"We knew him in the breaking of the bread": Commemoration of the Manifestation of the Risen Lord in Emmaus on Easter Monday | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

"We knew him in the breaking of the bread": Commemoration of the Manifestation of the Risen Lord in Emmaus on Easter Monday

Emmaus, 9 April, 2012

Early in the morning of Easter Monday, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land left Jerusalem for Emmaus on this day that commemorates the manifestation of the Risen Lord to two disciples, Cleopas and Simeon, who, disappointed and dismayed after the dramatic events that saw Jesus condemned to death and crucified, had left the Holy City to go back to their nearby home village. It was Easter night, yet for these two disciples, who had not yet experienced Jesus' resurrection, it was a night of terrible sadness. But along the way they met Jesus who explained to them through Scripture how the Messiah had to suffer and die in order to go to his glory. Seated with them at table, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and broke it. At this point the two disciples recognized him, but Jesus disappeared from their sight, leaving, however, the gift of himself in the broken bread. Now, revived and enthusiastic, they went back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what had happened.

The tiny, simple Arab village of el-Qubeibe (little dome), easily identified by tradition with the site of Emmaus cited by Luke the Evangelist (24:13-35) in the narrative of the meeting of the Risen Jesus with the two disciples along the road, is the short distance west of Jerusalem (60 stade, about 12 kilometers) suggested in the gospel text, about two hours' walk on the road. There is little information about the identity of these two men who, while turning their backs on the Holy City to return to their home, to Emmaus, met Jesus on the road. Saint Luke says that one of them was called Cleopas (24:18), probably the husband of Mary, the sister of Mary the Mother of Jesus, one of the women who stood at the foot of the cross on Calvary (Jn 19:25). According to tradition, the other disciple was Simeon, one of the four sons of Cleopas and Mary, who later became the second Bishop of Jerusalem.

Among the poor white houses of Emmaus, a village that is entirely Muslim, the Franciscans built the Sanctuary of the Manifestation of the Lord at the beginning of the 20th century, over the ruins of an earlier church in a location that tradition associated with the house of Cleopas. Inside the Crusader-style building, made of unplastered local stone, in the nave, the ruins of Cleopas' house are conserved on the left, protected by a slab of red porphyry. Here, at the invitation of the disciples who had been fascinated by the conversation on the road, Jesus entered and sat down at the table. The culminating moment of the blessing and breaking of the bread during the meal, when the two of them recognized him, is represented in a group sculpture above the altar at the end of the central apse. Jesus is represented seated at the center of the table as a doctor of the law who, with his wisdom, had revealed the meaning of all Scripture. Outside the Sanctuary, beyond the hill that at the sides of an ancient Roman road holds many ruins of Crusader construction, rises the Franciscans' garden terrace, from which one's gaze can encompass the entire area, offering a splendid panoramic view.

Keeping with tradition, on the morning of Easter Monday, the Solemn Mass in memory of this extraordinary meeting is celebrated against the background of the little village of Emmaus. At present, this site, guardian of such a precious memory, is not easily reached by road, not even by tourists, because of its location in Palestinian territory that mandates crossing Israeli checkpoints to get there. However, on this festive day the group of Franciscans is joined by many of the Custody's friends and coworkers, as well as a large number of local Christians, particularly from Saint Saviour's parish in Jerusalem, who cherish this annual event when they are able to visit the Sanctuary, otherwise accessible only with difficulty. Also present are many pilgrims who, at least on this occasion, wanted to come to Emmaus, too.

The Holy Mass was celebrated by the Custos of the Holy Land, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, with the Custodial Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores, concelebrating. Animating the liturgy were the Magnificat Choir of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and the Spanish San Antonio de Iralabarri Choir from Bilbao. The latter, performing a series of concerts in the Holy Land from April 6th to 15th, also offered during the day a sample of their own repertoire inside the Sanctuary, before the high altar surmounted by an image of Jesus at table with the two disciples of Emmaus. At the end of the Holy Mass, the faithful filed to the Custos at the altar to receive from his hands the blessed bread that had been at the foot of the altar during the celebration, a true symbol of the day.

After a brief time of refreshment in the garden, where everyone could enjoy the beauty of this place, those present sat down together at table for the splendid luncheon offered in the convent's refectory by Brother Franciszek Wiater, Guardian of the Emmaus Sanctuary.

In the afternoon, they gathered again in prayer for Eucharistic adoration, Vespers and the final blessing, ending by singing Regina coeli, laetare, alleluia. Then the busses left and the friars, too, returned to Jerusalem, everyone carrying in his heart the renewed certainty that the Lord made himself close to us along the road of our lives, especially in times of uncertainty and dismay. Jesus gives us the gifts that are necessary for completely living the meeting with him, resurrected and living among us every day: his living Word and the Eucharist with which he is made present in his Person and gives himself over entirely to make us participants in full communion with him. As Pope Benedict the XVI said: “This marvelous Gospel text already contains the structure of Holy Mass: in the first part, listening to the Word through the Sacred Scriptures; in the second part, the Eucharistic liturgy and communion with Christ present in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. In nourishing herself at this two-fold table, the Church is constantly built up and renewed from day to day in faith, hope and charity. [...]The road to Emmaus that we are walking can be a road to purifying and maturing our belief in God. Even today, we can enter into conversation with Jesus, listening to his word. Even today, he breaks the bread for us and gives us himself as our Bread. And that is how the meeting with the Risen Christ, that is still possible today, gives us a deeper and more authentic faith, tempered, as it were, by the fire of the Easter event".

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Bro. Giorgio Vigna