ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE ASCENSION
This week in the South we are celebrating the solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven. I say in the “south” because if you were attending any Church north of the District of Columbia you would be celebrating the sixth Sunday of Easter. Long ago when most of the country transferred the Ascension to Sunday, the bishops of the northeastern part of the United States chose to keep this Solemnity on the fortieth day after Easter which would have been last Thursday. Ascension Thursday marks that strange moment when the Lord ascended (under his own power, mind you) into heaven where he rejoined his and our Father, the Spirit, and the holy women and men he left when he came to earth. So we find ourselves paradoxically recalling a moment in history when the Lord chose t o leave us. But he did not really leave us and the Gospel today indicates, he said to his disciples, “lo, i am with you always, even until the end of time.” So what gives here? What assumptions can we make about the ascension?
First, he was really just finishing off that last ounce of his humanity by physically taking his leave like we all must some day, except there was no separation of body and soul as there is for us. His physical presence for those thirty-three years was ended with his Ascension into heaven but His presence in the Eucharist and in the world remains. The disciples and friends needed to adjust to the reality that he was no longer physically present as they had experienced him. They began on Ascension Thursday the solemn nine days of prayer and meditation, awaiting the promised coming of the Holy Spirit and perhaps even hoping that Jesus would descend again, come again, soon. Mary was with the apostles during this time between Ascension and Pentecost. We often refer to Mary as the first among the Apostles.
Before physically ascending, Jesus gave his disciples and us a mandate – “go forth into the world and preach the good news.” That task was made appreciably easier for the early Church because of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost but an assumption about the ascension was that the Lord needed to leave before the spirit could and should come. It is a wonderful solemnity and I, for one, am happy that it was transferred to the sixth Sunday so that more and more Catholics could hear the readings and celebrate the occasion. Listen, contemplate, and wait!
Tags: Liturgical Calendar