Let’s begin with a couple of assumptions. We know that the twelve Apostles were present at the Last Supper but was anyone else there? Luke and John do not say, but Matthew(26:20) and Mark(14:17) tell us that only the twelve where present. This makes sense for two reasons.
First, besides the Eucharistic Sacrament, Jesus also instituted the Priesthood at this meal and Scripture gives us no indication that anyone else was “ordained” besides the Apostles. Secondly, it was customary to celebrate Passover as a family or in small groups of friends; it was not a large communal celebration; it was intimate. It is safe to assume, then, that Cleopas and his companion, both called “disciples,” not “apostles,” were not there.
Why does this matter? Luke ends his story telling us, He was made known to them in the breaking of bread. How did Cleopas and his companion know this breaking of bread if they were not present at the Last Supper? Better still, how do we KNOW Jesus in the breaking of bread?
As with any piece of Scripture, we have to be cautious about examining it out of context. The story of Emmaus is one whole and united story and it was recognized by many Church Fathers—and is still considered by many Catholic scripture scholars today—as “Liturgical.”
Notice how Jesus begins His encounter by drawing them into His presence and then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures. We do the same at Mass. We enter into His presence—the Church—filled with our worldly concerns, then, drawn into the exposition of Salvation History and how Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecies, we come to know Him, His mission and His presence in the Liturgy of the Word. Even the homily is meant to be an encounter with Jesus—like what we see in the Gospel of Emmaus—with the priest or deacon, by virtue of their ordination, walking in the place of Christ.
We, like Cleopas and his companion, come to know Jesus first in “breaking open the Word” so that we can then know Him in the breaking of bread.