The Ascension of Our Lord
The sun of the fortieth day has risen in all his splendor. The earth, which shook with gladness at the Birth of our Emmanuel, now thrills with a strange emotion. The divine series of the mysteries of the Man-God is about to close. Heaven has caught up the joy of earth. The Angelic Choirs are preparing to receive their promised King, and their Princes stand at the Gates, that they may open them when the signal is given of the mighty Conqueror’s approach. The holy souls that were liberated from Limbo on the morning of the Resurrection are hovering round Jerusalem, waiting for the happy moment when Heaven’s gate, closed by Adam’s sin, shall be thrown open, and they shall enter in company with their Redeemer:—a few hours more, and then to Heaven! Meanwhile, our Risen Jesus has to visit his Disciples and bid them farewell, for they are to be left, for some years longer, in this vale of tears.
They are in the Cenacle, impatiently awaiting his coming. Suddenly he appears in their midst. Of the Mother’s joy, who would dare to speak? As to the Disciples and the holy Women, they fall down and affectionately adore the Master, who has come down to take his leave of them. He deigns to sit down to table with them; he even condescends to eat with them, not, indeed, to give them proof of his Resurrection, for he knows that they have no further doubts of the mystery—but now that he is about to sit at the right hand of the Father, he would give them this endearing mark of familiarity. O admirable repast! in which Mary, for the last time in this world, is seated side by side with her Jesus, and in which the Church (represented by the Disciples and the holy Women) is honored by the visible presidency of her Head and Spouse.
What tongue could describe the respect, the recollected mien, the attention of the guests? With what love must they not have rived their eyes on the dear Master? They long to hear him speak; his parting words will be so treasured! He does not keep them long in suspense; he speaks, but his language is not what they perhaps expected it to be—all affection. He begins by reminding them of the incredulity wherewith they heard of his Resurrection. He is going to entrust his Apostles with the most sublime mission ever given to man; he would, therefore, prepare them for it by humbling them. A few days hence, and they are to be lights of the world; the world must believe what they preach, believe it on their word, believe it without having seen, believe what the Apostles alone have seen. It is by Faith that man approaches his God: they themselves were once without it, and Jesus would have them now express their sorrow for their former incredulity, and thus base their Apostolate on humility.
Then assuming a tone of authority, such as none but a God could take, he says to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not, shall be condemned. And how shall they accomplish this mission of preaching the Gospel to the whole world? how shall they persuade men to believe their word? By Miracles. And these signs, continues Jesus, shall follow them that believe: in my name, they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. He would have Miracles to be the foundation of his Church, just as he had made them the argument of his own divine mission. The suspension of the laws of nature proves to us that it is God who speaks; we must receive the word, and humbly believe it.
Here, then, we have men unknown to the world and devoid of every human means, and yet commissioned to conquer the earth and make it acknowledge Jesus as its King! The world ignores their very existence. Tiberius, who sits on the imperial throne, trembling at every shadow of conspiracy, little suspects that there is being prepared an expedition which is to conquer the Roman Empire. But these warriors must have their armor, and the armor must be of heaven’s own tempering. Jesus tells them that they are to receive it a few days hence. Stay, says he, in the city, till ye be endued with power from on high. But what is this armor? Jesus explains it to them. He reminds them of the Father’s promise, that promise, says he, which he have heard by my mouth: for John, indeed, baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
But the hour of separation is Come. Jesus rise: his blessed Mother, and the hundred and twenty persons assembled there, prepare to follow him. The Cenacle is situated on Mount Sion, which is one of the two hills within the walls of Jerusalem. The holy group traverses the city, making for the eastern Gate, which opens on the Valley of Josaphat. It is the last time that Jesus walks through the faithless City. He is invincible to the eyes of the people who denied him, but visible to his Disciples, and goes before them as, heretofore, the pillar of fire led on the Israelites. How beautiful and imposing a sight!—Mary, the Disciples, and the holy Women, accompanying Jesus in his Heavenward journey, which is to lead him to the right hand of his Eternal Father! It was commemorated in the Middle Ages by a solemn Procession before the Mass of Ascension Day. What happy times were those, when Christians took delight in honoring every action of our Redeemer! They could not be satisfied, as we are, with a few vague notions, which can produce nothing but an equally vague devotion.
