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What the Lordís Ascension Means
Crisis Magazine ^
| May 9, 2013
| Regis Martin
Posted on 05/09/2013 5:20:14 AM PDT by NYer
Of all the conundrums that have come to vex and confound us, there are three that continue uniquely to rivet the attention. Each provides a key to the great and enduring realities of the Christian life. What can we know (Faith)? What ought we to do (Charity)? And, finally, in whom may we trust (Hope)? If, in the evening of our lives, answers to the first two are still not to be found, it may be too late to begin inquiries about them. But in the light of Ascension Thursday, that stupendous feast we celebrate forty days after the Lords Resurrection, we have got the answer to the third and final question, although few of the faithful these days pay much heed to what it means.
Well, what does the Lords Ascension mean? This ultimate conquest of sin and death, does it even signify? It does indeed and the answer is nothing less than the blinding affirmation that we are bound for glory, destined to experience a land beyond the stars that will overflow with the radiance of unending bliss and transfiguring joy. Pope Benedict XVI put it very well when, thirty years ago in Dogma and Preaching, he described the Churchs celebration of the feast as the expression of our belief that in Christ human nature, the humanity in which we all share, has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God.
Here, without doubt, is the supreme moment in the life of Christ, the final climactic event to the work of his Redemption. Face to face with the mystery intended from the beginning, which is nothing less than the Incarnate-Son sitting in glory alongside the Father, we too await a common destiny, that of God himself coming to confer the crown of everlasting life upon those who love him. It means that even as Christ belongs no more to a fallen and corrupt world, so also will we who cleave to Christ find refuge forever in the arms of God. Is it not passing strange, however, that so often this is the very thing most of us are unlikely ever to be thinking about at the moment? What a perverse silence has fallen upon us in the face of so triumphant a prospect!
One would think people already anchored to the event of the Lords Resurrection, accustomed therefore to be ready at a moments notice for the sudden return of the Bridegroom, would be the first to anneal themselves in hope. But in order for Christ to come back, crashing through the ceiling of the cosmos one final and triumphant time, he needs first to go away. Isnt that, after all, the whole point of the Ascension? To return to his Father only after having first gathered up the shards of scattered humanity in order to present the whole redeemed actuality before the Throne of Victory? What else is there for us in the Lords endbut our beginning?
The Scriptures are wonderfully plainspoken about all this, by the way, telling us that, moments before the ascent back to the Father, thus completing the circuit begun thirty-three years before with that daring descent into the brokenness of our world, Christ leaves two promises in the care of the Church he will shortly fashion from his pierced and crucified side. I go to prepare a place for you, he first tells his disciples, that where I am you too may be (Jn 14:3). Followed by this sublime assurance: I shall not leave you orphans (Jn 14:18).
Two promises are thus made, one for eternity, the other for time. Both entrusted to those whom he loved to the very end. First there is the gift of everlasting life, then the capacity to endure even this life. Each locked in the treasury of Holy Church, Christs spotless Bride, whose keys unlock all the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Before taking leave of his disciples, in other words, Christ evinces this great anxiety lest they think he is merely tossing them to the four winds. Instead, he tells them, the disciples, including all who have been summoned to come afteryes, even unto the consummation of the worldthat we shall be guided and shaped across the great and fearful sea of history by a very special wind, namely, the breath of Gods own Spirit, who will unfailingly impart enough comfort and counsel for us to overcome the world. I am with you always, he tells us, until the end of the world (Mt 28:19). The form or modality this being-with-you takes, of course, is no less than the Third Person of the Trinity, the One who from all eternity spirates the love of Father and Son. He is Gods presence within us, in our innermost being, even as he remains entirely transcendent to us.
All of which, of course, crucially depends on Christ being raised up in the midst of his astonished apostles, only to vanish in a cloud that seemingly carries him straight to the Father. Because until that moment of actual Ascension, truly the pivotal turning point in our relationship with God, the unleashing of the Holy Spirit may not take place. The release of the Spiritthat hovering and mysterious Presence who, in the exquisite imagery of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright / wingscan only take place when Christ in his blessed humanity is raised to receive the praise and honor of the Father. Only then may the promised Pentecostal fire fall into the gap, the time-bound interval between Ascension and Parousia. Between the time of already and not yet, there necessarily falls the bright shadow of the Spirit, whose sending awaits the Ascension of the Son.
How well our ancestors in the faith understood this when they placed the Christ of the Ascension in the dome of their churches. Like a lance aimed at the heart of God, as someone once said of the art and impulse of the Gothic, here was the very point of the spear itself, thrust through the dome that opens onto the Godhead. Our ancestors realized with the certitude and intuition of real belief that an entirely new beginning has been struck, that the last days had surely come. That he who was the splendor of the Father, the effulgence of eternity itselfwho had, indeed, first burst into the darkness of a fallen worldwas now bathed in a light and warmth so incandescent as to illumine all creation.
