Today is one of those relatively few
days of the year on which the Church modifies the words it uses in the
preface and even in the canon of the Mass. To use her own words, then, “this
is the most holy day on which The only begotten Son, our Lord, set, at the
right hand of The Father's glory, the substance of frail human nature which
He had taken to Himself.”
As such, this represents a radical change in
Heaven itself. Up until this time God was surrounded only by spiritual
beings: The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost had existed from all eternity, and
they were pure spirit. Then, somewhere during the early stages of creation,
God willed to create the angels. They were all like Himself, spiritual in
substance; creatures of great power and intellect. The Sacred Scriptures
speak of nine choirs of angels, but the theologians tell us that each angel
is unique, with none being quite like any other.
Some of the angels fell
from grace through the sin of pride, rashly presuming that their spiritual
beauty made them God's equal. Lucifer and others led what we humans would
call a “revolution,” which they were doomed to loose, and for which they
were cast into the eternal fires of hell.
It is said that God then set about
the creation of man, a different kind of creature, to fill the places in
heaven vacated by the fallen angels. Man would be unique; not a pure spirit
like the angels, not purely material like the animals. We can only
speculate, but it may be that in creating man he was expecting a little more
humility than He got from His fallen angels. Even the most attractive of us
are not as beautiful as the angels, nor as intelligent, nor as powerful.
While we have our vanities and our pride, if we are honest with ourselves we
can appreciate our own limitations.
Let us note that man is not exactly a
composite of body and soul. Man is not a body plus a soul bundled up into
one neat package. The spiritual part of man permeates the physical,
determines the nature of the physical, giving it life and intellect and
Since the human soul is spiritual it has no parts to break down or
wear out. It is immortal, just like the angels. It can survive, even after
the body has long given up its ghost. Yet, the soul was made for the body.
It was not intended to exist apart from it, at least not indefinitely. And
God has revealed to us that it is not His plan that we should exist forever
after death in a disembodied state.
He has revealed to us that on the Last
day our bodies will be raised up and reunited with our souls. That is to say
that, on judgment day, we will be made physically whole and entire once
again, resurrected for eternal life in the vision of God the Father, or
resurrected for eternal shame in the region of the fallen angels.
use the words of today's Mass, “Christ our Lord ... after His resurrection,
appeared and showed Himself to all His disciples; and while they beheld Him,
was lifted up into heaven, so that He might make us partakers of His
Godhead.” Not, of course, that we will become “gods”—that foolish
supposition was the sin of Lucifer and his devils—but that we might become
more like God, and be eternally joined to Him in the Beatific Vision. To use
words of the prayer we hear each day at Mass, “our Lord humbled Himself to
become partaker of our humanity, so that we might become partakers of His
divinity.” “Partakers” not “usurpers.”
This feast of the Ascension, then,
might be said to be the token of this promise of resurrection and eternal
life. Heretofore, there were no material beings in heaven, only God as
spirit, and only His angels. But Jesus Christ, in the fullness of time, took
human form as an infant, grew to manhood, and was crucified for our sins.
Not only was He resurrected from the dead, but on the 40th day—this day—He
ascended into heaven. By doing so, He changed the whole cosmic order of
things. For as of this day, there was a flesh and blood man in heaven,
sitting at the right hand of the Father.
And, lest we think that this was a
one of a kind event; something that was done specially for Jesus because He
was God Himself, a few years later He took the body and soul of His Mother,
the Blessed Virgin Mary to be with Him. There is a Man and a woman in
heaven, precisely to let us know about the reality of our hoped for
salvation, and the reality of our expected resurrection from the grave.
we celebrate this feast today to remind us of this reality. We men and women
are body and soul, uniquely linked: the soul is immortal, and someday the
body will join it. If mankind ever had any room for doubt, those doubts are
banished in the feasts of the Ascension and Assumption. There really isn't
anything complicated about it. Those who emulate Jesus and Mary will join
Them in the vision of God. Those who emulate Lucifer will join him in the
infinite and everlasting darkness of hell.