They reflected on the thoughts which Mary must have had during these last moments of her Son’s presence. They used to ask themselves, which of the two sentiments were uppermost in her maternal heart—sadness, that she was to see her Jesus no more? or joy, that he was now going to enter into the glory he so infinitely deserved? The answer was soon found: had not Jesus said to his Disciples: If ye loved me, ye would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father? Now, who loved Jesus as Mary did? The Mother’s heart, then, was full of joy at parting with him. How was she to think of herself, when there was question of the triumph of her Son and her God? Could she that he witnessed the scene of Calvary do less than desire to see Him glorified, whom she knew to be the Sovereign Lord of all things—Him whom, but a short time ago, she had seen rejected by his people, blasphemed, and dying the most ignominious and cruel of deaths?
The holy group has traversed the Valley of Josaphat; it has crossed the brook Cedron, and is moving onwards to Mount Olivet. What recollections would crowd on the mind! This torrent, of which Jesus had drunk on the day of his humiliation, is now the path he takes to triumph and glory. The Royal Prophet had foretold it. On their left are the Garden and Cave, where he suffered his Agony and accepted the bitter Chalice of his Passion. After having come as far as what St. Luke calls the distance of the journey allowed to the Jews on a sabbath day, they are close to Bethania, that favored village, where Jesus used to accept hospitality at the hands of Lazarus and his two Sisters. This part of Mount Olivet commands a view of Jerusalem. The sight of its Temple and Palaces makes the Disciples proud of their earthly city: they have forgotten the curse uttered against her; they seem to have forgotten, too, that Jesus has just made them citizens and conquerors of the whole world. They begin to dream of the earthly grandeur of Jerusalem and, turning to their Divine Master, they venture to ask him this question: Lord, wilt thou, at this time, restore again the kingdom to Israel?
Jesus answers them with a tone of severity: It is not for you to know the times or moments which the Father hath put in his own power. These words do not destroy the hope that Jerusalem is to be restored by the Christian Israel; but as this is not to happen till the world is drawing towards its end, there is nothing that requires our Savior’s revealing the secret. What ought to be uppermost in the mind of the Disciples is the conversion of the pagan world—the establishing the Church. Jesus reminds them of the mission he has just given to them: Ye shall receive, says he, the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth.
According to a tradition, which has been handed down from the earliest ages of Christianity, it is mid-day—the same hour that he had been raised up, when nailed to his Cross. Giving his Blessed Mother a look of filial affection, and another of fond farewell to the rest of the group that stand around him, Jesus raises up his hands and blesses them all. While thus blessing them, he is raised up from the ground whereon he stands, and ascends into heaven. Their eyes follow him, until a cloud comes and receives him out of their sight.
Yes, Jesus is gone! The earth has lost her Emmanuel!—For four thousand years he had been expected: the Patriarchs and Prophets had desired his coming with all the fervor of their souls: he came: his love made him our captive in the chaste womb of the Virgin of Nazareth. It was there he first received our adorations. Nine months after, the Blessed Mother offered him our joyous love in the Stable at Bethlehem. We followed him into Egypt; we returned with him; we dwelt with him at Nazareth. When he began the three years of his public Life, we kept close to his steps; we delighted in being near him, we listened to his preaching and parables, we saw his miracles. The malice of his enemies reached its height, and the time came wherein he was to give us the last and grandest proof of the love that had brought him from heaven—his dying for us on a Cross; we kept near him as he died, and our souls were purified by the Blood that flowed from his Wounds. On the third day, he rose again from his Grave, and we stood by exulting in his triumph over Death, for that triumph won for us a like Resurrection. During the Forty days he has deigned to spend with us since his Resurrection, our faith has made us cling to him: we would fain have kept him with us forever—but the hour is come; he has left us; yes, our dearest Jesus is gone! O happy the souls that he had taken from Limbo! they have gone with him, and, for all eternity, are to enjoy the heaven of his visible presence.
The Disciples are still steadfastly looking up towards heaven, when lo! two angels, clad in white robes, appear to them, saying: Ye men of Galilee! why stand ye looking up to heaven? This Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as ye have seen him going into heaven! He has ascended, a Savior; he is to return, as Judge—between these two events is comprised the whole life of the Church on earth. We are therefore living under the reign of Jesus as our Savior, for he has said: God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved by him: and to carry out this merciful design he has been giving to his Disciples the mission to go throughout the whole world, and invite men, while yet there is time, to accept the mystery of Salvation.
What a task is this he imposes on the Apostles! and now that they are to begin their work, he leaves them! They return from Mount Olivet, and Jesus is not with them! And yet, they are not sad; they have Mary to console them, her unselfish generosity is their model, and well do they learn the lesson.
