(LifeSiteNews) — Let us now look upon the earth, for our eyes have hitherto been riveted upon the heaven into which our Jesus has entered. Let us see what effects the mystery of the ascension has produced on this land of our exile.
These effects are of the most extraordinary nature. This Jesus, who ascended into heaven without the city of Jerusalem’s even knowing it, and whose departure, when it was known, excited no regret or joy among the men of that generation – this Jesus, we say, now, eighteen hundred years after His departure from us, finds the whole earth celebrating the anniversary of His glorious ascension. Our age is far from being one of earnest faith; and yet, there is not a single country on the face of the globe where, if there be a church or chapel or even a Catholic home, the feast of Jesus’ ascension is not being now kept and loved.
He lived for three and thirty years on our earth. He, the eternal Son of our God, dwelt among His creatures, and there was only one people that knew it. That one favored people crucified Him. As to the gentiles, they would have thought Him beneath their notice. True – this beautiful “light shone in the darkness”; but “the darkness did not comprehend it; He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” (John 1:5, 11) He preached to His chosen people; but His word was that seed which falls on stony ground, and takes no root, or is cast among thorns and is choked; it could with difficulty find a plot of good ground, wherein to bring forth fruit. (Matthew 13) If, thanks to His infinite patience and goodness, He succeeded in keeping a few disciples around Him, their faith was weak, hesitating, and gave way when temptation came.
And yet, ever since the preaching of these same apostles, the name and glory of Jesus are everywhere; in every language and in every clime, He is proclaimed the incarnate Son of God; the most civilized, as well as the most barbarous, nations have submitted to His sweet yoke; in every part of the universe men celebrate His birth in the stable of Bethlehem, His death on the Cross whereby He ransomed a guilty world, His resurrection whereby He strengthened the work He came to do, and His ascension, which gave Him, the Man-God, to sit at the right hand of His Father.
The great voice of the Church carries to the uttermost bounds of the earth the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, which He came to reveal to mankind. This holy Church, founded by Him, teaches the truths of faith to all nations, and in every nation there are souls who are docile to Her teaching.
How was this marvelous change brought about? What is it that has given it stability during these eighteen hundred years? Our savior Himself explains it to us by the words He spoke to His apostles after the Last Supper: “It is,” said He, “expedient to you that I go.”(John 16:7) What means this, but that there is something more advantageous to us than the having Him visibly present among us?
This mortal life is not the time for seeing and contemplating Him, not even in His human nature. To know Him, and relish Him, even in His human nature, we stand in need of a special gift or element; it is faith. Now, faith in the mysteries of the Incarnate Word did not begin its reign upon the earth until He ceased to be visible here below.
Who could tell the triumphant power of faith? St. John gives it a glorious name; he says: “It is the victory which overcometh the world.” (1 John 5:4) It subdued the world to our absent king; it subdued the power and pride and superstitions of paganism; it won the homage of the earth for Him who has ascended into heaven the Son of God and the Son of Mary – Jesus.
St. Leo the Great, the sublime theologian of the mystery of the Incarnation, has treated this point with his characteristic authority and eloquence. Let us to listen to his glorious teaching.
Having fulfilled all the mysteries pertaining to the preaching of the Gospel and to the New Covenant, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, in the sight of His disciples, on the fortieth day after His resurrection; hereby withdrawing His corporal presence, for He was to remain at the right hand of His Father until should be filled up the measure of time decreed by God for the multiplication of the children of the Church, and He (Jesus) should again come, and in the same flesh wherewith He ascended, to judge the living and the dead. Thus, therefore, that, which in our Redeemer had hitherto been visible, passed into the order of mysteries. And to the end that faith might be grander and surer teaching took the place of sight; which teaching was to be accepted by the faithful with hearts illumined by heavenly light.
This faith, increased by our Lord’s ascension, and strengthened by the gift of the Holy Ghost, was proof against every trial; so that, neither chains, nor prisons, nor banishment, nor hunger, nor fire, nor wild beasts, nor all the ingenuity of cruelty and persecution, could affright it. For this faith, not only men, but even women, not only beardless boys, but even tender maidens, fought unto the shedding of their blood, and this in every country of the world.
This faith cast out devils from such as were possessed, cured the sick, and raised the dead to life. The blessed apostles themselves – who, though they had so often witnessed their master’s miracles and heard His teachings – turned cowards when they saw Him in His sufferings, and hesitated to believe His Resurrection. These same, I say, were so changed by His ascension, that what heretofore had been a subject of fear, then became a subject of joy.
And why? Because the whole energy of the soul’s contemplation was raised up to Jesus’ divinity, now seated at the right hand of His Father; the vigor of the mind’s eye was not dulled by the bodily vision, and they came to the clear view of the mystery, namely, that He neither left the Father when He descended upon the earth, nor left His disciples when He ascended into heaven.
