Catholic Q&A: The Ascension of the Lord

Catholic Q&A: The Ascension of the Lord

By Fr. Rick Poblocki

What is the Ascension of the Lord?

The Ascension of the Lord refers to “the entry of Jesus’ humanity into Divine Glory in God’s heavenly domain, forty days after Easter” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, p. 867; Cf. 659, 665).

How does the Catholic Church celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord?

The Ascension of the Lord is commemorated by the Catholic Church as a Solemnity and Holy Day of Obligation.  The Ascension is celebrated 40 days after Easter in the ecclesiastical province of New York.  In other areas of the United States, the Ascension is transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

What does the Church mean by speaking of Jesus’ “humanity” or of His “human nature”?

By Jesus’ humanity we mean the human body and soul the Son of God united to His Nature as God at the moment He took flesh in the womb of the Holy Virgin Mary.  That moment when “the word became flesh” (John 1:14) is called the Incarnation.  By Nature, the Church means “what something is.”  Our human nature consists of a human body and a soul that is capable of thought (called intellect or “reason”) and of making choices (called “will” or love).  The Son of God added both a soul and body to Himself at His Incarnation, and it is this “human nature” that was exalted at Jesus’ Ascension into glory.

When did the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ occur?

The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ occurred 40 days after His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  At His Ascension, the LordJesus ascended Body and Soul into heaven (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-11).  The Ascension took place in broad daylight on the Mount of Olives, in the presence of His Apostles and disciples.

Did the Ascension actually happen, or is it a myth?

The Ascension is an actual event that occurred.  There are no human words to describe an event of this nature.

What happened when Our Lord ascended into heaven?

The Lord Jesus gave the Apostles and disciples His final instructions (Acts 1:6-8), and promised to be with them and us until the end of time: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  Then , in a traditional Jewish form of blessing, He raised his hands (Luke 24:50), and continued to bless them as He ascended into the heavens by His own power, until a cloud received Him from their sight (Luke 24:50-51).

What did Our Lord do over the 40 day period between His Resurrection and His Ascension?

The 40 day period between the Resurrection of Our Lord and His Ascension into heaven is described by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a time “when He eats and drinks familiarly with His disciples and teaches them about the Kingdom” (Catechism, 659; see also: Mark 16:12; Luke 24:15; John 20:14-15, 21:4; and Acts 1:3, 10:41).

When the Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples over this 40 day period, how did they see and experience Him?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jesus’ heavenly glory was “veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity” (Catechism, 659).  This means that although “Christ’s Body was glorified at the moment of His Resurrection, as proved by the new and supernatural properties it subsequently and permanently enjoys” (Luke 24:31; John 20:19, 26) – the disciples saw Him and experienced Him in such a way that even though He was risen from the dead and glorified, He looked like He did when he lived with them on earth.

What “supernatural properties” did Jesus’ Risen and glorified Body possess after His Resurrection?

When we speak of the “supernatural properties” of the Lord’s Risen Body, we are speaking of the characteristics that Jesus’ human body now possesses after its glorification in the Resurrection.  These qualities or characteristics include:

  • Jesus’ bearing in His glorified Body the marks of the five wounds (John 20:20) – as an eternal testimony of His love.
  • Jesus’ Risen Body possessed agility – that is, He could move swiftly as thought to any place He willed or chose.
  • Jesus’ Risen Body possessed subtility or spirituality, which means that His Body was free from hunger, thirst, fatigue, and other physical needs.  He was also able to pass through solid material substances, like doors and walls (John 20:19).
  • Jesus’ Risen Body possessed clarity or brightness, which means it shone in heavenly splendor.
  • Jesus’ Risen Body also had the characteristic of impassibility, which means that His Risen Body was immune to suffering, pain, disease, or death.

Was Jesus’ Risen Body different from his His Body was before His Death and Resurrection?

Our Lord’s Risen Body is the very same body He took from the Blessed Virgin Mary at the moment He became Man; it is the same Body He had throughout His earthly life; but, in the Resurrection, this earthly Body of His was wonderfully transformed into the glorified state It now possesses.  After Jesus’ Resurrection and the glorification of His Body, we now speak of His glorified Body.

Will all people rise from the dead?

All people will rise from the dead when Jesus Christ Our Lord returns in glory “to judge the living and the dead.”  It must be made clear that only those who have been faithful to Christ will share in His glory.  Like Christ, we too will rise from the dead by Jesus’ power at work in us.  We will rise to glory on the Last Day, when our bodies will be reunited with our souls.  Those pitiable souls who were unfaithful to God or who rejected His offer of salvation will be damned – separated from Him forever!  This eternal separation is called Hell or damnation.

How can a God who is supposed to be so “kind” and “loving” send anyone to hell for all eternity?

God doesn’t “send” anyone to hell!  People “send themselves” to Hell by deliberately choosing to do what is wrong, refusing or failing to repent of their sins and turn to God, and by their rejection of God.

How is the Lord Jesus able to “raise” us up from the dead and brings us into heaven?

