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What does the Feast of Ascension celebrate?

Forty days after Jesus’ Glorious Resurrection, Our Lord ascended into Heaven (Acts 1:6-11). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 665) says, “Christ’s Ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain, whence he will come again (cf. Acts 1:11); this humanity in the meantime hides him from the eyes of men (cf. Col 3:3).”

Before ascending in the presence of His Apostles, He commissioned them to continue His ministry of redemption, saying, And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt. 28:18-20)

ASCENSION

When is the Ascension celebrated?

The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord is traditionally celebrated on Ascension Thursday, the fortieth day after Easter. However, many places in the world – including most of the dioceses in the United States – transfer the feast to the following Sunday. Ascension Thursday is May 26, 2022, but most United States’ dioceses will celebrate the feast of the Ascension on Sunday, May 29.

“Out of compassion for us He descended from Heaven, and although He ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in Him by grace.” - St. Augustine

What does the Bible say about the Ascension?

In Acts 1:1-11, St. Luke tells us the story of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven: In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into Heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into Heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into Heaven.” We also hear about the Ascension from St. Paul: Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16) St. Peter’s first letter also mentions the Ascension: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (1 Peter 3:21-22)

“While in Heaven He is also with us; and we while on earth are with Him. He is here with us by His divinity, His power, and His love. We cannot be in Heaven, as He is on earth, by divinity, but in Him, we can be there by love.” - St. Augustine

What happened at the Ascension of Jesus?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 659-660) says, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.” Christ’s body was glorified at the moment of his Resurrection, as proved by the new and supernatural properties it subsequently and permanently enjoys. But during the forty days when he eats and drinks familiarly with his disciples and teaches them about the kingdom, his glory remains veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God’s right hand. Only in a wholly exceptional and unique way would Jesus show himself to Paul “as to one untimely born,” in a last apparition that established him as an apostle. The veiled character of the glory of the Risen One during this time is intimated in his mysterious words to Mary Magdalene: “I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” This indicates a difference in manifestation between the glory of the risen Christ and that of the Christ exalted to the Father’s right hand, a transition marked by the historical and transcendent event of the Ascension.

Who was present at the Ascension of Jesus?

The Scripture definitively names “the eleven disciples,” the inner circle of those who followed Christ. Although Matthew only mentions the eleven Apostles, Judas having defected, we can conjecture that others, including His Mother and other disciples, were likely present, as well. For example, St. Paul tells us that 500 people saw the Lord after His Resurrection, and thus during the forty days. However, we do not know if any of these disciples saw His Ascension.

What does Christ’s Ascension mean for us?

Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the “Father’s house,” to God’s life and happiness. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he, our Head and our Source, has preceded us. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 661) The Catechism further explains, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins 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.” There Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he “always lives to make intercession” for “those who draw near to God through him.” 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. Henceforth Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father: “By ‘the Father’s right hand’ we understand the glory and honor of divinity, where he who exists as Son of God before all ages, indeed as God, of one being with the Father, is seated bodily after he became incarnate and his flesh was glorified.” Being seated at the Father’s right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom, the fulfillment of the prophet Daniel’s vision concerning the Son of man: “To him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” After this event the apostles became witnesses of the “kingdom [that] will have no end.” (cf. CCC 662-664)

“Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven; let our hearts ascend with Him.” - St. Augustine