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The Meal of the Mass: Food for the Journey to Jerusalem and Beyond

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Ben Duphiney, The Catholic University of America

The Journey to Emmaus (24:13-35) is a signature story in the Gospel of Luke. Merely as a story itself, it is iconic and a perfect example of hospitality, kindness, and love; connected to the entire gospel, it speaks volumes towards the Lucan image of Christ, the universal savior. More importantly, this journey demonstrates the importance of the Eucharist in the Sacrifice of the Mass. In the signature account, there are three major actions: opening the scriptures, breaking of bread, and profound recognition of Jesus. The Journey to Emmaus (24:13-35) perfectly encompasses the often misunderstood mission of the Messiah: to suffer and die as a ransom for all. This encounter with the resurrected Lord is where death and pain meet the glory of the resurrected Christ. Christ is recognized only after “he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (24:30). These actions that Jesus took upon the bread reflect what Jesus said at the Last Supper (22:14-20), the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish (9:16), and the way of the Cross. The Journey to Emmaus parallels the meal of the Mass from the opening of scripture–Liturgy of the Word–to the breaking of the bread–Liturgy of the Eucharist, thus nourishing Catholics to be prepared for the journey ahead.

The entire celebration of Mass, through the lens of Luke, can be understood through the simple act of being fed. A paradigm suggests that Catholics are fed by the word of God through the Scriptures and the Eucharist. This concept of a meal is universal and fundamental to the human experience. According to Henri Nouwen, meals are the “most intimate ways in which we…express the desire to give our lives to each other […] A really peaceful and joyful meal together belongs to the greatest moments of life.”[1] Meals are an expression “of our deepest desire to be food for one another […] Our deepest human desire is to give ourselves to each other as a source of physical, emotional, and spiritual growth.”[2] In the meal of the Mass, both the body and soul are nourished. The origin of this understanding of a meal comes from the Last Supper and the Journey to Emmaus. In the Gospel of Luke, the theme of eating is popular, to say the least (5:27-32, 7:36-50, 9:10-17, 11:37-52, 22:14-38, 24:28-32, 24:36-43). Sharing a meal reveals the identity of Jesus in the Journey to Emmaus because it is the breaking of the bread during the meal that the two recognize Jesus. An overlooked detail connects this story with the Liturgy of the Word in Mass: Jesus’ interpretation of scripture (24:27).

The journey away from Jerusalem, towards Emmaus begins with two disciples standing “still, looking sad” and questioning Jesus, calling him the only stranger who is unaware of everything that just happened in Jerusalem (24:17-18). Remaining humble, Jesus merely asks “What thing” (24:19)? They reply by telling Jesus everything that had happened. The two know what happened, yet are still sad because they “had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (24:20). Because they were followers of Jesus, they would have heard of the coming of the kingdom of God (17:20-21) and the suffering that Christ would endure (17:25). Perhaps it is only after the resurrection that they will understand the fulfillment of Jesus through the cross. Interrupting them, Jesus exclaims and questions, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory” (24:25-26)? Jesus reacts with such strong language because the two disciples have missed the point. Bishop Robert Barron concludes that “Cleopas has all of the “facts” straight…But his sadness and his flight from Jerusalem testify that he doesn’t see the picture.”[3] This blindness prevents them from seeing the overall message because if they understood, they would still be in Jerusalem. Jesus does exactly what he did to the blind man; he heals them. Additionally, Jesus “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (24:27). Jesus did not only pick out a few fulfillment of scripture; rather, he discussed all the scriptures, showing how they spoke about the Messiah. Only after Jesus vanishes that they say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was opening the scriptures to us” (24:32)? This beautiful image of a heart burning hints at the severity of the impact Jesus had on them. Just after this at the same hour, “they got up and returned to Jerusalem” (24:33). They only understood the words of scripture after the Eucharist: the breaking of the bread.

After Jesus was urged to stay as a guest, he performed four simple actions that encompass the entire Liturgy of the Eucharist: taking, blessing, breaking, and giving.[4] These four actions come from the Last Supper (22:14-38) and are fulfilled in the Passion and Death of Jesus (23:26-31). This type of fellowship–eating and reclining with one’s neighbor–is exactly what happens in the meal at Emmaus. Jesus took his place at the table with them. Jesus, in this simple act, takes the bread (22:19, 22:54, 24:30) at the Last Supper and at Emmaus. In his Passion, the officers of the temple police seized him and led him away (22:54). Similarly, Jesus was “led” to carry his cross (23:26).

This is an act of surrender–allowing himself to be taken, captured, and led away. It is the first step of the entire crucifixion. Jesus, after freely taking the bread, blesses it (22:19, 24:30). This blessing is the most crucial part of the Mass because “the consecration of the bread and wine [changes into] the substance of the body [and] blood [of Christ]. This…[is] called transubstantiation.”[5] This part during the Mass bridges heaven and earth. The body and blood of Christ are present, thus making Mass a participation in the Last Supper, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Our relationship with God “is nourished and deepened through our participation in the Eucharist.”[6]

After the bread is blessed, Jesus breaks it (22:19, 24:30). This reflects the brokenness of Christ crucified, thus allowing the bread to be shared among one another. In the story of Emmaus, it is in this breaking that the eyes of the disciples “were opened, and they recognized him” (24:31). The brokenness glorifies Jesus in the Resurrection because the wounds of Christ reveal his love and fulfillment of the righteous one. As a means to partake in the suffering of the Cross and glory of the Resurrection, Jesus gives them bread (22:19, 24:30). Through this final act of giving, we are united with Christ as one. As Jesus was dying, “the temple was torn in two” (23:45). God is no longer confined to the holy of holies (cf. Exodus 24:34, 40:33; Leviticus 16:2); the death and pain of the cross reveal the glory of Christ crucified––a savior for everyone: Gentile, Jew, lepers, tax collectors, widows (21:1-4), the blind (18:35-43), children (18:15-17), and others who are marginalized.

