Here is a homily I gave on this day a few years ago:
HOLY MASS, OUR WEEKLY REALITY-CHECK
Each day of the week we are submerged in the affairs of the world. With the constant bombardment of information, of news – or what passes as news nowadays; with concern for our family and friends; with preoccupation about what is going on in our community, our nation, and our world: all of these things from without occupy our mind, not to mention our own personal struggles and crosses which we daily bear. When things get rather tense – when we start to get up to our necks, so to speak – we can begin to wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” Sometimes our sense of distance from God comes from being too close to the things happening around us – from not stepping back and gaining some perspective.
This is exactly what happened to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. There Jesus was, walking right with them, but they didn’t recognize him. They were so immersed in the latest happenings, which were the talk of the town: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?”, they ask Jesus with disbelief. The drama of Holy Week and Easter was still fresh in their minds: how a man who was commonly known to be a mighty prophet was tortured and crucified, while the sun grew dark and the earth quaked; how there was an eerie stillness the day after; and how on the third day, they were all “astounded” by his absence from the place of burial. The women were reporting that he was no longer dead, but alive.
So caught up were these disciples in current events, that they did not recognize the subject of those events as he walked with them. Now, Christ could have changed that: he could have made it very clear, in so many different ways, who he was, right then and there on the road. But he chose a different way; he chose to wait, until they had settled down, washed up, reclined at table, and enjoyed a meal together. Then he made himself known – “in the breaking of the bread”.
In fact, the entire Road to Emmaus narrative follows the general outline of our liturgical worship. First Christ opened the Scriptures to them, then he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them; and he became known to them in that moment. So also in holy Mass, with the first part – the Liturgy of the Word – we hear the scriptures and they are explained to us, as I am doing now. If we listen attentively and prayerfully then it often does cause our hearts to “burn within us” as we encounter the answers to our souls’ questions and find strength to carry our crosses. Then in the second part – the Liturgy of the Eucharist – the priest takes the bread in the offertory, blesses it – consecrates it, to be precise – during the Eucharistic Prayer, then breaks it at the Lamb of God, and gives it during the distribution of Holy Communion. Those with Eucharistic faith know him in that moment, recognize that he is there: and so they say “Amen” before they receive him.
It would seem that in the journey to Emmaus Jesus was drawing the disciples out of the nitty-gritty of daily life and calling them apart to a type of rest that would enable them to know his presence and gain perspective on their lives. This is precisely what our weekly attendance at Holy Mass is meant to do for us as well. We need this hour or so of rest each week, when we come to know Christ not only as individuals but also as a community, and so focus our gaze on the one who gives meaning to our whole life. All of our burdens of the preceding week, and our preoccupations concerning the week to come – all of these things we need to set at the foot of the altar as we, too, recline on our kneelers and then come forward to share in the sacred banquet.
With the weekly reality check that Holy Mass provides for us, we can more confidently say the words of today’s psalm response: “Lord, you will show us the path of life”. When we are not walking with him, we so easily mistake the wrong path for the right one. If we have this weekly meeting with him, we also learn to recognize him more and more in the midst of our daily cares, and so remain on the path that leads to life. Remember the story of Elijah from the Old Testament: God was not made known to him in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the “still, small voice”. We need this weekly moment of rest.
As we now transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, let us remember that the one we have been hearing and speaking about in the scriptures is about to become present on our altar, and wishes to feed us: not merely physically, but spiritually – that is, if we recognize and know him in his Real Presence here with us. From here he wants to accompany us in peace back out into our daily lives, and sustain us until next Sunday when we come again for a fresh encounter with him. An elderly priest I knew once told me and some friends how he used to pray in his heart, when he elevated the host after the consecration, “May they know you, Lord”. My prayer for us all today is similar: may we all know Christ really, truly, and substantially present in the Most Holy Eucharist: may we know him in the breaking of the bread.