of the Lord
Today – Sunday, May 4 – most of the dioceses in the United States are celebrating the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The Ascension is when Jesus Christ, under His own power and in the presence of His disciples, elevated into heaven on the 40th day after His Resurrection. From this point, we look forward to Pentecost, which is next Sunday, May 11 (also Mother’s Day).
Technically, this solemnity should have been celebrated on Thursday, May 1; which was the 40th day after Easter Sunday. However, the bishops of the United States (and the world?) have the option of transferring certain Solemnities and Feasts from a weekday to the next Sunday. (I imagine the pastoral significance would be to make it easier for people to fulfill the obligation of attending Mass for the Feast without having to worry about missing work; the merits of which can be debated.)
Not only is Mount Olivet the site of the Ascension, but it is also the setting for many other important scenes of Jesus’ life:
- when Jesus wept for Jerusalem (Lk 19:36-44)
- where Jesus cursed the fig tree (Mt 21:18-22)
- the prophecies (destruction of the temple; ruin of Jerusalem; & the end of the world) in the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24)
- the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani at the foot of Mount Olivet (Lk 22:39-45)
So, why did Jesus have to ascend to heaven? For that answer, let’s take a look at what St. Thomas Aquinas had to say. St. Thomas Aquinas is BRILLIANT, of course. And in his Summa Theologica, he answers several questions, including:
“Whether it was fitting for Christ to ascend into heaven”
“Did he ascend by His own power?”
“Whether Christ’s Ascension is the cause of our salvation”
Let me provide just a few answers that he gives:
- Christ’s Ascencsion was fitting in order to increase our faith; to uplift our hope of our own ascension; and to direct our charity toward heavenly things.
- By ascending into Heaven, Christ has acquired for us the worthiness of a perpetual heavenly dwelling place.
St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, had a church built at the top of Mount Olivet; but this was destroyed by the Persians. The church was rebuilt in the 8th Century, and destroyed again. The Crusaders in the 11th Century rebuilt the church a second time; however, Muslims destroyed it, leaving only an octagonal structure.
This octagonal structure is now an oratory and encloses a stone which is said to bear the imprint of the foot of Jesus Christ – the last time He touched this earth, until He comes again. (Looking at the photo below, if I use my imagination, I can see a footprint from a right foot. I guess it’s easier to see in person.)
The photo above was taken from www.luffman.us/bobjones/bob-J1.
For more GREAT photos of Jerusalem and Mount Olivet, go to IanandWendy.com.