"See that it is I myself" - a reflection on the readings on the third Sunday of Easter
In the run-up to the Eucharistic Congress at Liverpool in September, we continue with our theme of the Eucharist. It is absolutely vital that we connect, or reconnect, to this central feature of the Catholic religion - that the Lord really and truly dwells among us in the Blessed Sacrament, on our altars and in our tabernacles. All our rituals, all the bows, genuflections, occasional prostrations, even the very design of our buildings reflect, or should reflect, the real presence of Christ. If we were to walk into a room somewhere in Westminster and discover Her Majesty the Queen seated upon some majestic throne, we should certainly begin bowing and curtseying marvellously, and saying sufficiently humble things to her. If we were to walk into the Blessed Sacrament chapels in our churches, or even into the main body of many of our parish churches, what should prevent us from falling upon our faces before the Lord of heaven and earth, there present physically in the Blessed Sacrament?
As we carry on, then, with the Easter readings at Mass, this awareness among the first priests of the Church - the Apostles - and among the disciples in general - this awareness of the presence of the Lord becomes clearer. The very first line of the Gospel reading tells us of the two disciples who found Christ on the road to Emmaus, but only recognised him in the 'breaking of the bread.' Catholic scripture scholars would tells us at once that the 'breaking of the bread' is one of S. Luke's code-words for the Holy Eucharist, for the Holy Mass, and he uses it more frequently in his Acts of the Apostles. The Mass and the Blessed Sacrament were certainly foundational in the early Church, as they are today for us.
But today's Gospel story is about a new appearance of Christ to the disciples gathered together in his name. They have heard isolated stories - that he had appeared to S. Mary Magdalene, that he had appeared to S. Peter. And suddenly, there he is, and yet, in the midst of their joy, they fear that he is a spirit, a ghost. So he asks them to touch him and then to give him to eat. He is really there, really present, although not as he was before his death and burial. The disciples have to struggle to recognise him.
As must we, to recognise him in the Blessed Sacrament. In faith, we know that he is with us in the flesh, in this Sacrament, in faith we know that he wishes us to rise as he has, in faith we know that he wishes to redeem us and desires us make an effort to stop sinning, to reform our lives, as S. John tells us in the Second Reading today, and S. Peter in the first.
But it all starts for us, the whole of the Christian life, with walking along with Christ to Emmaus, or sitting with him in that upper room, having our minds opened to the Scriptures. In effect, attending at Holy Mass with him an recognising him in the Breaking of the Bread.