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Ascension Thursday—13 May A.D. 2010

“Ascending on high, He has led captivity captive.”[1]

Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ

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

    In a sermon written many centuries ago, Pope Saint Leo the Great reminds us that the days between Easter and the Ascension are the biblical “forty days” that God prescribes for “practical formation.”[2]  That is to say that they are the period of time that God assigns to those who are about to embark on a religious mission:  they parallel the forty days and forty nights of fasting spent by Moses as he wrote out the tables of the testament;  the forty days’ fast of Elias as he journeyed to “Horeb, the mountain of God”;  and the forty days of our Lord in the desert before beginning His public life.[3]  Our Lord spent the forty days between Easter and Ascension Thursday confirming the Faith of the Apostles in His Resurrection.  The reality of His Crucifixion and Death was well known in and around Jerusalem—reasonable people would need some convincing that He had actually risen from the dead.  The Gospels not that on several occasions our Lord ate with the Apostles.  The other “Great” Pope, Saint Gregory, suggests that this mention of eating was to emphasize the physical reality of our Lord’s resurrected body—this was no ghost, no vision. nor illusion, but a tangible body—capable, Pope Saint Gregory reminds us, of being touched and probed by the doubting Apostle, Saint Thomas.[4]

    For the Apostles, this fortieth day was the beginning of their new mission to “go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”[5]  They would “be witnesses ... in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth.”[6]

    Pope saint Leo suggests that the Ascension was an occasion of great joy and invigoration for the Apostles.  They were witnesses that human nature had been lifted up into the heavens, and held the hope that “where the head proceeded in glory” ... there was hope that “the body too would be summoned.”[7]

  •     For all of us, who come along centuries later, the message of these forty days is much the same as it was for the eleven at table with the Lord:
  •     Our Faith must be strengthened by those among whom our Lord went;  whom He allowed to touch the wounds of His Crucifixion;  with whom He ate and drank for those forty days.
  •     We too should be conscious of a mission to preach the Faith to the whole world—even if we preach it only by the good example of a Christian life lived in the midst of those around us.
  •     Like the Apostles, we should be invigorated with the joy of knowing that human nature now rules even the Angels of heaven:  with the hope that “as Christ was taken up to heaven before their eyes, so He might make us sharers of His divinity.”[8]

    By the glory of his Resurrection and Ascension into heaven we are released from the captivity of the sin of Adam.


“Ascending on high, He has led captivity captive.”[9]


[1]   Psalm lxvii: 19,

[2]   Pope Saint Leo I, Homily #1 on the Ascension (Nocturn II of the feast).

[3]   Exodus xxxiv: 28,;  3 Kings xix: 8,;  Matthew iv: 2,

[4]   Pope Saint Gregory I, Homily 29 on the Gospels (Nocturn III of the feast).

[5]   Gospel of the feast, Mark xvi: 14-20,

[6]   Epistle of the feast, Acts i:1-11,

[7]   Pope Saint Leo the Great, ibid.

[8]   Preface of the feast.

[9]   Psalm lxvii: 19,


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