The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
The feast of Jesus’ Ascension to heavenly glory forty days after his Resurrection highlights for us the unique role of the Church, the sacred task of the sacraments and our own expectation of eternal life.
The Solemnity of the Ascension commemorates the final act of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the necessary prelude to the birth of the Church. He ascended in his visible body to make way for his Mystical Body, turning over to the Church the work he had come do. Filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost ten days later, the Church is the sign and instrument to bring salvation and healing by means of the sacraments and preaching the Good News to a world that needed – and still needs – to hear it.
“Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and eternal Covenant, ‘entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands…but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf,”’ the Catechism teaches. “As ‘high priest of the good things to come’ he is the center and the principal actor of the liturgy that honors the Father in heaven” (CCC 662, quoting Hebrews 9:24 and 9:11).
The readings at Mass for this feast speak directly to us. We hear that as he ascended, Jesus commissioned his Apostles for an ambitious task: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). And when the Son of God had disappeared, the angles told the Apostles to quit standing there looking to heaven and instead get on with their work! Jesus says the same thing to us with the same urgency: We too are called to evangelize. Pope Francis reminds us often that we are called to “go forth” and be Spirit-filled missionary disciples, bringing Christ’s love and hope to the poor and forgotten, especially those on the margins of society, and also our family members, friends, co-workers, and all the people we meet.
Over the past forty days at Mass, we have heard the story of how the Risen Jesus has been preparing his disciples for the work of preaching the Good News and building the Church. As we move toward the great feast of Pentecost, we too are asked to reflect on how we can be messengers of the Gospel. We can do this by keeping close to Jesus in the sacraments and, in a particular way, we can obtain the courage and strength to do this by cooperating in the gift of the Holy Spirit, entrusting ourselves to the life of grace and virtue promised in the sacraments.
By the grace of the sacraments, we share the Lord’s life intimately in heaven. This is what we celebrate every year on the Solemnity of the Ascension.