05 May 2016

Today is the historical date of the Ascension of Jesus

From the former St. John the Baptist church
Quincy, Illinois
Historically, this sixth Thursday after Easter has been celebrated as the day on which Holy Mother Church has observed the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. This liturgical day was chosen because of what Saint Luke tells us in his Acts of the Apostles, namely that Jesus "presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). It was, then, on the fortieth day after his Resurrection that ascended to the right hand of the Father (cf. Acts 1:9).

Today, however, the Ascension of the Lord is rarely celebrated on Ascension Thursday - which I think is most unfortunate, and especially so this year - and is instead celebrated on the seventh Sunday of Easter, in keeping with a provision of canon 1246 of the Code of Canon Law. In the United States of America, only the dioceses in the provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia celebrate the Lord's Ascension today. Here in Rome, the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated on Sunday, though it is observed today in the Vatican City State.

While the Church is certainly free to celebrate liturgical solemnities as she sees fit in virtue of the power of the keys, it seems something of an unnecessary departure from the scriptures to celebrate the Lord's Ascension 43 days after his Resurrection.

Jesus is said to have ascended from here on Mount Zion
The ancient Christians said the actual date on which the Lord Jesus died upon the Cross was March 25th. In our claim to greater knowledge and enlightenment than those closer to the events than ourselves, we say they cannot have known with any certainty and therefore doubt this claim. Frankly, I doubt our logic and trust more in the claims of the earliest Christians and those closer to the lives of the Apostles, such as Saint Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), who wrote:
He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since (On the Trinity, IV.5).
We celebrated Good Friday this year on March 25th, on the historical date on which the Lord shed his blood for his, a coincidence of dates that will not occur again in any of our lifetimes (not until 2157, to be exact). Accordingly, this means that today is the historical date on which the Lord Jesus "was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight" (Acts 1:9).

When Saint Bonaventure reflected on this profound significance of this sacred day, he wrote movingly:
While the angels sang and the saints rejoiced, the God and Lord of angels and men ascended above the heaven of heavens [cf. Psalm 67:34], and he soared on the wings of the wind [cf. Psalm 17:11] with the marvelous agility of his power and sat at the right hand of the Father, having become so much superior to the angels as he inherited a more excellent name than they, and there he appeared before the face of the most benign Father to intercede for us [Hebrews 1:4; 9:24]. For it was fitting that we should have such a High Priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, set apart form sinners and become higher than the heavens [Hebrews 7:26], so that, seated as the right hand of Majesty, he might show to the glorious face of his Father the scars of his wounds which he suffered for us (The Tree of Life, 38).
Whether we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord today or on Sunday, let us pray the Lord Jesus to draw us ever closer to himself and lift us up into his presence there to marvel at his scars and to glory before the Father's face.

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