When we die, our body and soul separate from one another – and we do not have the power to reunite them – which is why those who die stay dead.  In Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit, Who joins our body and soul to His Being as God.  Because in Baptism our bodies and souls are joined to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit has power and control over them – so even if our body and soul separate, both of them are still united to the Holy Spirit.  On the Last Day, the Holy Spirit will reunite our bodies and souls, and we will come back to life in a resurrected state.  That’s why it’s so important to be baptized.

If Jesus is God  and His Body was glorified in the Resurrection, why is His Ascension into Heaven so necessary?

It is true that Our Lord was “glorified” at the moment of His Resurrection.  But in reciting these words of the Lord Jesus to Saint 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” (John 20:17), the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out: “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” (Catechism, 660).  In other words, as the Lord Jesus appears to His Apostles and disciples after His Resurrection, they experience Him in a risen and glorious state.  In the Ascension and exaltation of the Lord Jesus in glory at the Father’s right hand, the disciples are also able to experience Jesus’ risen glory as one of triumph and exaltation.

If Jesus possesses glory as God, why does His human nature need to be glorified?

As God, Jesus already possesses endless and infinite glory.  The significance and importance of the Ascension is that Jesus’ human nature – His Body and His Soul – are exalted in the Ascension.  He lets this happen because by the exaltation of His human nature, He can pass that exultation and glory on to those who become “members of His Body,” the Church through being united to Him by the Holy Spirit in Baptism!  So, by being exalted in His human nature, Jesus makes it possible for unto be exalted and to share in His exalted glory.  In His human nature Jesus was exalted so that our human nature could be exalted!  The Ascension is a saving act!

Is there any further significance to the Ascension of the Lord?

Yes!  The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the Ascension as “Jesus’ final apparition

[which] 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” (Catechism, 659; Acts 1:9, 2:33, 7:56; Luke 9:34-35, 24:51; Exodus 13:22; Mark 16:19; Psalm 110:1).

Why do we have trouble imagining something like the Ascension?

For the Catholic Church, the Ascension is a real event that actually occurred in history.  The Church also acknowledges the clear use of symbolism by the inspired biblical authors to convey to their listeners and readers the importance and significance of Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven (Catechism, see no. 659).  The use of “symbolism” taken from the rich imagery found in the Bible is not an indicator that the Ascension is “just a theological statement about Jesus” or that it “really didn’t happen” or it is “unreal”!  The reliance upon symbolism by the inspired sacred authors is a way to convey the indescribable reality of the Ascension to us as readers and hearers of God’s Word, because such an event can NEVER be adequately described by human language!  So, the use of symbolism puts us in touch with the Ascension as an event that really took place in history – but, even though it was and is an historical event – our human language fails in being able to describe it or adequately capture it.  The use of stock symbolism from the Bible  puts us in touch with the reality of the Ascension in a way ordinary words and descriptions are not able to do!  This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church means when it refers to the Ascension as an “historical and transcendent event” (no. 660).

Would it be possible for humans to get to heaven without Jesus?

Left to our own natural powers, our unaided human nature cannot gain us “access” to the “Father’s House,” that is, God’s life and eternal happiness.  By taking to heaven a body and soul like ours, Christ – and only He – can give us and anyone else access to the blessedness of heaven.  That’s why we speak of Christ as our “Head,” or as “Head of the Mystical Body.”  The ancient peoples believed that life flowed from a person’s head into, and throughout the body.  So, the head was seen as the “source of the body’s life.”  Based on this understanding, the Christians refer to Christ as their “Head” or the “Head of the Mystical Body,” because he alone is the Source of this new kind of life – gained for us by His Cross, Resurrection and Ascension.

How does the Ascension of Jesus complete God’s saving plan?

Jesus’ Ascension into heaven accomplished four things:

  1. He entered in to the exalted glory He merited.
  2. He ascended into Heaven in order to  send down upon us the promised Gif of the Holy Spirit.
  3. He ascended into heaven in order to be our Intercessor before the Eternal Father.
  4. He ascended into heaven in order to prepare a place for us.

What do we mean when we speak of Christ being “seated at the right hand of the Father?’

In this biblical world, being seated at the right hand of a King or Ruler was the mark of receiving the highest honor (cf. Psalm 110:1-2).  As God Christ is equal to the Father, but as it is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the exaltation of Christ – God and Man – at the Father’s right hand, is the beginning of the Messiah’s Kingdom and the fulfillment of the prophet Daniel’s prophecy concerning the Son of Man, Who receives endless dominion, glory, and rule over all the nations and peoples (Daniel 7:14).  Through the Ascension this dominion is also bestowed upon Jesus’ human nature.

How long will the Dominion, Lordship, and Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus Christ last?

It will last forever.  The exalted Lordship of Jesus ascended into heavenly glory will last forever.  The Nicene Creed professes: “…and of His Kingdom, there will be no end” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 664).

What does the Catholic Church mean when it professes in the Creed that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”?

