That first Easter Sunday was a busy time for Christ. He rose from the dead before the sun was up (Luke 24:1 – 4). In the Gospel for today (Luke 24:13 – 35), Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus. In the evening, He meets with the eleven apostles in the upper room (John 20:19ff). Christ spent forty days with the apostles (Acts 1:3) after the Resurrection. Other than the description of His Ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9, Matthew 28:16 – 20), we don’t have a biblical record of what He said to them. As a result, we know the encounters recorded in Sacred Scripture of His words and actions on that first Easter Sunday are important.
Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus is particularly important because this is the second time Christ celebrates the Eucharist (CCC 1346 – 1347). Christ begins the encounter by opening the scriptures (our Old Testament) to the disciples. Through two millennia, we begin the celebration of the Eucharist (Mass in the West) by reading Sacred Scripture. When they arrive at the house and sit for dinner, Christ uses the exact words and actions as the Last Supper, “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.” (Luke 24:30 for the Last Supper see Matthew 26:) A critical passage here, a point that St. Luke wants to emphasize is that “they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:13 – 35) Can we say the same? Do you and I think about what really happens at the Catholic celebration of Mass? This is about the Resurrection. After the Resurrection, Christ spends forty days with the apostles and then ascends to heaven. Take a look at Matthew chapter 28. To summarize, Christ says to the apostles, “I will be with you to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) He then goes off to Heaven. That is somewhat puzzling. What the Church has taught for two thousand years is that the Church is the body of Christ (cf 1 Corinthians 6:15, John 15:5). Christ is present in the praying community, in Sacred Scripture proclaimed, but more powerfully in the celebration of the sacraments (CCC 1118, 1187) and most profoundly in the Eucharist (CCC 1374).
Sometimes in life we might be temped to ask, or someone we know might ask, “why should we go to Mass?” That is actually a good question and should be considered. But first we need to be clear about language. The word Mass is from the Latin dismissal and is used in the western Church for the celebration of the Eucharist. This is a convenient term since the word Eucharist can be either a noun or verb. Eucharist as a noun is the Host (Latin word for victim) that we receive. Eucharist as a verb is the liturgical celebration where bread and wine are consecrated and truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. We express great reverence for the Eucharist (noun) because that is Christ, whether we know that or not. It is an objective reality. The Mass (Eucharist as verb) is also critical to our relationship with God. Because Christ becomes present at the consecration, the Mass is an encounter with God. The Second Vatican Council expressed the importance of Mass very beautifully, “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ (Lumen Gentium 11, Presbyterorum Ordinis 5, The order of priests) “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself.” (CCC 1324).
The Mass is also the sacrifice of the Cross, “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice.” (CCC 1367, Council of Trent (1562) Doctrina de ss. Missae sacrificio, c. 2: DS 1743; cf. Heb 9:14,27). Christ remains present in the world not only in His person, profound as that is, but in His sacrifice by which we have reconciliation with God. There is another profound reality in the Mass that we need to carry in our hearts. If someone walked up to you and asked, “where is Jesus anyway?” you might, by reflex, answer, “in heaven.” You would be right. That is the point of Ascension Thursday. The Church has taught from the beginning (see Jean Daniélou “The Bible and the Liturgy”) that the celebration of the Eucharist is a boundary between time and eternity and the intersection of heaven and earth. “By the Eucharistic celebration, we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.” ( CCC1326 Cf. 1 Cor 15:28).
Right now, because of the coronavirus infections around the world, people can’t work, gather together, or go to Mass. However, the Mass is still being celebrated because it is so critical to Christian life. A time of tremendous difficulty like this is a time to reflect on the importance of the Eucharist in our lives, the importance of Christ in our lives. We also all need to ask ourselves, “do I let this profound encounter with God change my life?”