They love Jesus; they rejoice at the thought of his having entered into his rest. They went back into Jerusalem with great joy. These few simple words of the Gospel indicate the spirit of this admirable Feast of the Ascension: it is a Festival which, notwithstanding its soft tinge of sadness, is, more than any other, expressive of joy and triumph. During its Octave, we will endeavor to describe its mystery and magnificence: we would only observe, for the present, that this Solemnity is the completion of the Mystery of our Redemption; that it is one of those which were instituted by the Apostles; and finally, that is has impressed a character of sadness on the Thursday of each week—the day already so highly honored by the institution of the Eucharist.
We have alluded to the Procession, whereby our Catholic forefathers used, on this Feast, to celebrate the journey of Jesus and his Disciples to Mount Olivet. Another custom observed on the Ascension was the solemn blessing given to bread and to the new fruits: it was commemorative of the farewell repast taken by Jesus in the Cenacle. Let us imitate the piety of the Ages of Faith, when Christians loved to honor the very least of our Savior’s actions and, so to speak, make them their own by thus interweaving the minutest details of his Life into their own. What earnest reality of love and adoration was given to our Jesus in those olden times, when his being Sovereign Lord and Redeemer was the ruling principle of both individual and social life! Nowadays, we may follow the principle, as fervently as we please, in the privacy of our own consciences or, at most, in our own homes; but publicly, and when we are before the World, no! To say nothing of the evil results of this modern limitation of Jesus’ rights as our King—what could be more sacrilegiously unjust to Him who deserves our whole service, everywhere and at all times? The Angels said to the Apostles: This Jesus shall come, as ye have seen him going into heaven: happy we if, during his absence, we shall have so unreservedly loved and served him as to be able to meet him with confidence when he comes to judge us!
We will not here insert the Office of First Vespers, inasmuch as this Festival is fixed for the Thursday; so that its Vigil can never fall on a Sunday, and the Faithful, consequently, have not the habit of assisting at them. Moreover, with the exception of the Versicle and the Magnificat Antiphon, the First and Second Vespers are exactly alike.
Mass.—The Roman Missal gives St. Peter’s as the Station for today. It was a happy thought to choose this Basilica, inasmuch as it possesses the Tomb of one of the chief witnesses of Jesus’ Ascension. It is still the stational Church; but for now several centuries, the Pope and sacred College of Cardinals repair to the Lateran Basilica. It is in this venerable Church, dedicated by Constantine to the Savior of the world, that is closed our yearly series of the mysteries whereby the Son of God wrought our salvation.
In these two magnificent Basilicas, as well as in the humblest Church of Christendom, the Liturgical symbol of the Feast is the Paschal Candle. It was first lighted on the night of the Resurrection, and was to remind us, by its forty days’ presence, of the time which Jesus spent among his Brethren, after he had risen from the Grave. The eyes of the Faithful are fixed upon it, and its light seems to be burning brighter, now that we are about to lose it. Let us bless our holy Mother Church, whom the Holy Ghost has taught to instruct us and excite us to devotion by so many admirable symbols. Let us glorify our Divine Master, who says, speaking of himself: I am the Light of the world.
The Introit is the solemn announcement of today’s mystery. It is formed of the Angel’s words to the Apostles: Jesus has ascended into heaven; he is to come down again at the last day.
|Viri Galilæi, quid admiramini, aspicientes in cœlum? Alleluia: quemadmodum vidistis eum ascendentem in cœlum, ita veniet. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.||Ye men of Galilee! why look ye, wondering, up to heaven? Alleluia. As ye have seen him ascending into heaven, so shall he come. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.|
|Ps. Omnes gentes plaudite manibus: jubilate Deo in voce exsultationis. ℣. Gloria Patri. Viri Galilæi.||Ps. Clap your hands, all ye nations: shout unto God, with the voice of joy. ℣. Glory, &c. Ye men, &c.|
In the Collect, the Church sums up the prayers of her children and beseeches God to grant them the grace of keeping their hearts fixed on their Redeemer, and of desiring to be united with him in that home above, which he has gone to prepare for them.