By this, we mean that on the Last Day Christ Our Lord will return to earth in His kingly, exalted and glorified state to pronounce a sentence of either eternal reward of punishment upon every human being who has ever lived in the history of the world.

What doctrinal truths and teachings appear in the prayers used in the Solemnity of the Ascension?

The prayers used at the Mass of the Ascension appear in both the Vigil Mass and the Mass During the Day.  Among the doctrinal truths that appear in the Mass texts are:

  • That “after His Resurrection he plainly appeared to all His disciples and was taken up into heaven in their sight, that He might make us sharers in His Divinity” (Preface II of the Ascension of the Lord), “as the Apostles looked on,” and “the angels gazed in wonder” (Collect for the Vigil Mass; Preface I of the Ascension of the Lord).
  • The Ascension of Christ into heaven is “our exaltation” (Collect for the Vigil Mass During the Day).
  • Jesus, God’s “Only Begotten Son, our High Priest, is seated ever-living at [God’s] right hand to intercede for us” (Prayer over the Offerings at the Vigil Mass).
  • Jesus is the King of glory, Conquerer of sin and death (Preface I); He is the “Mediator between God and man, Judge of the World and Lord of Hosts” (Preface I).
  • Jesus’ Ascension is “not to distance Himself from our lowly state but, that we, His members, might be confident of following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before” (Collect for the Mass During the Day, Preface I).
  • Jesus entered the heavenly place “where for our sake He entered before us” (Prayer after Communion at the Vigil Mass), so that those united to Jesus are members of His “Body,” and as such, we are called “to follow [Him] in hope” (Collect for the Mass During the Day).

Does the Ascension of Our Lord have any real connection to how we live life on a daily basis?

The Ascension not only has a meaning for daily life as we live it, but for those authentically living the Christian Faith, one is able to actually see and experience its power in our daily lives – this goes a long way in making the faith feel “real.”

In what experiences would we be able to “see” or “experience” the power of the Ascension to mold and shape our thoughts, words, actions, and the way we live life?

The experience of the power of the Ascension of Our Lord is tied to the virtue of hope – which relates and unites us to God and His Christ by a confident trust that not only shows up in our thoughts, words, and actions – but actually starts to influence and direct our thoughts, words, actions, and how we live.  At first, it will appear as a reminder to do the right thing when we carelessly start to trend towards the wrong; it will also start to appear as a thirst or desire for prayer, a desire to receive the Sacraments, a wish to make progress in the Christian life, and a willingness to show mercy to others.  As being connected to the virtue of hope, a strong clue as to finding these things is found in rich prayers found in the Roman Missal for the Solemnity of the Ascension which indicate:

  • Jesus is our mediator with God – He hasn’t distanced Himself from us (described as “our lowly state”), but the power of Jesus’ Ascension appears where “we, His members,” are “confident of following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before” (Preface I).  So, “confidence” and “trust” play key roles in our striving for salvation.
  • The “experience” and clear indicator of the power of Jesus’ Ascension appears when we are “worthy for Him to live with us always on the earth, and we with Him in Heaven” (Collect of the Vigil Mass).
  • The power of the Ascension is still active in our lives when we “approach with confidence the throne of grace and there obtain” God’s mercy (Prayer over the Offerings at the Vigil Mass).
  • The power of Jesus’ Ascension is present in our lives when the Eucharist we receive at Mass (especially the Mass of the Ascension) will “kindle in our hearts a longing for the heavenly homeland and cause us to press forward, following in the Savior’s footsteps, to the place where He entered before us” (Prayer after Communion at the Vigil Mass).  That “longing” is the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Wisdom.
  • The power of the Ascension is present when it makes “us rejoice with devout thanksgiving” because we realize that the Ascension of Christ means our exaltation – that is, our glorification in Heaven.  So, the Ascension creates genuine feeling of filial gratitude before the infinite scope of God’s power.
  • Our “belief” in Jesus’ Ascension makes it possible for us “in spirit [to] dwell already in heavenly realms.”  This is a way of saying that all of our life is shaped and molded by the hope that someday we will share in heaven with Jesus, Who by allowing His Body to be exalted and glorified, we will do the same for our bodies (Alternate Collect for the Mass During the Day).
  • The “holy exchange” that occurs at Mass – that is, placing ordinary bread and wine on our Altar and then receiving back the actual Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ Himself – will someday raise us up “to the heavenly realms” (Prayer over the Offerings for mass during the Day).
  • The celebration of the Ascension and its power in our daily lives on this Holy Day will allow “Christian hope [to] draw us onward to where our nature is united with God Himself” (Prayer after Communion for the Mass During the Day).

Fr. Rick Poblocki is the Pastor of St. Josaphat’s Parish in Cheektowaga, NY. This article also appears in St. Josaphat’s Weekly Bulletin, available for view in its entirety at www.st-josaphat.com. Don’t miss Fr. Rick on the Tuesday and Thursday Open Forum Editions of Calling All Catholics, weekdays at 5pm on The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network and the NEW iCatholicRadio App. Used with permission.

2017-01-02T01:42:30+00:00

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