The Ascension of Our Lord
Homily by Fr. Prosper Guťranger 1870
The sun of the fortieth day has risen in all his splendor.
The earth, which shook with gladness at the Birth of our
Emmanuel (Ps. xcv. xcvi. xcvii.), 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 Conquerorís approach
(Ibid. xxiii. 7). The holy souls, that were liberated from
Limbo on the morning of the Resurrection, are hovering round
Jerusalem, waiting for the happy moment when Heavenís gate,
closed by Adamís 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 Motherís 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 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 mind,
the attention of the guests? With what love must they not have
riveted 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 (St. Mark, xvi. 14). 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 (Ibid. xvi. 15, 16). 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
(St. Mark, svi. 17, 18). 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 armour, and the armour must be of heavenís 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 (St. Luke, xxiv. 49). But what is this armour? Jesus
explains it to them. He reminds them of the Fatherís promise, that promise, says He,
which ye have heard by my mouth: for John, indeed, baptized with water; but ye shall
be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence (Acts, i. 4, 5).
But the hour of separation is come. Jesus rises: 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 invisible 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 Heaven-ward
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 honouring 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
They reflected on the thoughts which Mary must have had during
these last moments of her Sonís 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 (St. John, xiv. 28)? Now, who loved Jesus as Mary did?
The Motherís 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 had 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 (Ps. cix. 7). 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 (Acts, i. 12), they are close to Bethania, that favoured 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 (Acts, i. 6)?
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 (Ibid. 7). 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 Saviourís
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 (Acts, i. 8).
According to a tradition, which has been handed down from the earliest ages of
Christianity (Constit. Apost., lib. v. cap. xix), 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. Whilst thus blessing them, He is raised
up from the ground whereon He stands, and ascends into heaven (St. Luke, xxiv. 51). Their
eyes follow Him, until a cloud comes and receives Him out of their sight (Acts, i. 9).
Yes, Jesus is gone! The earth has lost her Emmanuel! For four thousand years had He been
expected: the Patriarchs and Prophets had desired His coming with all the fervour 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 to 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 (Acts, i. 10, 11)! He has ascended, a Saviour; 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 Saviour, 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 (St. John, iii. 17): and to carry
out this merciful design He has just been giving to His Disciples the mission to go throughout
the whole world, and invite men, whilst 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 (St. Luke, xxiv. 52). 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 endeavour to describe its mystery and magnificence: we would only
observe, for the present, that this Solemnity is the completion of the Mysteries of our Redemption;
that it is one of those which were instituted by the Apostles (St. Augustine, EP. ad Januar); and
finally, that it has impressed a character of sacredness on the Thursday of each week, the day
already so highly honoured 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 honour the very least of our Saviourís 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!
Now-a-days, 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 Jesusí 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!
Dom Prosper Guťranger (1805-1875) devoted himself to
liturgical scholarship, polemics, and the establishment
of Benedictine communities in France.
The Ascension of Christ
by Pietro Perugino; 1496-98; Musťe Municipal des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France;
The Ascension of Christ
by Benvenuto Tisi; 1510-20; Galleria Nazionale díArte Antica, Rome, Italy;
The Ascension of Christ by Gustave Dore
The Ascension of Christ by James Tissot; between 1886-94; Brooklyn Museum, New York City
Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ
This site is dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ
in the Most Holy Virgin Mary,
for the Glory of God
The Apostolic Blessing by the Holy See in Rome is bestowed (October 28, 2013)
Omnia ad majoren Dei Gloriam!
(All for the greater glory of God)
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