|Concede, quæsumus omnipotens Deus: ut qui hodierna die Unigenitum tuum redemptorem nostrum ad cœlos ascendisse credimus, ipsi quoque mente in cœlestibus habitemus. Per eumdem.||Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we, who believe that thine Only Begotten Son, our Redeemer, ascended this day into heaven, may also dwell there in desire. Through the same, &c.|
|Lectio Actuum Apostolorum.||Lesson from the Acts of the Apostles.|
|Cap. I.||Ch. I.|
|Primum quidem sermonem feci de omnibus, o Theophile, quæ cœpit Jesus facere, et docere usque in diem, qua præcipiens Apostolis per Spiritum Sanctum, quos elegit, assumptus est: quibus et præbuit seipsum vivum post passionem suam in multis argumentis, per dies quadraginta apparens eis, et loquens de regno Dei. Et convescens, præcepit eis ab Jerosolymis ne discederent, sed exspectarent promissionem Patris, quam audistis (inquit) per os meum: quia Joannes quidem baptizavit aqua, vos autem baptizabimini Spiritu Sancto non post multos hos dies. Igitur qui convenerant, interrogabant eum, dicentes: Domine, si in tempore hoc restitues regnum Israël? Dixit autem eis: Non est vestrum nosse tempora vel momenta, quæ Pater posuit in sua potestate: sed accipietis virtutem supervenientis Spiritus Sancti in vos, et eritis mihi testes in Jerusalem, et in omni Judæa, et Samaria, et usque ad ultimum terrae. Et cum hæc dixisset, videntibus illis, elevatus est: et nubes suscepit eum ab oculis eorum. Cumque intuerentur in cælum euntem illum, ecce duo viri astiterunt juxta illos in vestibus albis, qui et dixerunt: Viri Galilæi, quid statis aspicientes in cælum? Hic Jesus, qui assumptus est a vobis in caelum, sic veniet quemadmodum vidistis eum euntem in cælum.||The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach, Until the day on which, giving commandments by the Holy Ghost to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up. To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And eating together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard (saith he) by my mouth. For John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence. They therefore who were come together, asked him, saying: Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? But he said to them: It is not for you to know the times or moments, which the Father hath put in his own power: But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments. Who also said: Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven.|
This admirable description of our Jesus’ Ascension brings the mystery so vividly before us, that we almost seem to see the happy group on Mount Olivet. With what affection the Disciples gaze upon the Divine Master as they see him rising up towards heaven, and stretching out his hand to bless them! Their eyes, though full of tears, are riveted on the cloud which has come between themselves and Jesus. They are alone on the Mount; Jesus’ visible presence is taken from them. How wretched would they not feel in the desert land of their exile were it not for his supporting grace, and for that Holy Spirit who is about to come down, and create within them a new being? So then, it is only in heaven that they can ever again see the face of Jesus, who, God as he is, deigned to be their Master for three long happy years, and on the evening of the Last Supper, called them his Friends!
Neither are they the only ones who feel this separation. Our earth leaped with joy as the Son of God walked upon it; that joy is now past. It had looked forward, for four thousand years, for the glory of being the dwelling place of its Creator; that glory is now gone. The Nations are in expectation of a Deliverer; and though, with the exception of the people of Judea and Galilee, men are not aware that this Deliverer has come and gone again—it shall not long be so. They shall hear of his Birth, and his Life, and his Works; they shall hear of his triumphant Ascension, too, for holy Church shall proclaim it in every country of the earth. Eighteen hundred years have elapsed since he left this world, and our respectful and loving farewell blends with that which his Disciples gave him when he was mounting up to heaven. Like them, we feel his absence; but like them, we also rejoice in the thought that he is seated at the right hand of his Father, beautiful in his kingly glory. Thou, dear Jesus! hast entered into thy rest! We adore thee on thy throne, we thy redeemed and the fruit of thy victory! Bless us! Draw us to thyself! And grand that thy last coming may be to us a source of joy rather than of fear!
The two Alleluia-versicles give us the words of the Royal Psalmist, wherein he celebrates the glorious Ascension of the future Messias—the acclamations of the Angels—the loud music of heaven’s trumpets,—the gorgeous pageant of the countless fortunate captives of Limbo whom the Conqueror leads up, as his trophy, to heaven.
