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The Ascension reveals man’s calling to eternal, divine life

On the Readings for Thursday, May 26, 2022, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Detail from "The Ascension" (1775) by John Singleton Copley [WikiArt.org]

Readings:
• Acts 1:1-11
• Psa. 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
• Eph. 1:17-23 or Heb. 9:24-28; 10:19-23
• Lk 24:46-53

“He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

The inclusion of this statement as one of the twelve articles in the Apostles’ Creed, that early and succinct statement or “symbol” of faith, suggests the great importance of the Ascension. And the Solemnity of the Ascension is one of six great solemnities Catholics are obligated to observe. Yet specific reasons for its significance can be difficult to articulate. After all, we believe Jesus is God, so why be surprised that he would ascend into heaven? His work was “finished,” so doesn’t it make sense he would exit the earthly stage soon after the Resurrection?

When speaking to the Pharisee, Nicodemus, Jesus said, “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man” (Jn. 3:13). The Ascension is closely related to the reality of the Incarnation; it is, in fact, an essential act of the Incarnate One. “This final stage”—that is, the exaltation revealed in the Ascension—“stays closely linked to the first,” states the Catechism, “to his descent from heaven in the Incarnation” (par. 661). When the Son became man, the relationship between God and humanity changed in ways that men could hardly begin to appreciate or comprehend. The eternal Creator chose to become a creature, and in so doing established a new relationship with mankind as well as time and history.

Jesus is the bridge, the door, the mediator, between God and man. He established what man desperately needed, but only God could provide, what theologians call admirabile commercium, or “the wondrous exchange.” In the words of St. Augustine, “God wanted to be the Son of Man and he wanted men to be the sons of God.” The Son was rich in holiness and perfect in his divinity, but became poor for our sake, embracing the poverty of human flesh in order that men might become filled with holiness and the divine life (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9).

This glorious exchange is the essence of the kingdom of God, which the risen Lord spoke about with his disciples so often prior to the Ascension. But this great promise of the Father, Jesus said, would not be realized until the disciples were “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” the Lord and giver of life. The messianic kingdom would be inaugurated when the Son of man—who is forever Incarnate, fully man and fully God—was seated at the right hand of the Father.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in Images of Hope: Meditations On Major Feasts (Ignatius Press, 2006), reflected profoundly on this fact: “Christ’s Ascension is therefore not a spectacle for the disciples but an event into which they themselves are included. It is a sursum corda, a movement toward the above into which we are all called. It tells us that man can live toward the above, that he is capable of attaining heights. More: the altitude that alone is suited to the dimensions of being human is the altitude of God himself. Man can live at this height, and only from this height do we properly understand him. The image of man has been raised up, but we have the freedom to tear it down or to let ourselves be raised.”

To be “raised up” is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, reborn as children of God, marked with the promise of heavenly glory. This is possible because the Father loved the world so much he established a plan of salvation. This is a reality because the Son, the Word, became a man and joined divinity to humanity forever, and sits in the heavenly places as the Incarnate Word. This is a fact because the Holy Spirit, at baptism, regenerates the souls of men, making them sons of God by grace.

The Incarnation revealed that God could become flesh and dwell among men. The Ascension revealed that man could be divinized and dwell eternally with God (CCC 1988, 2670).

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the May 16, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

13 Comments

  1. Jesus ascending to heaven………..100% scripture supported (Truth)

    Mary ” ” ” ………..0% ” ” (Truth)

    • Brian, Catholicism doesn’t teach that Mary ascended into heaven, we teach she was assumed. The difference is between the divine second Person of the trinity, and the most exalted of all God’s creatures made in his image. She receives glorification [My soul glorifies the Lord] de congruo Jesus is glorified de condigno.
      Mary’s parting from this world remains an unrevealed mystery, except that her sinlessness, and her enfleshing of the Word dispels physical corruption. We don’t speak of her death, rather a transition. Mary, declared Mother of God Ephesus declared Mother of the Church Paul VI glorifies God in her very soul, since her soul is the clearest image of the Word made flesh and possessing all the virtues in their perfection.
      As Augustine says in today’s breviary, as the head ascends into heaven the body follows in spirit the head, the Word made flesh remains with us that we in a true sense are in heaven. This, due to the flesh he received from Mary. Exemplified in the Holy Eucharist. So, unlike your comment, she of all Mankind glories Our Lord.

      • Peter,
        You didn’t finish the verse from Luke 1:46-47. And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior..”
        Sinless people do not need a Savior.

