In the Catholic tradition, a veil is not just a covering. Obviously, it does conceal something or someone. But it also reveals. We veil what is sacred – to reveal it as sacred. Thus, the chalice is often veiled not because it’s ugly (one hopes) or because we’re forbidden to look at it. It’s veiled to reveal its sacred purpose as the vessel of Christ’s Precious Blood. A woman is veiled not because she is ugly (one hopes) or because we’re forbidden to look at her. She’s veiled to reveal her dignity as a bride on her wedding day or as a vowed bride of Christ.
This Catholic view of veiling provides a way to understand the appearances of our risen Lord. He is veiled in body and word. But the veil of the resurrection not only conceals but also reveals.
There is a physical veil over the risen One. When he appears to Mary Magdalene at the tomb and to the Apostles at the Sea of Tiberias, they don’t know him at first. Similarly, the disciples on the road Emmaus “were prevented from recognizing him.” At the very moment they want to see him most, our Lord approaches his followers in a hidden, veiled manner.
Further, his questions function as the verbal veiling of his identity. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” he asks the Magdalene. “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” he asks the Apostles. On the road to Emmaus, he joins the debate already in progress: “What are you discussing as you walk along?”
That one question stops them dead in their tracks and reveals to them – and to us – the depth of their devotion: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” His veil draws them onward: “What sort of things?”
Now, our Lord never asks a question he doesn’t know the answer to. He asks questions not to gain information but to impart revelation. He asks questions not because he needs to know but because his disciples – past and present – need to reflect on him and deepen in their desire for him. His questions both conceal his identity and reveal our heart’s longing for him.
So, the purpose of this hiddenness is a greater intimacy. After all, “Hide and Seek” is a game that lovers play. He veils himself not to frustrate but to entice. His hidden presence leads his disciples to a greater desire for him. Thus, they plead, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” His identity was still concealed, but their desire for him had been revealed. Their hearts were burning as he spoke to them on the way.
“And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” Here we have a clear reference to the Eucharist, the ultimate veil. At once they both see and don’t see him.
In the Eucharist, the breaking of the bread, our Lord is at once both concealed and revealed. He is truly hidden under the form of bread. We don’t see him as he is or as we shall one day see him. And yet we do see him. When we gaze at the Host, we do in fact look upon Jesus Christ. This veil reveals him as our daily bread, our supersubstantial bread, our bread for The Day. The Eucharistic veil reveals him as food for the journey, to nourish us on our pilgrim way.
“With that their eyes were opened. . .” The eyes of Adam and Eve had likewise been opened. The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “was a delight to the eyes.” But the eating of it only opened their eyes to evil. That opening was in fact the blindness of sin. The Eucharist now undoes that blindness and truly opens our eyes. Christ under the veil of bread is a delight to the eyes. And when we eat the fruit of the tree of the Cross, our eyes are opened to his truth, goodness, and beauty.
The Eucharist becomes the hinge, the turning point of the Emmaus story, as it should be in our lives. The disciples, once headed to the West, to the dying of the light, and away from the holy city, now turn back to the East, to the rising sun, and race back to the expectant Church in Jerusalem. The veil had opened their eyes. Now they race to enlighten others with the good news of the resurrection.
The whole scene represents the warp and woof of the Christian life. Christ veils himself so that we’ll long for him, seek him, and grow in desire for him. He likewise reveals himself to create within us an apostolic zeal.
The Eucharist is central to this dynamic. It is most of all the veil that reveals, a symbol but also the reality, the bread that is really the Body. Thus, he continues to be made known to us in the breaking of the bread – if only we continue to plead with him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over!”
*Image: The Supper at Emmaus by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, about 1615–1625 [Getty Center Museum, Los Angeles, CA]