What the feast of the Ascension means is that the One who had to leave us for a time, even to the extent of taking physical leave of those whom he most loved in the world, is thereby much closer to us now. It is simply not accurate to speak of the Ascension in terms of even the briefest of absences, as though Christ were in any way missing from the world he first suffered to redeem. Inasmuch as he holds the entire cosmos in his hands, Pope Benedict reminds us, the Lords Ascension means that Christ has not gone far away from us, but that now, thanks to the fact that he is with the Father, he is close to each one of us forever.
When we speak of heaven, therefore, we do so in terms of going home to Jesus, who remains at the deepest level the place we designate as heaven. And by thus entering into his life, mysteriously prolonged now in his Body the Church, we become citizens of that other world. All the way to heaven, is heaven, Jesus tells Catherine of Siena. Because I am the Way. His having first gone there himself to prepare a placethat is what we mean by the Lords Ascension. From that lofty pinnacle above the careworn world, Christ is enabled thus to stoop once more to lead us by the hand, shepherding us to the place where, from all eternity, he will never tire of telling us how completely it shall burnish and perfect our Easter joy.
TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; Theology
posted on 05/09/2013 5:20:14 AM PDT
To: netmilsmom; thefrankbaum; Tax-chick; GregB; saradippity; Berlin_Freeper; Litany; SumProVita; ...
"God has Gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet." (ps 47:5)
We see in this icon, Christ, encircled by His eternal Mandela, being taken up into heaven in glory, supported by the angelic chariot. The church- the apostles, with the Mother of Our Lord, standing in the center- gaze upwards where, as their master disappears. They proclaim that Christ would come again in the same way as they saw Him go. Our Lady, herself, symbolizes the church, and she is depicted with her hands outstretched in a gesture of prayer and intercession. St. Paul is traditionally included in this gathering of the church, although he was not historically present on this day. This icon is full of light and joyfulness, reflecting this victory. The extensive gold background speaks of the glory of heaven. The strong, bright colors reflect confidence, happiness and hope.
HOLY DAY OF OBLIGATION!
posted on 05/09/2013 5:20:57 AM PDT
(Beware the man of a single book - St. Thomas Aquinas)
Fr. Zs annual rant about Ascension Thursday Sunday
We know with holy and Catholic Faith that what was not assumed, was not redeemed (St. Gregory of Nazianzus – +389/90).
Our humanity, both body and soul, was assumed by the Son into an unbreakable bond with His divinity.
When Christ rose from the tomb, our humanity rose in Him.
When He ascended to heaven, so also did we ascend.
In Christ, our humanity now sits at the Fathers right hand. His presence, there, is our great promise and hope, here. It is already fulfilled, but not yet in its fullness. That hope informs our trials in this life.
The liturgical celebration of Ascension by the Latin Church has become a little confused in recent years.
In the post-Conciliar calendar used with the Novus Ordo editions of the Missale Romanum for this coming Sunday we ought - in my opinion – to be observing the 7th Sunday of Easter. Ascension Thursday should fall, appropriately, on Thursday. However, by the same logical that dislocated Epiphany (Twelfth Night) from its proper place twelve days, appropriately, after Christmas, some years ago the Holy See allowed bishops to transfer the celebration of Ascension Thursday to the following Sunday.
I call this liturgical caper Ascension Thursday Sunday.
Those who are participating at Holy Mass with the 1962MR avoid all this. Ascension Thursday is, logically, on Thursday.
Since we should, when examining issues, pay attention to cult, code and creed, and since we have looked at the theological point of the liturgical observance of the Ascension (creed and cult) let’s look also at some law (code).
In the 1983 Code of Canon Law, can. 1246, Ascension Thursday is indicated as one of the few Holy Days of Obligation.
Nota bene: There are some dioceses where Ascension Thursday has not been transferred.
Among them are – I believe – Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia. To be sure, look at your parish bulletin from last Sunday, check your diocese’s newspaper, call your local diocesan chancery, etc. In other words, do some homework if you are not sure. In those places, you fulfill your obligation by going to Mass either tomorrow, Ascension Thursday, or tonight, Wednesday, the Vigil of Ascension.
I have a separate post about fulfilling one’s obligation for Ascension Thursday when travelling, which may involve being in a place or being from a place where the Thursday obligation remains because Ascension wasn’t, in that place, transferred. Go HERE.
The bishops who did transfer the feast to Sunday were, I am sure, hoping to expose more people to the mystery of the Ascension of the Lord. Probably included in that calculation was also the notion that it is tooo haaard for people to go to Mass also on Thursday. ”Mass twice in a week? Tooo haaard!”