        So, you are assuming Mary was assumed? The Holy Spirit instructs us through the correct context in which God’s scripture was intended. I believe that a spirit is influencing you, but not the Holy Spirit from scriptures. You’ll notice in almost all of catholic writings there is hardly any scripture is mentioned. You all aren’t that intelligent that you think you have God figured out and can add or subtract from His Word to come up with whatever fits your narrative. Please study the scriptures more thoroughly (especially notice how little ink God gives to Mary….99.99% is talking about Jesus!). I had a brother you was going to be a priest at one time and he said the years he had spent at seminary, they hardly ever opened a bible…….sounds strange that leaders of a church don’t know scripture!

        • Which is why the Word who creates all things and keeps them in being created Mary without sin in the Immaculate Conception. Neither you Brian nor anyone else can prevent the power and the love of God to do as he wills. Thus, he remains Mary’s savior and she the sinless Mother of the Word made flesh.

      • From a theological perspective the Virgin Mary, immaculately conceived without Original Sin [nor did she incur any other sin] was not subject to death, the penalty of sin. Therefore, she would not be subject to resurrection from the dead, rather was assumed into heaven body and soul.

        • Scripture verses to support your assumptions……..GO!
          As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12

          This righteousness from God comes through faith in JESUS CHRIST to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by CHRIST JESUS. Romans 3:22-23

          • Obviously you are not a catholic, you just come here to bla bla bla and criticize; your obsession with “Scripture” indicates that you are a protestant. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he said “Hail Mary, full of grace”, full of grace means without sin and at that time, the ‘hail’ greeting wasn’t used just like that, it was reserved for royalty – remember, this was an archangel sent by God to pass a message to Mary.
            If you were a catholic, you would have oceans of God’s revelations post-scriptural time, God revealed mountains of things to many catholic saints, popes, doctors of the church and seers. God didn’t stop talking with His children when St John died.
            The person who received more revelations from God in the entire history of the world was St Anne Catherine Emmerich; one of her magnificent books – The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary – God revealed that Mary was taken to heaven in body and soul; first she died in late afternoon and her body was deposited in a small cave, as it was costume in ancient times; and in the evening, Jesus came with a myriad of angels, transformed her body into a “glorified body” [the body everyone who will be saved at the time will receive after the final judgement and for eternity] and they both went to heaven accompanied by the angels.
            After the final judgement, those souls who were already in heaven and those who will be declared saved that day, will receive their ‘glorified bodies’, all young and without a speckle of imperfection; most will go and live in the New Heaven and a few chosen will go and live in the New Earth; those souls who were in hell and h who will be condemned on that day, will stay with their decaying bodies for eternity.
            Brian, scripture itself says that not everything that Jesus taught and done are recorded in the bible, that if they were, not all the books in the world would be enough to contain all [book of St John 20:30 + 21:25].
            Since the beginning of time that God has been communicating with His children, constantly warning and instructing; do you think that stopped 2020 years ago? There was no a single decade where God didn’t communicate with His children.
            A piece of advice; the worst insult anyone might get is when someone insults or says bad things about their mothers; if I were you, I would be very careful about what you say about the Mother of Jesus Christ, about the Mother of God… do you know what I mean?
            [don’t bother answering as I’m not a regular reader of this website; I popped in this one by change – maybe by calling]
            P.S.- Here’s the book I mentioned, press “PDF” to download it:
            https://archive.org/details/lifeofblessedvir00orsiuoft

    • In Scripture, Jesus does say, does He not, that He will call forth all from their graves and then resurrect their bodies? He does not give a timeline for each one of us, does He?

      1Corinthians 15:51-52 says: Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

      Jesus while he walked on earth, demonstrated his ability to raise whom he wished from the dead (John 22:25). He raised back to earthly life not only his friend Lazarus but also Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18ff, Mark 5:21ff, Luke 8:40ff) and the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11ff).

      As Jesus and the Father are One, and as God created all through and with Jesus at the beginning of time, God surely retains His power to create anew whomever and whenever He wishes in His eternal Kingdom! Surely God would see Mary, the Mother chosen by Him to be His Mother, as deserving a place close to Him and according to His Time.

      Surely, just as the elect hope to attain bodily resurrection in God’s eternal Kingdom Mary too would have done so. As Mary asked and received from Jesus the performance of his first earthly miracle, why should He not perform a miracle for her in His eternal heavenly Kingdom at His choice of time? Why would a good Christian not believe that Jesus would not express or prove His Love for His Mother by enabling her to enjoy His fruits in Heaven just as she enjoyed them on earth?