Never, then, was Jesus so well known, as when He withdrew Himself into the glory of His Father’s majesty, and became more present by His divinity in proportion as He was distant in His humanity. Then did faith, made keener, approach to the Son co-equal with His Father; she needed not the handling of the bodily substance of her Christ – that bodily substance, I say, whereby He is less than His Father. The substance of His glorified body is the same; but our faith was to be of so generous a kind, as that we were to go to the co-equal Son, not by a corporal feeling, but by a spiritual understanding.
Hence, when Mary Magdalene, who represented the Church, threw herself at the feet of the risen Jesus, and would have embraced them, He said to her: ‘Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father’: as though He would say: ‘I will not that thou come to me corporally, or that thou know me by the testimony of thy senses. I have a sublimer recognition in store for thee; I have prepared something far better for thee. When I shall have ascended to my Father, then shall thou feel me in a higher and truer way; for thou shalt grasp what thou touchest not, and believe what thou seest not.’ (De Ascensione Domini. Sermon II)
The departure of our Emmanuel was, therefore, the opening of that reign of faith, which is to prepare us for the eternal vision of the sovereign good; and this blessed faith, which is our very life, gives us, at the same time, all the light, compatible with our mortal existence, for knowing and loving the Word consubstantial to the Father, and for the just appreciation of the mysteries which this Incarnate Word wrought here below in His humanity.
It is now eighteen hundred years since He lived on the earth; and yet we know Him better than His disciples did before His ascension. Oh! truly was it expedient for us that He should go from us; His visible presence would have checked the generosity of our faith, and it is our Ffith alone that can bridge over the space which is to be between Himself and us, until our ascension comes, and then we shall enter within the veil.
How strangely blind are those who see not the superhuman power of this element of faith, which has not only conquered, but even transformed, the world! Some of them have been writing long treatises to prove that the Gospels were not written by the evangelists: we pity their ravings. But these great discoverers have another difficulty to get over, and so far they have not attempted to grapple with it: we mean, the living Gospel which is the production of the unanimous faith of eighteen centuries, and is the result of the courageous confession of so many millions of martyrs, of the holiness of countless men and women, of the conversion of so many, both civilized and uncivilized nations.
Assuredly, He, who after having spent a few short years in one little spot of earth, had but to disappear in order to draw men’s hearts to Himself, so that the brightest intellects and the purest minds gave Him their Faith – He must be what He tells us He is: the Eternal Son of God. Glory, then, and thanks to thee, O Jesus! who, to console us in thine absence, has given us faith, whereby the eye of our soul is purified, the hope of our heart is strengthened, and the divine realities we possess tell upon us in all their power!
Preserve within us this precious gift of thy gratuitous goodness; give it increase; and when our death comes – that solemn hour which precedes our seeing thee face to face – O give us the grand fullness of our dearest faith!
One of the most northern of the Churches – now, alas! a slave of Lutheranism – shall provide us today with a hymn in honor of the mystery we are celebrating. It is a Sequence taken from the last Missal of Abo, in Finland. It was composed in the 14th or 15th century.
Be glad, all ye people, and sing your festive songs, for it is the triumph of Christ! He returns to heaven, leading thither the trophies He has won; and as He ascends, the jubilant sound of the trumpet is heard.
Oh! how grand is the glory that is this day conferred on the Son of God! The Fruit of our earth is this day exalted above all the thrones of the heavenly court.
Like Moses, He enters the tabernacle, and people flock to see the grandeur of the mystery: the men of Galilee stand looking up to the cloud that received Him out of their sight.
When Elias was taken up from earth, He gave His twofold spirit and His mantle to Eliseus: when Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave to His servants the talents of His grace.
Like Jacob, He passed over the Jordan, enduring sufferings of wondrous avail to us, and the staff He used was the Cross. He returned to heaven with two troops — of angels, and of souls (set free from Limbo) — and laden with treasures.
This is the mighty one, who, having conquered the gates of death, entered heaven with glory. He is the king of hosts, at whose bidding and presence the triple creation trembles.
The Father calls His Son to sit with Him on His throne, until He make His enemies bow down before Him, vanquished by force or love. He reigns in the highest heavens; He receives supreme honour; He is to come again upon our earth to judge the consciences of all, saints and sinners.
O come, thou avenging God! Come in thy mercy, when we are to appear before thee seated on thy throne. On that day, show unto us thy wonted mercy, and give us to ascend to the endless life of future glory. Amen.
Again, the Mozarabic Breviary offers us one of its beautiful prayers for this octave.
O Lord Jesus Christ! who hast set thy throne on high in Jerusalem, thy city, which is thy Church; who didst win her by a glorious victory, and from the same didst triumphantly ascend to thy Father, thus manifesting the glory of thine assumption in the human nature thou hadst assumed; grant, we beseech thee, that our homage may be pleasing unto thee, and our works acceptable, whereby we may merit to reign with thee in everlasting glory. Amen.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875). LifeSiteNews is grateful to The Ecu-Men website for making this classic work easily available online.