The Eucharist is the central act of Catholic religious practice, and the deep personal encounter between the faithful and Jesus Christ himself. Through the mystery of transubstantiation we have a real, physical, and personal encounter with Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, each and every time we are in the presence of the Eucharistic species.
We all know that, but sometimes we need to let that sink into our consciousness so that we can reflect on this more deeply.
The Gospel for this Third Sunday of Easter does not include the account of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, but it does open with their report back to the other disciples upon their excited return to the upper room: “The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”
Perhaps due to our casual familiarity with the Eucharist, or our lack of clarity in catechesis, or maybe due to a culturally defined lack of awareness of the otherness of God, most of us neither apprehend nor comprehend the Eucharist as the true physical presence of Christ.
There then comes the tradeoff. Dissatisfied with the inability to have a “religious experience,” many seek God in other ways, ways that excite the senses and evoke deep emotions. Some delve solely into the Word, seeking an intellectual experience, while others take the more highbrow intellectual approach through the study of theology. Increasingly people are abandoning traditional religious experiences for their own sense of mystery and mysticism. This leads to an emphasis of reflection-on-self as a replacement for reflection-on-the-other.
Each encounter of the disciples was real and physical. Luke states that Jesus even ate with the disciples and, in a separate account, St. John recounts that Jesus actually built a small fire and made fish for the disciples to eat when they came ashore after a night of fishing. Only a real, physically present person could do these things.
It is while the disciples are reporting that they encountered Jesus in the bread that he appears to the disciples.
Our encounter with Jesus in the appearance of bread is more difficult to understand at times. The bread we use in the liturgy does not look like the bread that we eat in our ordinary lives. While this serves to make the moment more sacred, it does also take the experience of the Eucharist and the encounter with Jesus outside of the ordinariness of our lives.
What is important for us to reflect upon is that it is through the breaking-of-the bread (a specific expression used in Acts and by St. Paul to refer to the Eucharist) that the disciples and the early Church recognized Jesus.
It is in this same breaking-of-the-bread that we encounter Jesus today. The Church continues what Jesus did and what he instructed his disciples to do as we celebrate and share the Eucharist. This is where we encounter Jesus – in a real and physical way, and not in merely in the depths of our imagination or some emotionally charged euphoria.
In this season when the young neophytes are preparing to receive First Holy Communion we are all reminded of our own first encounter with the Resurrected One in the broken bread. It is necessary to instruct these children that Jesus is indeed as present to them in the Eucharist as you are to them in explaining it to them. But it is even more important that we are aware ourselves of the presence of Jesus in this great mystery.
It is also important that we remember that at each moment when we are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament that we encounter Jesus, just as did the disciples on the Road to Emmaus.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]