|Alleluia, alleluia.||Alleluia, alleluia.|
|℣. Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, et Dominus in voce tubæ.||℣. God ascended in triumph, and the Lord at the sound of the trumpet.|
|℣. Dominus in Sina in sancto, ascendens in altum, captivam duxit captivatem. Alleluia.||℣. The Lord on Sina, in his holy place, ascending on high, hath led captivity captive. Alleluia.|
|Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Marcum.||Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Mark.|
|Cap. XVI.||Ch. XVI.|
|In illo tempore: Recumbentibus illis undecim discipulis, apparuit illis Jesus, et exprobravit incredulitatem eorum et duritiam cordis: quia iis, qui viderant eum resurrexisse, non crediderunt. Et dixit eis: Euntes in mundum universum prædicate Evangelium omni creaturæ. Qui crediderit, et baptizatus fuerit, salvus erit: qui vero non crediderit, condemnabitur. Signa autem eos qui crediderint, haec sequentur: in nomine meo dæmonia ejicient: linguis loquentur novis: serpentes tollent: et si mortiferum quid biberint, non eis nocebit: super ægros manus imponent, et bene habebunt. Et Dominus quidem Jesus postquam locutus est eis, assumptus est in cælum, et sedet a dextris Dei. Illi autem profecti prædicaverunt ubique, Domino cooperante, et sermonem confirmante, sequentibus signis.||At that time: Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were at table: and he upbraided them with their incredulity and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them who had seen him after he was risen again. And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God. But they going forth preached everywhere: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.|
The Deacon having sung these words, an Acolyte ascends the Ambo and extinguishes the Paschal Candle, the sweet symbol of our Jesus’ presence for the Forty Days after his Resurrection. This expressive rite tells us of the widowhood of Holy Mother Church, and that we, when we would contemplate our beloved Lord, must turn our hearts to heaven, for it is there that he is to be seen. Alas! how short was his stay here below! at least, how quickly the time passed! How many ages have gone by, and how many must still come over this poor earth of ours, before she can again behold his face.
The Church languishes after him, in this dreary exile of the vale of tears, taking care of us, the children her Jesus has given her by his Holy Spirit. She feels his absence; and if we are Christians, we shall feel it too. Oh! when will the day come, that reunited to our bodies, we shall be taken up in the clouds to meet Christ, and be with our Lord for ever! Then, and then only, shall we have attained the end for which we were created.
All the mysteries of the Word Incarnate were to close with his Ascension; all the graces we receive are to end with ours. This world is but a figure that passeth away; and we are hastening through it to rejoin our Divine Leader. In Him are our life and happiness; it is vain to seek them elsewhere. Whatever brings us nearer to Jesus is good; whatever alienates us from him is evil. The mystery of the Ascension is the last ray of light given to us by our Creator, whereby he shows us the path to our heavenly country. If our heart is seeking its Jesus, and longs to come to him, it is alive with the true life; if its energies are spent upon created things, and it feels no attraction for its Jesus, it is dead.
Let us, therefore, lift up our eyes, as did the Disciples, and follow, in desire, Him who this day ascends to Heaven, and prepares a place there for each of his faithful servants. Sursum corda! Hearts on Heaven!—it is the parting word of our Brethren, who accompany the Divine Conqueror in his Ascension; it is the hymn wherewith the Angels, coming down to meet their King, invite us to ascend and fill up the vacant thrones: Sursum corda!
Farewell, dear Paschal Torch! that hast gladdened us with thy lovely flame! Thou hast sweetly spoken to us of Jesus, our Light in the darkness of our pilgrimage; and now thou leavest us, telling us that he is no longer to be seen here below, and that we must follow him to heaven, if we would again behold him. Farewell, loved symbol! made by the hand of our Mother, the Church, that thou mightest speak to our hearts! The impressions excited within us, as we looked upon thee, during this holy Season of Easter, shall not be forgotten. Thou wast the herald of our Pasch; thy leaving reminds us that the glad Time is drawing to its close.
For the Offertory-Antiphon, the Church uses the words of David, as before the Gospel. She is taken up with this one glad thought:—the triumph of her Spouse, and the joy it caused in heaven. She would have this joy to be shared in by us who are on earth.
|Ascendit Deus in jubilatione: et Dominus in voce tubæ, alleluia.||God is ascended with jubilee, and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet, alleluia.|
Our desires, on this Day, should be that we may follow our Jesus to life everlasting, and overcome all the hindrances that we may have to encounter on the way thither. This is what the Church asks of God for us, in the Secret.
