From the Pastor – May 29, 2022

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them.  As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.  They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God. (Lk 24:50-53)

Today we celebrate the Solemnity 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.  In terms of our current state of air travel, I guess Jesus’ flight got postponed 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 and is 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 today 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 all us to be present to Him in many different ways.

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty