Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Ascension Thursday 1 May AD 2008

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

“We can claim a great High Priest, and one who has passed right up through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.”[1]

    There is sometimes a temptation to view our Lord's Ascension as the end of His involvement with His people here on earth.  He was born, He lived, He taught, He suffered, He died, He rose, and He Ascended into heaven.  We tend to see a story brought to its conclusion and completion.  Even though we know that at Pentecost, just ten days hence, our Lord will send the Holy Ghost to be our eternal Advocate.  There might be some attraction in thinking about today being the end of the involvement of the Second Person of the Trinity with humanity, and Pentecost being the beginning of the reign of the Third Person.

    Yet, even though we may have great devotion to the Holy Ghost (as we should), we would do a terrible injustice to our Christian Faith if we were to think of Jesus Christ as being someone active only in our past.  While we ought to literally think of ourselves as "temples of the Holy Ghost," we should also be aware of the continuing priestly activity of Jesus Christ.

    Msgr. Ronald Knox, an English covert to Catholicism early last century, suggested that we might think of the Ascension in terms of Jesus Christ ascending the Altar of Sacrifice as High Priest to present the eternal Sacrifice of the Cross to God the Father.[2]

    “I will go into the altar of God.  To God, the joy of my youth.”[3]  In yesterday's Gospel, our Lord spoke of the Father “glorifying Him with the glory They had together before the world existed.”[4]  Today He goes to that glory, “the joy of His youth.”

    “Send forth Thy light and Thy truth; for the have led me and brought me to Thy holy hill and Thy dwelling place.”[5]  The “holy hill,” might well be thought of as the Mount of Olives, from which the Ascension took place,  the steps to the Father's Holy of Holies.

    “Judge Me, O Lord, and distinguish Me from the unholy;  deliver me from the unjust and the deceitful.”[6]  The sinless High Priest is asking His Father to distinguish the Faithful from the Unfaithful; to render justice tempered with mercy to the Faithful; to accept His perfect Sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of the repentant.

    “Lord I love the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwells.”[7]  We might think back to the Old Testament, to the ceremonies of the Jewish Temple on the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest might enter into the innermost part of the temple, the place were God truly dwelled, a place curtained off from the sight of men.  Or we might think of our own churches in earlier centuries, where the altar was separated from the congregation by an open screen, and sometimes even by a veil.  Many churches in the Eastern tradition are this way today.  Our Lord has gone beyond the screen of the clouds, but continues to intercede for us in the Tabernacle of God.

    Jesus Christ remains our High Priest.  Every time we assist at Mass it is Jesus Christ who functions through his lowly human priests.  “This is My Body.... This is My Blood,” obviously refers not to the body of Father Smith or the blood of Father Jones.  “I absolve you from your sins,” makes no sense unless the priest is acting in the person of Christ.  Whether the human priest is a great saint or a terrible sinner, he blesses, he consecrates, he absolves, he confers the Sacraments with equal certainty and assurance because it is Christ that does these things through him.

    St. Augustine described it this way, 1500 years ago:

[Christ] it is who baptizes in the Holy Ghost.
Peter may baptize, it is [Christ] who baptizes.
Paul may baptize, it is [Christ] who baptizes.
Judas may baptize, it is [Christ] who baptizes.

    Our Lord's Ascension, is not then the time of our abandonment;  it is not even simply the time when were being "turned over" so to speak, to the Holy Ghost.  Our Lord remains our High Priest in eternity.  He has ascended the steps of the altar of God at the Mount of Olives.  He has gone behind the veil of the Tabernacle, He has entered the Holy of Holies to intercede for us directly with God the Father.

    But like the human priest who stands on the other side of the Communion rail, or the screen, or the veil, our Lord is still with us.  Every time we come before the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar we come before Him.  Every time we assist at Mass or receive one of the Sacraments, we are witnessing His priestly actions.

    This feast of the Ascension should then be the occasion for an increase in our Faith;  and particularly for an increase in our devotion whenever we receive or even witness the Holy Sacramental Mysteries.  Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead;  He has ascended into heaven;  yet He truly works among us.



[1]   cf. Hebrews iv: 14.

[2]   cf. Hebrews iv: 14.

[3]   Ps. xlii: 4.

[4]   cf. John xvii.

[5]   Ps. ibid. 3.

[6]   cf. Ps. ibid. 1.

[7]   Ps. xxv.

[8]   Augustine, Commentary on John 6,7.


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