|Suscipe, Domine, munera, quæ pro Filii tui gloriosa Ascensione deferimus: et concede propitius; ut a præsentibus periculis liberemur et ad vitam perveniamus æternam. Per eumdem.||Receive, O Lord, the offerings we make in memory of the glorious Ascension of thy Son: and mercifully grant, that we may be both delivered from present danger, and arrive at everlasting life. Through the same, &c.|
|Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratia agere: Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus, per Christum Dominum nostrum; qui post resurrectionem suam omnibus discipulis suis manifestus apparuit, et ipsis cernentibus est elevatus in cœlum, ut nos divinitatis suæ tribueret esse participes. Et ideo cum Angelis et Archangelis, cum Thronis et Dominationibus, cumque omni militia cœlestis exercitus, hymnum gloriæ tuæ canimus, sine fine dicentes: Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus.||It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should always and in all places give thanks to thee, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God, through Christ our Lord; who after his Resurrection appeared openly to all his Disciples, and, in their presence ascended into heaven, to make us partakers of his divine nature. And therefore, with the Angels and Archangels, with the Thrones and Dominations, and with all the heavenly host, we sing a hymn to thy glory, saying unceasingly: Holy, holy, holy.|
It is the Royal Prophet who again speaks in the Communion-Anthem. He foretells, a thousand years before the event, that the Emmanuel is to ascend from the East. Mount Olivet, whence our Lord took his departure to his Father’s Kingdom, is to the East of Jerusalem.
|Psallite Domino, qui ascendit super cœlos cœlorum ad Orientem, alleluia.||Sing to the Lord, who hath ascended towards the east, above all the heavens, alleluia.|
The Faithful people has just confirmed its union with its Divine Head, by receiving the adorable Sacrament; the Church asks of God that this mystery, which contains Jesus within it in an invisible manner, may work in us what it outwardly expresses.
|Præsta nobis, quæsumus omnipotens et misericors Deus, ut quæ visibilius mysteriis sumenda percepimus, invisibili consequamur effectu. Per Domino.||Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty and most merciful God, that we may obtain the invisible effects of the visible mysteries we have received. Through, &c.|
A tradition, handed down from the early ages, and confirmed by the revelations of the Saints, tells us that the Ascension of our Lord took place at the hour of Noon. The Carmelites of St. Teresa’s Reform honour this pious tradition by assembling in the Choir, at the hour of mid-day on the Ascension; and spend it in the contemplation of this last of Jesus’ mysteries, following him, in thought and desire, to the throne of his glory.
Let us, also, follow him; but before looking on the bright Noon which smiles on his triumph, let us go back in thought to his first coming among us. It was at midnight, in the stable of Bethlehem. That dark and silent hour was an appropriate commencement to the three and thirty years of his life on earth. He had come to accomplish a great mission: year by year, and day by day, he labored in its fulfillment. It was nigh to its fulfillment, when men laid their sacrilegious hands upon him, and nailed him to a Cross. It was mid-day, when he was thus raised up in the air; but the Eternal Father would not permit the sun to shine on Jesus’ humiliation. Darkness covered the face of the earth; and that Day had no Noon. Three hours after, the sun re-appeared. Three days after, the Crucified rose again from the Tomb, and it was at the early dawn of light.
On this day, yea at this very hour, his work is completed. He has redeemed us, by his Blood, from our sins; he has conquered death by his Resurrection to life: had he not a right to choose, for his Ascension, the hour when the sun is pouring forth his warmest and brightest beams? Hail, holy hour of Noon! sacred with thy double consecration, which reminds us daily of the mercy and of the Triumph of our Emmanuel! of salvation by his Cross, and of heaven by his Ascension!
But art not thou, Jesus! O Sun of Justice! art not thou thyself the Noontide of our souls? Where are we to find that fullness of light for which we were created, where that burning of eternal love which alone can satisfy our longing hearts, but in thee, who earnest down upon the earth to dispel our darkness and our cold? It is in this hope, that we venture to address thee in the sublime words of thy faithful Spouse Gertrude: “O Love, Noontide, whose ardours are so soothing! thou art the hour of sacred rest, and the unruffled peace I taste in thee is all my delight. O thou whom my soul loveth, thou who art my chosen and my elect above all creatures, tell me, show me, where thou feedest thy flock, where thou liest to rest in the mid-day. My heart kindles with rapture at thought of thy tranquil rest at Noon! O that it were given me to come so near ‘to thee, that I might be not only near thee, but in thee! Beneath thy genial ray, O Sun of Justice, the flowers of all the virtues would spring forth from me, who am but dust and ashes. Then would my soul, rendered fruitful by thee, my Master and my Spouse, bring forth the noble fruit of every perfection. Then should I be led forth from this valley of sorrows, and be admitted to behold thy face, so long, so wistfully longed for; and then would it be ‘my everlasting happiness to think that thou hast not disdained, O thou spotless Mirror, to unite thyself to a sinner like me!” (Exercitia St Gertrudis, Die V)
The Lord Jesus has disappeared from our earth, but his memory and his promises are treasured in the heart of the Church. She follows, in spirit, the glorious triumph of her Spouse, a triumph so well deserved by his having accomplished the world’s Redemption. She keenly feels her widowhood; but she awaits, with unshaken confidence, the promised Comforter. The hours of this trying day are passing away, and evening is coming on; she once more assembles her children, and, in the Office of Vespers, commemorates all that has happened in this sublime mystery of the Ascension.
