Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Ascension of the Lord (A)

"Ascension of Christ"
by Guariento d'Arpo, c. 1344
Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Readings and Commentary: [3]

 Reading 1: Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus,
I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught
until the day he was taken up,
after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit
to the apostles whom he had chosen.
He presented himself alive to them
by many proofs after he had suffered,
appearing to them during forty days
and speaking about the kingdom of God.
While meeting with them,
he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for “the promise of the Father
about which you have heard me speak;
for John baptized with water,
but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

When they had gathered together they asked him,
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Commentary on Acts 1:1-11

We have today the introductory comments of St. Luke as he begins the Acts of the Apostles.  Like any well written story, he connects the events that have just taken place in his first volume- The Gospel of Luke, with what will follow.

Using the interval of days, Luke links the resurrection, Christ’s glorification, and his ascension with the appearance of the Holy Spirit – the Pascal Mystery.  Christ’s departure marks the end of his direct involvement with the Apostles, except for his appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus.  The passage concludes with a unique description of the actual event or Jesus being taken into heaven. 
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

R. (6) God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

All you peoples, clap your hands,
shout to God with cries of gladness,
For the Lord, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth.
R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
the Lord, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our king, sing praise.
R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

For king of all the earth is God;
sing hymns of praise.
God reigns over the nations,
God sits upon his holy throne.
R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
R. Alleluia.
Commentary on Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

We hear once more the praise of the 47th Psalm (the same verses used at Mass yesterday – Saturday of the sixth week of Easter) but with a different Antiphon.  Since we celebrate Christ’s Ascension, the refrain uses the sixth verse to announce His entry to heaven.

Reading II: Ephesians 1:17-23

Brothers and sisters:
May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation
resulting in knowledge of him.
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
what are the riches of glory
in his inheritance among the holy ones,
and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe,
in accord with the exercise of his great might,
which he worked in Christ,
raising him from the dead
and seating him at his right hand in the heavens,
far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion,
and every name that is named
not only in this age but also in the one to come.
And he put all things beneath his feet
and gave him as head over all things to the church,
which is his body,
the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
Commentary on Eph 1:17-23

The selection provided is part of St. Paul’s introductory comments to the Ephesians.  His focus in this passage underlines the enlightenment flowing from the Holy Spirit.  The final sentences provide an understanding of the power assumed by the Lord as he ascends to the Father.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Commentary on Mt 28:16-20

This passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew presents “The Commissioning” monologue that concludes this Gospel.  The doubting disciples are reassured that all the Lord had predicted, all the prophets had foretold had come to pass and the Lord now assumed his place with the Father.  He then sends them out to continue His earthly mission.  His command to them is an important one. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father,

and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  In this statement we receive the proper “form” and institution of the Sacrament of Baptism and the command to bring all nations to follow the Lord.  He finally reassures them that he will be with them always.


We ask the question on this solemn day; “Why was more not made of the Lord’s ascension to the Father?”  While it is referred to in scripture in some places, it is not even mentioned in the Gospel of St. Matthew or St. John’s for that matter.  In St. Mark’s Gospel it is given only one verse (and some scholars say this may have been a later addition, not even intended by the author when it was first published.).  In the scripture St. Luke (Lk 24:46-53) speaks of the event.  But unlike the resurrection and even the birth of Jesus, this event, the final event in the Lord’s presence among us, we are only given a few verses.  Even the St. Paul’s support speaks of the Lord’s ascension as the necessary conclusion to Christ’s ministry on earth rather than a tremendous event.  Why is that we wonder?

We look to our next most important source, the Patristic Fathers, the earliest theologians; those mighty minds that first considered the very nature of Christ and His Church.  We find little written about the importance of the Ascension of Christ from that source.  St. Thomas Aquinas did treat the subject in the Suma Theologica  in the Third Part (Tertia Pars) considering the life of Christ he devotes a question to the topic (Question 57). While asking about the rationale and effect of Christ’s ascension, he does not question the reason for its lack of prominence.

Having found little to answer the question from pre-existing sources, we must use our own understanding of Christ and of human nature to infer the reasons.  First we look at the situation in real-time, and set in its historical perspective.  We know that the Lord ascended on the fourth day following his resurrection from the dead (“The elevation of Christ into heaven by His own power in presence of His disciples the fortieth day after His Resurrection. It is narrated in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.”[4]).  The disciples have just gone from anguish at the Lord’s death to joy at his promised resurrection.  The event that fulfilled God’s promise and was proof of salvation.  What is the last thing they would want?  They would not want to loose him again.

In a really enjoyable story, the ending is “…and they all lived happily ever after.”  The fact that Christ died and rose from the dead is the happy ending.  The Ascension of the Lord, even though it was foretold as well, was not something either the disciples or the early Church wanted to dwell upon.  It meant that Jesus, the man, the living proof of God’s inestimable love, was no longer with them in body.

The Ascension of the Lord is a happy day for us.  It is truly the happy ending that had to be.  Jesus returned as he said he would.  He left his final instructions with his friends before departing “to take his seat at the right hand of the Father.”  We rejoice today in that knowledge because it was necessary that he go on before us to prepare that place were we and all who walk in faith hope one day to follow.  Even though it does not consume volumes of scripture, we rejoice as the Lord returns to the Father for us.


[2] The picture used today is “Ascension of Christ” by Guariento d'Arpo, c. 1344
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.
[4] The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York, Ascension, Written by John J. Wynne. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas.

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