I am no doubt under the the influence of having read so much St. Augustine. My present view of humanity suggests that when Holy Mother Church lowers expectations regarding the liturgy, people get the hint and lower their own personal expectations of themselves. They get the hint that the feast just isnt that important. As a matter of fact, maybe none of this Catholic stuff, with all these rules, is that important. This is what happened with lowering expectations about Friday abstinence (hardly anyone pays attention to it anymore), going to confession regularly and confession all mortal sins, the Eucharistic fast, dressing appropriately for Mass, etc. etc. etc. If you change how people pray (or tell them they don’t have to) you change the way people believe. There is a reciprocal relationship between our prayer and our belief. Lex ordandi – Lex credendi.
I am left with the opinion that the option to dislocate such an important and ancient feast falls into the category of a Really Bad Idea. As a matter of fact, it isn’t a Really Bad Idea just because it could undermine our Catholic identity, it is also a Really Bad Idea because it smacks of arrogant novelty.
The celebration of Ascension on a particular Thursday is rooted in Scripture. Celebration on Thursday reflects the ancient practice of the Churches of the East and West alike. We read in Holy Scripture that nine days, not six, intervened between the Lords physical ascent to the Fathers right hand and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. If Pentecost was the 50th day, seven weeks – as the ancients counted the starting day itself is included so you get 50 rather than 49), then Ascension Thursday was fixed at the 40th day after Easter.
The observance of Ascension Thursday was fixed from about the end of the 4th century. In the Latin West, St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) called it Quadragesima (fortieth) Ascensionis. In the Greek East, St. Gregory of Nyssa spoke of it in 388. Thats only a 16 century tradition.
And how, I ask you, is transferring Ascension Thursday to Sunday in conformity with the “spirit of Vatican II” as actually printed in the documents of Vatican II? Didn’t the Council Fathers in Sacrosanctum Concilium require that in the reform of the liturgy? Check our SC 23.
23. That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimate progress Careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral. Also the general laws governing the structure and meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults conceded to various places. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.
As far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent regions must be carefully avoided.
Even though that paragraph may refer more to the structure of Mass itself, would the “spirit” of such a requirement not apply to the observance of a feast with such theological import for the East and the West?
Eastern Christians havent transferred Ascension. What must the Easterners think of this Latin innovation?
But lets be more positive.
With the third, 2002 edition of the Missale Romanum we have once again a Mass for the Vigil of Ascension. This wasnt in the 1970 or 1975 editions.
Moreover, there are now proper Masses for the days (nine? six?) after Ascension until Pentecost, most having alternative collects depending on whether or not in that region Ascension is transferred to Sunday.
In the new printing of the 3rd edition there will also be an option for a longer celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost, in keeping with the ancient use similar to the Vigil of Easter, with various readings. There is a parallel between Easter and Pentecost for the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, which in the Latin Church were of old conferred in the same rite. But I digress.
Thank God for Pope Benedict and the provisions in Summorum Pontificum by which he emancipated us and expanded the use also of the pre-Conciliar liturgy.
Whether you prefer the older form of Mass or the newer, Pope Benedict is working to heal the rupture that took place after the Council in our worship of Almighty God.
The older use will exert – is exerting – a gravitational pull on the celebration of the newer forms and the whole Church will benefit.
His scriptis, Really Bad Idea or not we nevertheless conform our celebration of Ascension to the Ordo, the liturgical calendar, established for the diocese (or religious institute) for either the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form.
Thus endeth this year’s Ascension Thursday rant.
Thank you for your kind attention.
posted on 05/09/2013 6:12:34 AM PDT
(Beware the man of a single book - St. Thomas Aquinas)
posted on 05/09/2013 6:46:58 AM PDT
(Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGS Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
Sadly, more and more dioceses have moved this feast day to the nearest Sunday, out of conveninece. Hartford still kept the feast to today.
posted on 05/09/2013 11:57:02 AM PDT
("Jesus talked to us as individuals"-Jim Vicevich/Thanks JimV!)
To: NYer; Salvation
The image is not of Ascension but of Transfiguration. The iconography is similar, but we see the Old Testament prophets and the stricken figures of the Apostles in the latter. This particular painting also includes the Miracle of the Possessed Boy in the foreground. Thanks to Salvation for noticing.
Oil on wood, 405 x 278 cm
posted on 05/09/2013 6:24:14 PM PDT
(fear them not)
Thanks, annalex. My eyes immediately looked at the hands for wounds. And I saw none — so pinged you.
posted on 05/09/2013 6:39:16 PM PDT
("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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