The Antiphons of the Psalms relate the great event of Noon; the tone of sadness that runs through their melody, is in keeping with the feelings excited by the separation.
ANT. Ye men of Galilee, why look ye up to heaven? This Jesus, who is taken from you into heaven, shall so come, alleluia.
Psalm: Dixit Dominus.
ANT. And when they beheld him going up to heaven, they said: Alleluia.
ANT. Lifting up his hands, he blessed them, and was carried up to heaven, alleluia.
Psalm: Beatus vir
ANT. Praise ye the King of kings, and sing a hymn to God, alleluia.
Psalm: Laudate, pueri.
ANT. As they looked on, he was raised up, and a cloud received him into heaven, alleluia.
O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him all ye people.
For his mercy is confirmed upon us: and the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.
Ant. As they looked on, he was raised up, and a cloud received him into heaven, alleluia.
CAPITULUM. (Acts of the Apostles, I.)
The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day on which, giving commandments by the Holy Ghost to the Apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up.
The hymn was composed by St. Ambrose, and is full of sweetness; it was somewhat changed in the 17th century, and in this changed form we now have it.
O Jesus, Redeemer of mankind, joy of our hearts, Creator of the world redeemed, and chaste light of them that love thee.
What mercy was it that led thee to take upon thee our sins? and suffer death, O innocent victim, that thou mightest free us from death?
Thou brokest the gates of hell, and the chains of them that were bound. A conqueror, with noblest triumph, thou now sittest at the right hand of the Father.
May thy clemency lead thee to repair our losses. Oh! give us to see thy Face, and enrich us with the blessed light.
Be thou our guide and path to heaven; be thou the object of our heart’s desire; be thou the joy of our tears, and the sweet recompense of a life spent for thee! Amen.
℣. The Lord, in heaven, alleluia.
℟. Hath prepared his throne, alleluia.
The Magnificat-anthem is an appeal made to our Jesus, that he would be mindful of his own and his Father’s promise, and not delay to console his Spouse by sending her the Holy Spirit. The Church repeats this Antiphon every day, till the arrival of the heavenly Guest.
ANTIPHON OF THE MAGNIFICAT
O King of glory, Lord of hosts, who didst this day ascend in triumph above all the heavens! leave us not orphans, but send upon us the Spirit of truth, promised us by the Father, alleluia.
LET US PRAY
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we, who believe that thine Only Begotten Son, our Redeemer, ascended this day into heaven, may also dwell there in desire. Through the same, &c.
During the days of the Octave, we will listen to the several Churches of old celebrating, each in its own style, but all with one and the same faith, the Ascension of our Redeemer. Let us give the first place to the Greek Church, which, in her usual pompous style, commemorates the glories of this mystery. It is her Hymn for the evening Office.
When thou, O Christ! earnest to Mount Olivet, there to fulfill the good pleasure of thy Father, the Angels of heaven were in admiration, and the inhabitants of hell trembled. Thy Disciples, too, were there, and they thrilled with joy as thou spokest unto them. A Cloud, like a throne, hovered above in front, awaiting thee; the gates of heaven were opened, showing the beauty of its courts, and revealing its hidden treasures to the earth, that Adam might thus learn whence he had fallen and whither he was to re-ascend. Thy feet were suddenly lifted up, as though some hand were raising them. Thy words, as long as they were heard, were nought but blessing. The Cloud received thee, and Heaven welcomed thee within its bosom. It was for the salvation of our souls, that thou, O Lord, didst achieve this great work, this work surpassing nature’s law.
