From the Pastor – May 16, 2021

Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs. (Mark 16:19-20)

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, which is the elevation of Christ into heaven by His own power in the presence of His disciples.  In Sacred Scripture, this occurred on the fortieth day after the Resurrection – which was actually last Thursday, traditionally called “Ascension Thursday.”  However, the celebration of the Ascension has been moved to Sunday to encourage a more active participation in the Feast.  With all of the new TSA rules, I guess Jesus’ flight got delayed for three days!

The Ascension was prophesized by Christ’s own words. In John 6:63, Christ asks the Jews: “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before?” and in 20:17, He says to Mary Magdalen: “Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren, and say to them: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God.”

Tradition has consecrated the place of the Ascension as Mount Olivet near Jerusalem, since the disciples are described as returning to Jerusalem after the Ascension from “the mount that is called Olivet.” (Acts 1:12).  Christian piety memorialized the event by erecting a basilica over the site.  The original basilica was destroyed by the Persians in 614, rebuilt in the eighth century, destroyed again, and rebuilt a second time by the crusaders. This second basilica was also destroyed by the Muslims, leaving only an octagonal structure that encloses the stone said to bear the imprint of the feet of Christ.  It is now used as a small oratory.

What does the Ascension mean to us theologically?  It meant a greater blessing for the Church.  While Jesus walked the earth in the flesh, he was only present in one place at any one time.  After the Ascension, He could be present everywhere through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Gospel says that Jesus “raised up His hands and blessed them.”  Because of the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, every priest in the world – configured to Christ through ordination – will raise up his hands this week and bless the people.  At Sunday Mass, Jesus will be present when we gather in His Name, in the Word proclaimed, in the Eucharist and in the Priesthood.  By the Ascension, Jesus opened the way for us to be present with Him in a much greater way.

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty