3rd Sunday of Easter
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: April 23, 2023
If Peter or John or Mary Magdalene were to come to join us at this Eucharist today, would they
recognize what we are doing?
The Eucharist or what we often call the Mass, has been celebrated by Christians for about 2000 years. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word which means “Thanksgiving.” The word Mass comes from the Latin at the end of the Mass, “Ite Missae Est,” the dismissal which basically means, “to be sent.”
Through the ages, the way this Mass has been celebrated has changed. Different languages, different types of music and instruments, different prayers and so on. The first Christians who were primarily Jewish would have celebrated in the ancient Aramaic language. For the first couple hundred years it would have been primarily in Greek as that was the language where the Church existed. We see glimpses of that early period when our choir sings the Kyrie Eleison, which comes from the Greek for Lord, have mercy.
Later on the primary language in the west was Latin since that was the language of the Roman Empire. After Vatican Council II our Roman Rite has returned to using the vernacular, the language of the people, in order to allow for all the baptized to participate in and understand what we are doing at the Mass.
As Roman Catholics, we have a Roman Rite for the Mass, a common Ritual that we use for the Mass that unites us. Ukrainian Catholics, Chaldean Catholics and other Eastern Catholic Rites have their own Rite, a Ritual that they follow. Through the ages there have been changes, additions, developments in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. But, what about in the first decades of Christianity, in the very early Church, how would it compare to what we do today?
Well, we have a little glimpse into the early celebration of the Eucharist in our Gospel today from Luke’s Gospel. The Resurrection account story of the Road to Emmaus gives us a view of the structure of the Mass in the beginning. Let’s look at what we see and how it compares to what we do today.
First, we see two disciples who are walking along, discouraged, sad, feeling lost after the death of Jesus. The Risen Lord walks beside them but they do not recognize him. Jesus listens to them as they share what has happened and what they are feeling. Each Sunday when we come to Mass Jesus wants to listen to our hearts, to hear the reasons we may be struggling, discouraged, frightened, sad.
Then, Jesus explains the Scriptures to them, beginning with Moses and all the prophets. Later on the disciples would say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures to us?” This reflects our Liturgy of the Word. One of the two key elements of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Word. In fact, the Liturgy of the Word, sharing in the Scriptures has been a constant part of the Mass from day one. It is something that all Christians through all ages would recognize. It is a common feature of every Rite.
Our Roman Rite since Vatican II has once again emphasized the Scriptures as an essential part of our spirituality and the Liturgy. The breaking open of the Scriptures, letting Jesus talk to us through the Word of God.
After this, Jesus is ready to walk on, but the disciples invite him in to join them at the table, “Stay with us.” Then we hear some familiar words. While at the table with them, Jesus “took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them.” These familiar words we will hear today at the Consecration. This is another common feature we find through the ages and in the various Rites, the Sacred Meal and sharing in the Sacrifice of Jesus who gives his life for us.
In the Eucharist, Word and Sacrament come together to reveal the presence of Jesus. The early Apostles, the first Christians, gathered for this Eucharist, breaking open the Scriptures and sharing in the breaking of the bread. The Mass continued through the ages in all parts of the world. The greatest Saints shared in this Eucharist.
Today in this Mass, we Catholics here at St. Catherine of Siena parish are celebrating the Eucharist which connects us to the Risen Lord Jesus and to the Body of Christ in the church, in all places and all times.
At each Mass, listen to Jesus speaking to you through the Scriptures, let your hearts burn within you. Then, we invite Jesus to be with us at the table of the Sacred Meal, the altar of sacrifice. Like those two on the Road to Emmaus, we invite Jesus, “stay with us.”
Much would be different for Peter or Mary Magdalene if they were with us today. But, they would recognize the Scriptures we have shared. They would recognize the words of Jesus at the breaking of the bread. We are united with the first Christians through our union with the Risen Lord Jesus and our sharing in this Eucharist.