Today is the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Mk 16:19; Lk 24:51; and Acts 1:9), occurring 40 days following Easter. However, in the United States, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference has decreed that the commemoration may be transferred to this coming Sunday (the 7th Sunday of Easter).
To quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the feast:
In the Eastern Church this feast was known as analepsis, the taking up, and also as the episozomene, the salvation, denoting that by ascending into His glory Christ completed the work of our redemption. The terms used in the West, ascensio and, occasionally, ascensa, signify that Christ was raised up by His own powers. Tradition designates Mount Olivet near Bethany as the place where Christ left the earth.
In the liturgies generally the day is meant to celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and His entry into heaven with our human nature glorified.
Today, there is located on Mount Olivet the remains of a chapel built around a rock with footprints embedded in it. The chapel was built during the Crusades, but fell into the hands of the Muslims, who still control it. (See the story at ChristusRex.org.)
So, Christ ascended into heaven. Why? Did he have to?
The following information comes from St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica, hosted at NewAdvent.org.
- Was it fitting for Christ to ascend into heaven?
- Yes, it was fitting. Upon His Resurrection, Christ entered into His glory, and into an immortal and incorruptible life. Life here on earth is one of death and bodily corruption. It would not be fitting for Christ to remain here. He needed to ascend to Heaven, where He will remain incorrupt for all eternity.
- He remained here on earth with us for a short time in order to confirm the proof of the Resurrection.
- Furthermore, it was fitting for us that He should not remain here on earth. Because He is not here with us, it develops our faith in things unseen; our hope, that He is preparing the place in Heaven for us that He promised; and our sense of charity in things above us, as our love is directed to Him in Heaven with our Father.
- Is Christ’s ascension the cause of our salvation?
- Yes, it is. In addition to the development of faith, hope, and charity in us, His Ascension increases our reverence for Him, because we regard Him now as the Man from Heaven.
- Furthermore, just as in the Old Testament, the High Priest entered into the Holy of Holies to intercede for the People of God, Jesus Christ — our High Priest — entered into the TRUE Holy of Holies to plead for us. In ascending to Heaven in a human body, Christ exaults our human nature, and is able to make the pleasing offering that we cannot do.
There is so much that the Dumb Ox explains, but I don’t have room for it all. Please, peruse his Summa at your leisure.
Let us pray
that the risen Christ
will lead us to eternal life.
God our Father,
make us joyful
in the ascension of your Son Jesus Christ.
May we follow him into the new creation,
for his ascension is our glory and our hope.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.