      Catholics not only respect and honor Scripture; we also respect our God-given Spirit-driven gifts of intellect which allows us to know, understand, reason, infer, and draw wise conclusions, and make prudent decisions. With the help of the promised Holy Spirit in the Church, with the sense of the faithful throughout Sacred Tradition, the Church has spoken and authoritatively taught that Mary has been assumed into heaven. Denying the teaching is a denial of the Church Christ founded, The Word spoken in Scripture, and the Deposit of the Faith carried by the successors of the apostles and the faithful throughout its Tradition. Here is a choice: One individual voice against or for God, His Institution and His Followers through two millennia. Logic should choose the right one.

    • The continuing self-understanding of the faith by the Church, to use your language, 100 percent scripturally supported.

    • Hi Brian, have you heard of Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes? Mid 19th century she had 12 encounters with Mary, the Mother of God. For over a hundred years and every year great healing miracles occur there since Bernadette opened the spring that still gives healing waters. Do you believe in saints and miracles? Scriptures are the foundation of the Church but God gives us so much more. “And He put all things beneath his feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His Body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”(Eph 1:23) The Catholic Church has all the fullness of faith and grace of Jesus because He is the Church. Mary is our hope; she is the first human to be taken to heaven soul and body. If you ever go to Europe look up Nevers in France and at the beautiful incorrupt body of Bernadette.

      • And it was to Bernadette that the Mother of Our Lord identified herself as the Immaculate Conception, affirming her immaculate purity, free even from original sin, and the fact that all our lives begin at our conception.

  2. “When our Lord was born according to the flesh, the angels, seeing that He was reconciled with man, cried: ‘Glory to God in the highest’. Do you want to know how they rejoiced in the Ascension? Listen to the account in the Bibel ‘They rise and descend continuously’. That is the behavior of those who want to contemplate a very special sight. They want to see the unheard-of spectacle of man appearing in heaven. That is why the angels are constantly showing themselves; when He is born, when He dies, when He rises into heaven.” (St Chrysostom, Serm asc, 4). And St. Chrysostom writes: “Today we are raised up into heaven, we who seemed unworthy even of earth. We are exalted above the heavens; we arrive at the kingly throne. The nature which caused the Cherubim to keep guard over Paradise is seated today above the Cherubim. Was it not enough to have a place among the angels? Was not such a glory beyond all expression? But He rose above the angels, He passed the Cherubim, He went higher than the Seraphim, He bypassed the Thrones, He did not stop until He arrived at the very Throne of God.” “The angels of heaven hesitate at first, seeing the Incarnate Word ascend, before the paradox of human nature, the most lowly of all, exalted above all the choirs of heaven. But when the angels who are accompanying Christ have revealed the mystery to them they exult for joy.” “The overwhelming revelation made to the angels to the mystery of the Ascension is not that they are to adore the Eternal Word – that is already the object of their liturgy; but rather that they are to adore the Word Incarnate- and that overturns all of heaven, just as the Incarnation revolutionized all of earth.” Who is the King of Glory? It is the Lord God Incarnate Jesus Christ, true God and true man. “The more we purify ourselves, the more we know Him; and the more we know Him, the more we LOVE HIM.” (excerpts “The Angels and their Mission” as seen by the Fathers, Jean Danielou, SJ)

  3. The Bible is a product of the Catholic Church. There is no book in the Bible that defines what books belong in the Bible. This was established by the Catholic Church. Dr. Brant Pitre has done presentations on the origins of the Bible. He has quite a few posted on YouTube.
    *
    Catholic Sacred Tradition has its precursor in Rabbinic Judaism. They believe that Moses was given a Written and an Oral Torah. When the Oral Torah was written down it is fifty times the size of the Written Torah. Jesus gave a teaching from the Scriptures on the road to Emmaus. If sola scriptura was valid then no such exegesis would have been necessary. Many Catholic teachings come from reading the Old and the New Testaments together, looking for New Testament precursors in the Old Testament. Catholicism has undeniable Jewish roots. That is why the Old Testament is in the Bible. Too many people like to take the Bible and tear it out raw and bleeding from its Jewish context and try to force fit it into a modern cultural context. Christ is a King in the line of David. This comes with the attributes of the Davidic kingdom. Mary is the Queen Mother, whose duties include being an advocate and intercessor between the people and the king. It also includes the prime minister which is the current office of the papacy. We call Jesus and Mary the New Adam and the New Eve. Adam and Eve were created sinless. For Mary to be a true New Eve she would need to be as sinless as Eve was before the fall. By all accounts Enoch, and Elijah were taken up to heaven, so the Assumption has Old Testament precursors.
    *
    The Sadducees only believed in the Written Torah, and didn’t believe in the afterlife or the resurrection of the dead. They are the ones who tried to challenge Christ with the question about the wife of seven brothers. According to the Bible He silenced them.

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