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And Their Eyes Were Opened
Gospel Reflection for April 23, 2023, Second Sunday of Easter - Luke 24:13-35
13 And behold, two of them went, the same day, to a town which was sixty furlongs from Jerusalem, named Emmaus.
14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened.
15 And it came to pass, that while they talked and reasoned with themselves, Jesus himself also drawing near, went with them.
16 But their eyes were held, that they should not know him.
17 And he said to them: What are these discourses that you hold one with another as you walk, and are sad?
18 And the one of them, whose name was Cleophas, answering, said to him: Art thou only a stranger to Jerusalem, and hast not known the things that have been done there in these days?
19 To whom he said: What things? And they said: Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, mighty in work and word before God and all the people;
20 And how our chief priests and princes delivered him to be condemned to death, and crucified him.
21 But we hoped, that it was he that should have redeemed Israel: and now besides all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.
22 Yea and certain women also of our company affrighted us, who before it was light, were at the sepulchre,
23 And not finding his body, came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, who say that he is alive.
24 And some of our people went to the sepulchre, and found it so as the women had said, but him they found not.
25 Then he said to them: O foolish, and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets have spoken.
26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into his glory?
27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning him.
28 And they drew nigh to the town, whither they were going: and he made as though he would go farther.
29 But they constrained him; saying: Stay with us, because it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent. And he went in with them.
30 And it came to pass, whilst he was at table with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to them.
31 And their eyes were opened, and they knew him: and he vanished out of their sight.
32 And they said one to the other: Was not our heart burning within us, whilst he spoke in this way, and opened to us the scriptures?
33 And rising up, the same hour, they went back to Jerusalem: and they found the eleven gathered together, and those that were staying with them,
34 Saying: The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.
35 And they told what things were done in the way; and how they knew him in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35 DRA)
In this Sunday reading, on the well-known meeting of Our Lord with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we see a revelation of the Divine Liturgy which was first shown at the Last Supper, but then still only under the forms and customs of the Passover meal. Now, Christ connects the sacramental images of the Last Supper, the material species which signify and make present His divine life and confer it through grace, with the full reality of the Heavenly Liturgy, as He intimated in John 6 and as was revealed to St. John in his Apocalypse as “the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:9) As the Letters to the Hebrews made clear, upon Christ’s Ascension He became the true High Priest, offering Himself to the Father as the immaculate and spotless Victim whose perfect and obedient charity redeems mankind from original sin and enthuses it with divine life. This is the salvation won by Christ on the Cross, the divinization and beatification of man, and it is the fulfillment of history which will be consummated at the end of time in the final resurrection and the New Heaven and Earth.
All of these great spiritual mysteries, which are participated in every valid Mass throughout history under the signs of bread and wine, are shown by Our Lord to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The two-part nature of the Mass – the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist – are presented, with Christ acting as the spiritual authority expounding the Scriptures for the disciples. Without His interpretation, they fail to see His presence prefigured by the prophets. Today, just as the ordained priest acts in persona Christi to re-present the one sacrifice of Christ the High Priest in the Heavenly Liturgy, he also takes on the role of interpreting the Scriptures in his homily, although only the Magisterium of the bishops, who have inherited the divine authority given by Christ to the apostles, can interpret Scripture with total certainty. While the priest represents Christ, the whole faithful are represented by the disciples met by Christ on the road, whose spiritual vision may be darkened by doubt, distracted by the pains and sorrows of life, as these disciples almost despaired over the supposed defeat of Christ. St. Augustine thus wrote,
For they walked not with their eyes shut, but there was something within them which did not permit them to know that which they saw… For we do not unfitly take this obstacle in the sight to have been caused by Satan, that Jesus might not be known. But still it was so permitted by Christ up to the sacrament of the bread, that by partaking of the unity of His body, the obstacle of the enemy might be understood to be removed, so that Christ might be known. (Catena Aurea)
Despite our doubts and confusions, however, we, like them, are still called “disciples,” so long as we imitate their eagerness for Christ to remain with them and their openness to His explanation of the true meaning of Scripture fulfilled in Himself. Nevertheless, even these two acts of Our Lord were not enough for the disciples to recognize Him; nor is mere membership in the Church and even a devotion to Scripture alone sufficient for perfect faith: “But He also implies another thing, that the eyes of those who receive the sacred bread are opened that they should know Christ. For the Lord’s flesh has in it a great and ineffable power.” (Theophylact, Catena Aurea) Only when Christ breaks the bread, the standard term for the celebration of the Eucharist in the New Testament (Acts 2:42, 20:7; 1 Cor 10:16), do the disciples recognize Him, thus removing “the obstacle of the enemy” which caused their spiritual blindness.
He then disappears – not because He is no longer present, but because His presence, as today, has become concealed under the sacramental signs of bread and wine. Although the Word is given through the words of Scripture, the divinizing and salvific presence of Christ is received directly through the Eucharist, and as He said before, “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.” (Jn 6:54) Only through the Eucharist is Christ’s presence made known in the Scriptures and in their midst, both under its sacramental signs and in their neighbors, the people they meet who must be treated as Christ: (Mt 25:45)
Now behold Christ since He is received through His members, so He seeks His receivers through Himself; for it follows, And he went in with them. They lay out a table, they bring food. And God whom they had not known in the expounding of Scriptures, they knew in the breaking of bread; for it follows, And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him. (St. Gregory the Great, Catena Aurea)
Thus, the Eucharist is the fulcrum of the Faith, the purpose of Creation, the meaning of salvation history and the source of divine life through faith, hope and charity for the evangelization of the world. May the Blessed Sacrament enkindle our hearts today as it did these great disciples.
By the word which is heard the spirit is kindled, the chill of dulness departs, the mind becomes awakened with heavenly desire. It rejoices to hear heavenly precepts, and every command in which it is instructed, is as it were adding a faggot to the fire. (St. Gregory the Great, Catena Aurea)