Thou, O God, didst on this day raise up, together with thyself, above all Principalities and Powers, the nature of Adam, which had fallen into the deep abyss, but which was restored by thee. Because thou lovedst it, thou placedst it on thine own throne; because thou hadst pity on it, thou unitedst it to thyself: because thou hadst thus united it, thou didst suffer with it; because thou, the impassible, didst thus suffer, thou gave it to share in thy glory. The Angels cried out: “Who is this beautiful Man? nay, not Man only, but God and Man, having the Nature of both?” Other Angels, in white garments, hovered round the Disciples, and exclaimed: “Ye men of Galilee! this Jesus, this Man-God, who hath left you, will return the God-Man, the Judge of the living and the dead, to give, unto them that are faithful, pardon and abundant mercy.“
When thou, O Christ, our God, didst ascend into glory, in the sight of thy Disciples, a Cloud received thee in thy Human Nature, and the gates of heaven were uplifted; the Angelic choirs exulted with great joy; the heavenly Powers cried out, saying: “Lift up your gates, O ye Princes! and the King of glory shall enter in!” The Disciples were amazed, and said to thee: “Leave us not, good Shepherd! but send unto us thy Holy Spirit, that he may guide and strengthen our souls!“
After having, O Lord, in thy goodness, accomplished the mystery that was hidden from ages and generations, thou didst go, together with thy Disciples, to Mount Olivet, having with thee Her that had given birth to thee the Creator and Maker of all creatures. It was meet that she, who, being thy Mother, had mourned more than all others over thy Passion, should also have greater joy in the glory thus conferred upon thy Human Nature. We, therefore, who share in the joy she had in thine Ascension, we glorify thy great mercy!
O Jesus, our Emmanuel! thy work is done, and this is the day of thy entering into thy rest. In the beginning of the world, thou didst spend six days in harmonizing the varied portions of the creation; after which, thou enteredst again into thy rest. When later on, thou wouldst repair thy work which Satan’s malice had deranged, thy love induced thee to live among us for three and thirty years, during which thou didst work our redemption, and restoredst us to the holiness and honour whence we had fallen. Whatsoever had been assigned thee in the eternal decrees of the Blessed Trinity, whatsoever had been foretold of thee by the Prophets; all was done, dear Jesus! not an iota of it all was forgotten. Thy triumphant Ascension was the close of the mission thou hadst so mercifully undertaken. It was thy second entrance into thy rest; but, this time, it was with our Human Nature which thou hadst assumed, and which was now to receive divine honour. Thou wouldst have companions in thine Ascension, — the souls thou hadst liberated from Limbo; yea, and when about to leave us, thou saidst this word of consolation to us: I go to prepare a place for you! (John 14:2)
Confiding, Jesus! in this promise; resolved to follow thee in all the mysteries achieved by thee for our sakes — in the humility of thy Birth at Bethlehem, in thy sufferings on Calvary, in the joy of thy Resurrection — we hope, also, to imitate thee, when our mortal course is run, in thy glorious Ascension. Meanwhile, we unite with the holy Apostles who rejoiced at thy triumph, and with the ransomed captives of Limbo who entered heaven in thy company. Watch over us, Divine Shepherd, whilst we are in our exile! Tend thy faithful sheep; let none be lost; lead them all to thy fold. The mystery of thine Ascension shows us the object of our existence; it re-animates us to study more attentively, and love more warmly, all thy other mysteries: our one ambition, then, our one desire, shall henceforth be our own Ascension to heaven and to thee. It was for this thou earnest into the world: — by humbling thyself to our lowliness, to exalt us to thine own majesty; and by making thyself Man, to make man a partaker of thy divinity. But until the happy day of our union with thee, what would become of us without that Power of the Most High which thou hast promised to send us, that he may bring us patience during our pilgrimage, fidelity to our absent King, and that solace of a heart exiled from its God, — love? Come, then, O Holy Spirit! Support our weakness; fix the eye of our souls on the heaven where our King awaits us; and never permit us to set our hearts on a world which, had it every other charm, has not the infinite one of Jesus’ visible presence!
Let us close our Feast with this beautiful Prayer, taken from the Mozarabic Breviary.
Only Begotten Son of God! who, having conquered death, didst pass from earth to heaven; who, as Son of Man, art seated in great glory on thy throne, receiving praise from the whole Angelic host! grant that we, who in the jubilant devotion of our faith, celebrate thine Ascension to the Father, may not be fettered by the chains of sin to the love of this world; and that the aim of our hearts may unceasingly be directed to the heaven, whither thou didst ascend in glory, after thy Passion. Amen.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)