. Let's just walk through it really quick. First of all, notice here the setting. I just want to emphasize this again. When is all this happening? It is happening on the evening of Easter Sunday. So this is Easter Sunday evening. But secondly, notice Jesus' actions. When he sits at table with them he does four things. He took the bread, he blessed the bread, he broke the bread and he gave the bread. Now in Luke's Gospel when is the last time Jesus took the bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread and gave the bread? Those exact same four verbs occur at the Last Supper. So when Jesus does that, he is reenacting the same thing he did on Holy Thursday a few days before with the disciples in the upper room when he instituted the Eucharist, when he celebrated the Last Supper. And as soon as he does that, it says “their eyes were open and he vanished out of their site and they recognized him.” They recognized him in the breaking of the bread, so the question is why does Jesus vanish? Why does he disappear? Is it like a magic you see me, now you don’t? Why would he do that to them, especially when there words to him were “stay with us”?

I think the answer is simple but it's profound. Namely this, he is trying to get them to direct their eyes, their vision, to the way he's going to be with them from now on, which is in the Eucharist itself, in the breaking of the bread. In other words, he does answer their prayer when they asked him to stay with them. He does stay with them, but now he's going to remain with them in a different way. He is not going to be in his body in his local presence as he's been before in his earthly body. Now he's going to come to them under the appearance of the bread, under the appearance of the bread and wine, under the appearance of the Eucharist, so that he can be with them always, even to the end of time, but in a new form and in a way that he is not located or limited to one location, in one place. He can be in Emmaus. He can be in Jerusalem. He can can be in Galilee. He can be in Rome. He can be in France. He can be in all these different places now in the breaking of the bread. So this is a revelation of the Eucharist. In a sense, what you could say is this is the first Mass that Jesus celebrates after the Last Supper. It's the first Mass after the resurrection, and these two choice disciples get to experience this in the fact that he is known to them in the breaking of the bread. Now you might think, “how is that even possible?” Think about it for just a second. In Jesus’ risen body, he's no longer bound by space. In his glorified body, he is no longer bound by time. He can walk through walls, as we've seen him do elsewhere. He can hide his appearance, as we've seen him do at the beginning of this chapter. So in the Eucharist that's exactly what he's doing. He's coming to us, but he's hiding himself under the appearances of bread and wine. And that's what happens here on the road to Emmaus.

Now there is another aspect of this. So as you were reading through this you might've noticed here that there are really two movements to the way Jesus engages with these disciples. First, he reads the Scriptures to them, starting with the Old Testament, and he explains them. And then second, he sets a table, he takes the bread, he blesses, he prays, he breaks it and then he gives it to them. Do those two movements sound familiar? Well yes, those are the two fundamental parts of the Mass. If you look at the Mass — the Catechism of the Catholic Church says this in paragraph 1346 — the fundamental structure of the Mass consists of two great parts. First, the liturgy of the word, where we have the gathering, the Scripture readings, the homily (the explanation) and the prayers of intercession. And then second, the liturgy of the Eucharist, where we have the offertory, the Eucharistic prayer and then of course the communion rite. So it's fascinating that even in the liturgy of the word what do we do? We go back to the Old Testament. We have the reading from the Old Testament and then we have a reading from New Testament letters and then the Gospel, and we see how the old prefigures the new and the new fulfills the old — exactly what Jesus did on the first Easter Sunday. So in a sense, every Sunday of the year in the Eucharistic liturgy, in the Mass — actually every day — we are reliving and participating in the mystery of Emmaus, that same experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In fact the Catechism says this in paragraph 1347 about the Mass and the road to Emmaus:

Is this not the same movement as the Paschal meal of the risen Jesus with his disciples?

In other words, that twofold movement of word and sacrament is the same movement of the meal of the risen Jesus with his disciples on the road to Emmaus. I stress this for you also because sometimes, at least in my experience, there can be a temptation to check out during the Liturgy of the Word. In other words, “I came here to receive the Eucharist, so that's really what I'm here for,” and so when the readings start to be proclaimed I can kind of zone out, maybe get distracted; or when the homily is preached, I am drifting off, I am not paying attention. Well you are missing a fundamental part of the Mass. The only reason these disciples were able to see Jesus in the breaking of bread is because he already prepared their hearts by teaching them through the Word, by unpacking the Scriptures, by opening the Scriptures and leading them back to faith through the typology of the Old and New Testaments. That's what gave them faith in order to recognize him in the mystery the breaking of bread. So we would do well to pay attention, to listen carefully to the Liturgy of the Word and not just to the Eucharist, because it's really the Word that is going to till up the soil of the heart and enable us to see Jesus in the breaking of bread, because he is invisible. It doesn't look like Jesus. It looks like bread and wine, but he's actually present in his glorified body, in his resurrected body, which isn’t bound by space and time. It can do those kind of things.


Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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