I wish you all a very happy Solemnity of the Ascension!
But what is the Ascension of Our Lord and why is it important? It is distinct from His Resurrection. At the Resurrection, the body and soul of JESUS were reunited in a glorified state. I’ve written about this in previous letters. But forty days later, “He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” as we say in the Creed each week. So both His glorified body and soul ascended into Heaven and was taken up into the very life of the Trinity. He had already said, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23). So by His Ascension He is confirming this teaching that His ultimate place is at the right hand of God in glory.
The Ascension is not the same as Our Lady’s Assumption. Her body was ‘taken up’ which is what ‘assumption’ means, whereas Our Lord, being God, ascended by His own power.
Today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, of which St Luke is the author, gives us a very detailed account of the Ascension. Towards the end we read, “…He was lifted up while they looked on and a cloud took Him from their sight.” There is great significance in this cloud. In the Old Testament it is God who rides on the clouds. You never see angels or kings on clouds – only God. So the cloud is a symbol of the fact that JESUS is a divine Person. For example, we read in Psalm 104, “the Lord makes the cloud His chariot.” And Our Lord Himself says that at the end of the world “you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven” (Mark 14:62), at which point the High Priest tore his robe because he knew Our Lord was claiming to be divine and equal to God.
Our Lord’s Ascension also gives us hope. This world is not our final end. Heaven is our destiny. This is what the world has forgotten today. St Thomas Aquinas explains that Christ, by taking to Heaven the human nature which He assumed, gave us the hope of going there too. Our hope is to be resurrected and then to be with Christ forever in our glorified bodies in the life of the Blessed Trinity. Our Lord didn’t come here to stay – He came to show us the way. There’s the famous Gospel we read almost always at funerals these days: “I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with Me, so that where I am you may be too” (John 14: 3). That’s our destiny if we are faithful to Him, do what He commands us, repent of our sins, and die in a state of grace. This is why the Church must always preach about eternal life and not become secular and only worried about the things of this world, because JESUS said, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) and we need Christ and His Sacraments to help get us there. So JESUS is and remains for every single human being the only source of salvation whatever religion one may subscribe to. St Paul writes magnificently in his letter to the Phillipians that “At the name of JESUS every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that JESUS Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:10-11). All the Elect in Heaven cast their crowns at His feet and fall down before Him and worship Him, because He is worthy of all glory and honour, and because their salvation begins and ends in Him alone (Apocalypse 4:11). This is not politically correct but it is the truth.
So now that Our Lord had ascended into Heaven He would no longer be visible to us in human form. We all know that Christ is the Head of the Church, but before He ascended, He passed His visible headship to Peter and the Apostles, and He does this in today’s Gospel:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28: 18-20).
He tells them to go out and baptise all nations, to cast out demons, to heal the sick and so on (Mark 14:17). But this is the actual moment when Our Lord is giving Peter and the other Apostles jurisdiction to govern the Church which will last until He returns at the end of the world. So at the death of the last Pope, Christ will take up the visible Headship again. But until Christ comes again, there will always be a visible Head on earth – that is a Pope.
There are some people today who claim that the last ‘true’ Pope was Pius XII who died in 1958 and that none of the Popes since are valid, and all kinds of reasons are put forward for this novelty. It is called ‘sedevacantism’ or ‘the See is vacant’. This is utter nonsense and heretical. There will always be a visible Pope, and it’s an Article of Faith that the Papacy is the perpetual principle of unity. In history it has occasionally taken a while to elect a Pope but the Church will never go for decades without one. And it was at the Ascension that this visible Headship was passed on.
So we can see Our Lord has not abandoned us or left us orphans by ascending into Heaven. He even said, “It is expedient that I go, because if I do not go the Paraclete [the Holy Spirit] will not come, but if I go I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). Don’t forget to make the novena to the Holy Spirit in anticipation of Pentecost which is a week on Sunday. The novena begins tomorrow (Friday). In case you missed it before, here is the link.
If you wish, you can sign up for it and receive it by email each day. The more parishioners we have doing it the better.
May God bless you all. Let us all keep praying for each other, for the end of the virus, for all the sick and those suffering hardship, and that we may meet back in church soon.
Come Holy Spirit!