Several years ago, I recognized that Luke 24:13-35 (The Road to Emmaus) was an account of the first Mass celebrated after Christ’s resurrection. I owe this epiphany to Father Larry Gyhra, as it was one of his favorite passages and he spoke about it often. It has become one of my favorite passages as well.
Another ancient, though non-scriptural, account of the Mass is found in St. Justin Martyr’s 1st Apology, which was written in about 153 A.D. I think more of us should know that the Mass has been celebrated by the Church since Apostolic times because the Mass is more than a lot of us realize, and the more we know about it, the better our chances to recognize and receive the graces made available to us.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is often credited with the revival of a beautiful form of prayer called Lectio Divina. In a nutshell, Lectio Divina is a meditative form of prayer which uses Scripture as the fuel for the meditation.
We recently had an excellent event at St. Cecilia Church, called “How To Develop Deeper Prayer Life.” It included two guided prayer sessions. One was an Ignatian style of prayer and the second was Lectio Divina. Both were excellent experiences but for this column, I will focus on our Lectio Divina which used The Road to Emmaus as the fuel for the meditation.
Lectio Divina follows a process which is frequently called the four “R’s.” First, you read the selected passage two or three times, with an ear toward a word or phrase which strikes you as something to which you are being drawn. You may not even get through the whole passage the second or third time through.
Once you have settled on a word or phrase, you pause and reflect on it, asking God to reveal why you seem to be drawn toward it.
After you have had some time in reflection, you are ready for the third “R,” which is to relate the meaning of the word or phrase to your life. This can often be a very intimate union with God.
Finally, we then react to it in a way that manifests the fruit of the prayer in our life. This is the fourth “R,” which can also be called the resolution. You read, reflect, relate and react to the message God has for you in the Scripture passage you have selected.
At this event I attended, as we meditated on the Road to Emmaus, my mind was once again drawn toward the imagery of the Mass in the passage. But then my mind was drawn toward the Mass as prayer. We were praying in the church, so I looked up at the tabernacle, the crucifix, the altar and the ambo, and it struck me that the four “R’s” of Lectio Divina could just as easily apply to the Mass.
At each Mass, we have everything set forth in the Road to Emmaus passage. We read selected Scripture passages from the Old Testament, as well as the Gospels. After that, we reflect on those readings. This is done during and usually for a brief time after the homily.
After that, we have the most intimate possible relation we can have with Jesus on this side of eternity, when we receive the Eucharist. This is the “breaking of the bread” in the Road to Emmaus and this is when we have the opportunity to receive the grace that opens our eyes.
After Communion, our intimate relation with God, we are to react just as Cleopas and the other disciple reacted, we are to go share the amazingly good news of Christ’s victory over death and His invitation to eternal life for each one of us.
Just as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has reminded us of this beautiful way to pray with Scripture, he has reminded us of a beautiful way to participate in the Mass.
However, it is essential that we apply all four “R’s” to both Lectio Divina and the Mass. Leaving out one “R” will hinder the graces available to us. I think most of us do a pretty good job with the first three “R’s” in prayer and at Mass. It is the fourth “R” that seems to get lost in the shuffle sometimes.
By being mindful of the fourth “R,” we can remind ourselves that we must react to Christ, whether he comes to us in the quiet of personal prayer or whether he comes to us in the peak and pinnacle of our faith, the Eucharist, through the greatest prayer of the Church, the Mass.
If more of us reacted to the grace of the Mass and the Eucharist more often, the Catholic Church would be growing steadily and not just with numbers, but with disciples. In fact, at the conclusion of the Mass, the celebrant has the option to send us on our way with several different dismissals selected by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, one of which is, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
Regardless of the dismissal used by the celebrant, we should be living the last “R” and glorifying God with our lives, sharing the grace we have received with our family members, friends and everyone else. If we do this, our children will stay Catholic and those who have wandered away from the Church will return.
So I suggest that a great way to approach the Mass is the same way we approach Lectio Divina, and in doing so, we will grow in our personal relationship with Christ and become evangelists like Cleopas, the Apostles and the early disciples who introduced the world to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.