Liturgy for Sundays and Main Feasts
The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Reflections on the Liturgy of the Day – from L’Année Liturgique, by Dom Prosper Guéranger
Our risen Jesus has to visit His disciples and bid them farewell, for they are to be left for some years longer in this vale of tears.
They are in the cenacle, impatiently awaiting His coming. Suddenly He appears in their midst. Of His Mother’s joy, who would dare to speak? As to the disciples and the holy women, they fall down and affectionately adore the Master, who has come to take His leave of them. He deigns to sit down to table with them; He even condescends to eat with them, not, indeed, to give them proof of His Resurrection, for He knows that they have no further doubts of the mystery; but now that He is about to sit at the right hand of the Father, He would give them this endearing mark of familiarity. Oh admirable repast! in which Mary, for the last time in this world, is seated side by side with Her Jesus, and in which the Church, (represented by the disciples and the holy women) is honoured by the visible presidency of her Head and Spouse.
What tongue could describe the respect, the recollected mien, the attention of the guests? With what love must they have riveted their eyes on the dear Master! They long to hear Him speak; His parting words will be so treasured! He does not keep them long in suspense: He speaks, but His language is not what they perhaps expected it to be, all affection. He begins by reminding them of the incredulity wherewith they heard of His Resurrection. He is going to entrust His apostles with the most sublime mission ever given to man; He would, therefore, prepare them for it by humbling them. A few days hence they are to be the lights of the world; the world must believe what they preach, believe it on their word, believe it without having seen, believe what the apostles alone have seen. It is by faith that man approaches his God: they themselves were once without it, and Jesus would have them now express their sorrow for their former incredulity, and thus base their apostolate on humility.
Then, assuming a tone of authority, such as none but a God could take, He says to them: “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not, shall be condemned.” And how shall they accomplish this mission of preaching the Gospel to the whole world? How shall they persuade men to believe their word? By miracles. “And these signs, continues Jesus, shall follow them that believe: in My name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover.” He would have miracles to be the foundation of His Church, just as He had made them the argument of His own divine mission. The suspension of the laws of nature proves to us that it is God who speaks; we must receive the word, and humbly believe it.
He reminds them of the Father’s promise; “that promise, says He, which ye have heard by My mouth; for John, indeed, baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
But the hour of separation is come. Jesus rises: His blessed Mother, and the hundred and twenty persons assembled there, prepare to follow Him. The cenacle is situated on Mount Sion, which is one of the two hills within the walls of Jerusalem. The holy group traverses the city, making for the eastern gate, which opens on the valley of Josaphat. It is the last time that Jesus walks through the faithless city. He is invisible to the eyes of the people who denied Him, but visible to His disciples, and goes before them, as heretofore the pillar of fire led on the Israelites. How beautiful and imposing a sight! Mary, the disciples, and the holy women accompanying Jesus in His heavenward journey, which is to lead Him to the right hand of His eternal Father!
They reflected on the thoughts which Mary must have had during these last moments of her Son’s presence. They used to ask themselves, which of the two sentiments was uppermost in Her maternal heart, –sadness, that She was to see Her Jesus no more, or joy, that He was now going to enter into the glory He so infinitely deserved. The answer was soon found: had not Jesus said to His disciples: “If ye loved Me, ye would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father.” Now, who loved Jesus as Mary did? The Mother’s heart, then, was full of joy at parting with Him. How was She to think of Herself, when there was question of the triumph of Her Son and Her God? Could She that had witnessed the scene of Calvary, do less than desire to see Him glorified, whom She knew to be the sovereign Lord of all things, Him whom, but a short time ago, She had seen rejected by His people, blasphemed, and dying the most ignominious and cruel of deaths?
According to a tradition, which has been handed down from the earliest ages of Christianity, it is midday, the same hour at which He was raised up, when nailed to His cross. Giving His blessed Mother a look of filial affection, and another of fond farewell to the rest of the group that stand around Him, Jesus raises up His hands and blesses them all. While thus blessing them, He is raised up from the ground whereon He stands, and ascends into heaven. Their eyes follow Him, until a cloud comes and receives Him out of their sight.
The disciples are still steadfastly looking up towards heaven, when lo! two angels, clad in white robes, appear to them, saying: “Ye men of Galilee! why stand ye looking up to heaven? This Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as ye have seen Him going into heaven!” He has ascended, a Saviour; He is to return, a Judge: between these two events is comprised the whole life of the Church on earth. We are therefore living under the reign of Jesus as our Saviour, for He has said: “God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved by Him,” and to carry out this merciful design He has just been giving to His disciples: the mission to go throughout the whole world, and invite men, while yet there is time, to accept the mystery of salvation.
Lesson from the Acts of the Apostles. Ch. I
The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day on which, giving commandments by the Holy Ghost to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up. To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them and speaking of the kingdom of God. And eating together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard (saith he) by my mouth; for John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. They, therefore, who were come together asked him, saying: Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? But he said to them: It is not for you to know the times or moments which the Father hath put in his own power; but you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments.
Who also said: Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken from you into heaven, shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Mark Ch. XVI.
At that time: Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were at table; and He upbraided them with their incredulity and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them who had seen Him after He was risen again. And He said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned. And these signs, shall follow them that believe: In My name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues: they shall take up serpents: and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. And the Lord Jesus after He had spoken to them was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God. But they going preached everywhere; the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.
Today the Church withdraws the paschal candle, figure of Jesus, Light of the world.
Farewell, dear paschal candle, that hast gladdened us with thy lovely flame! Thou hast sweetly spoken to us of Jesus, our light in the darkness of our pilgrimage; and now thou leavest us, telling us that He is no longer to be seen here below, and that we must follow Him to heaven, if we would again behold Him. Farewell, loved symbol made by the hand of our mother, the Church, that thou mightest speak to our hearts! The impressions excited within us, as we looked upon thee, during this holy season of Easter, shall not be forgotten. Thou wast the herald of our Pasch; thy leaving reminds us that the glad time is drawing to its close.
A tradition, handed down from the early ages, and confirmed by the revelations of the saints, tells us that the Ascension of our Lord took place at the hour of noon. The Carmelites of St. Teresa’s reform honour this pious tradition by assembling in the choir, at the hour of midday on the Ascension, and spending it in the contemplation of this last of Jesus’ mysteries, following Him, in thought and desire, to the throne of His glory.