While all four actions are equally important, true conversion takes place within the act of breaking. After Jesus died, the centurion “saw what had taken place [and] he praised God and said, ‘Certainly, this man was righteous’” (23:47). The prophet Isaiah speaks of a suffering servant who was “oppressed [and] afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth […] The righteous one…shall make man righteous” (cf. Isaiah 53:7.11). Jesus, fulfilling this prophecy in his Passion, asks, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory” (24:26)? Not only the centurion realized that Jesus was righteous, but “the crowds…returned home, beating their breasts” out of repentance, not mourning (23:48). They realize that Jesus is innocent as opposed to the Son of God; but it is in His innocence that he is the Messiah. The two disciples knew that it was Jesus “in the breaking of the bread” (24:35). It is in the act of breaking–the Crucifixion–that the centurion and crowds recognized the true identity of Jesus, just as the two disciples recognized Jesus after the bread was broken.

The central image of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is Jesus traveling towards Jerusalem, ultimately the cross. Immediately after the two disciples recognize Jesus, “they got up and returned to Jerusalem ” (24:33). The journey to Emmaus is the turning point, not only for the two disciples–but for Christians. The hearts of those two were burning inside because they themselves, at the time, did not understand what Jesus was doing at the Last Supper. This was understood through Jesus breaking bread at Emmaus. Jesus shares the good news through the celebration of Mass, especially the Eucharist because it is transformative. The two disciples went from fleeing Jerusalem in despair to earnestly returning, ready to face any challenges or threats upon arrival.

The Journey to Emmaus reflects the theme that Jesus, as well as Christians, must always choose the path to the cross. The glory and salvation of the resurrection outweighs the pain and suffering of the cross. The revealed Christ is unrecognizable because of his wounded, yet glorified body. The wounds on his glorified body reveal the mystery of the cross–the true path to salvation. The effects of witnessing the resurrected Christ are the seeds of the church (which Luke continues in Acts). The wounded, glorified Christ is the answer to the question of suffering and the choice and journey of the cross. It is through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection where new life emerges; through the breaking of the bread in the Eucharist, new life is found.

The Mass is a participation in the Last Supper, Passion, Death, Resurrection of Jesus; it is a participation in the Journey to Emmaus. This journey with the risen Lord allows Catholics to fully savor the meal of the Mass, as they are formed by the word and fed at the table. This twofold banquet deepens, nourishes, and sustains the journey back to Jerusalem and beyond.

Bibliography

Bishop Barron, Robert. “Evangelizing on the Road to Emmaus.” Word on Fire, 9 Dec. 2018, www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/evangelizing-on-the-road-to-emmaus/20352/.

Catechism of the Catholic Church. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2019.

Coogan, Michael David, et al. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford University Press,

2010. New Revised Standard Version

Nouwen, Henri J. M. Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World. Hodder & Stoughton, 2002.

Salibi. “Communion in the Hand with Gloves.” Catholic Answers Forums, 25 Apr. 2020, forums.catholic.com/t/communion-in-the-hand-with-gloves/604501?page=3.

(Cover image: https://thevcs.org/road-emmaus/abundance-and-dissimulation)


[1] Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen.

[2]Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen

[3] https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/evangelizing-on-the-road-to-emmaus/20352/

[4] Ideas from structure of Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen

[5]CCC 1376

[6]USCCB http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/order-of-mass/liturgy-of-the-eucharist/the-real-presence-of-jesus-christ-in-the-sacrament-of-the-eucharist-basic-questions-and-answers.cfm

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2 Responses

  1. For 1,500 years we have had the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not some Kumbaya Catholic celebration and meal. In fact, this is EXACTLY what the heresiarchs of the Psuedo-Reformation claimed, that the Eucharist was a celebratory meal, and Saints died defending orthodox Catholic teaching from these evil men. For 1,500 years, crucifixes and scenes of the last judgement have been placed above the altar and tabernacle. For nearly 2,000 years, we have had priests offering the Sacrifice of our blessed Lord in the Eucharist. It’s been nearly 60 years of these pitiful “re-education” attempts regarding the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, trying to convince us that we–the laity–have any role whatsoever in this Holy Sacrifice, that if we aren’t present, the mass isn’t the same. Do you people even believe in purgatory? Do you believe a priest can say a mass for the souls in purgatory? Do you seriously believe that for 1,500 years we were confused about the nature of the Eucharist and the purpose of the mass and it was only in the 20th century–with the New Theology–that we finally figured it out? Ludicrous and laughable if not for the deplorable way this “re-education” is leading Catholics astray into worldliness, narcissism, and pride.

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