The Ascension of the Lord
Acts 1:1-11 — Ephesians 1:17-23 — Luke 24:46-53
May 16, 2010
The Office of
From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop
No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven
Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.
Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food.
Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? 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.
He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.
These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ: he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are the sons of God. So the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so is it also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.
Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in him by grace. Thus, no one but Christ descended and no one but Christ ascended; not because there is no distinction between the head and the body, but because the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.
Saint Thomas Aquinas’
teaching from the Summa Theologica on the question of “Whether Christ’s Ascension is the cause of our salvation?”
Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 57, Article 6
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ’s Ascension is not the cause of our salvation. For, Christ was the cause of our salvation in so far as He merited it. But He merited nothing for us by His Ascension, because His Ascension belongs to the reward of His exaltation: and the same thing is not both merit and reward, just as neither are a road and its terminus the same. Therefore it seems that Christ’s Ascension is not the cause of our salvation.
Objection 2: Further, if Christ’s Ascension be the cause of our salvation, it seems that this is principally due to the fact that His Ascension is the cause of ours. But this was bestowed upon us by His Passion, for it is written (Heb. 10:19): “We have [Vulg.: ‘Having’] confidence in the entering into the holies by” His “blood.” Therefore it seems that Christ’s Ascension was not the cause of our salvation.
Objection 3: Further, the salvation which Christ bestows is an everlasting one, according to Is. 51:6: “My salvation shall be for ever.” But Christ did not ascend into heaven to remain there eternally; for it is written (Acts 1:11): “He shall so come as you have seen Him going, into heaven.” Besides, we read of Him showing Himself to many holy people on earth after He went up to heaven. to Paul, for instance (Acts 9). Consequently, it seems that Christ’s Ascension is not the cause of our salvation.
On the contrary, He Himself said (Jn. 16:7): “It is expedient to you that I go”; i.e. that I should leave you and ascend into heaven.
I answer that, Christ’s Ascension is the cause of our salvation in two ways: first of all, on our part; secondly, on His.
On our part, in so far as by the Ascension our souls are uplifted to Him; because, as stated above (Article , ad 3), His Ascension fosters, first, faith; secondly, hope; thirdly, charity. Fourthly, our reverence for Him is thereby increased, since we no longer deem Him an earthly man, but the God of heaven; thus the Apostle says (2 Cor. 5:16): “If we have known Christ according to the flesh---’that is, as mortal, whereby we reputed Him as a mere man,’” as the gloss interprets the words---”but now we know Him so no longer.”
On His part, in regard to those things which, in ascending, He did for our salvation. First, He prepared the way for our ascent into heaven, according to His own saying (Jn. 14:2): “I go to prepare a place for you,” and the words of Micheas (2:13), “He shall go up that shall open the way before them.” For since He is our Head the members must follow whither the Head has gone: hence He said (Jn. 14:3): “That where I am, you also may be.” In sign whereof He took to heaven the souls of the saints delivered from hell, according to Ps. 67:19 (Cf. Eph. 4:8): “Ascending on high, He led captivity captive,” because He took with Him to heaven those who had been held captives by the devil---to heaven, as to a place strange to human nature. captives in deed of a happy taking, since they were acquired by His victory.
Secondly, because as the high-priest under the Old Testament entered the holy place to stand before God for the people, so also Christ entered heaven “to make intercession for us,” as is said in Heb. 7:25. Because the very showing of Himself in the human nature which He took with Him to heaven is a pleading for us. so that for the very reason that God so exalted human nature in Christ, He may take pity on them for whom the Son of God took human nature. Thirdly, that being established in His heavenly seat as God and Lord, He might send down gifts upon men, according to Eph. 4:10: “He ascended above all the heavens, that He might fill all things,” that is, “with His gifts,” according to the gloss.
Reply to Objection 2: Christ’s Passion is the cause of our ascending to heaven, properly speaking, by removing the hindrance which is sin, and also by way of merit: whereas Christ’s Ascension is the direct cause of our ascension, as by beginning it in Him who is our Head, with whom the members must be united.
Reply to Objection 3: Christ by once ascending into heaven acquired for Himself and for us in perpetuity the right and worthiness of a heavenly dwelling-place; which worthiness suffers in no way, if, from some special dispensation, He sometimes comes down in body to earth; either in order to show Himself to the whole world, as at the judgment; or else to show Himself particularly to some individual, e.g. in Paul’s case, as we read in Acts 9. And lest any man may think that Christ was not bodily present when this occurred, the contrary is shown from what the Apostle says in 1 Cor. 14:8, to confirm faith in the Resurrection: “Last of all He was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time”: which vision would not confirm the truth of the Resurrection except he had beheld Christ’s very body.
Catena Aurea of the Church Fathers
on Luke 24:50-53
50. And he led them out as far as to Bethany and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.
51. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.
52. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy:
53. And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.
BEDE THE VENERABLE. Having omitted all those things which may have taken place during forty-three days between our Lord and His disciples, St. Luke silently joins to the first day of the resurrection, the last day when He ascended into heaven, saying, And he led them out as far as to Bethany. First, indeed, because of the name of the place, which signifies “the house of obedience.” For He who descended because of the disobedience of the wicked, ascended because of the obedience of the converted. Next, because of the situation of the same village, which is said to be placed on the side of the mount of Olives; because He has placed the foundations, as it were, of the house of the obedient Church, of faith, hope, and love, in the side of that highest mountain, namely, Christ. But He blessed them to whom He had delivered the precepts of His teaching; hence it follows, And he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.
THEOPHYLACT. Perhaps pouring into them a power of preservation, until the coming of the Spirit; and perhaps instructing them, that as often as we go away, we should commend to God by our blessing those who are placed under us.
ORIGEN; But that He blessed them with uplifted hands, signifies that it becomes him who blesses any one to be furnished with various works and labors in behalf of others. For in this way are the hands raised up on high.
CHRYSOSTOM. But observe, that the Lord submits to our sight the promised rewards. He had promised the resurrection of the body; He rose from the dead, and conferred with His disciples for forty days. It is also promised that we shall be caught up in the clouds through the air; this also He made manifest by His works. For it follows, And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted, &c.
THEOPHYLACT. And Elias indeed was seen, as it were, to be taken up into heaven, but the Savior, the forerunner of all, Himself ascended into heaven to appear in the Divine sight in His sacred body; and already is our nature honored in Christ by a certain Angelic power.
CHRYSOSTOM. But you will say, How does this concern me? Because you also shall be taken up in like manner into the clouds. For your body is of like nature to His body, therefore shall your body be so light, that it can pass through the air. For as is the head, so also is the body; as the beginning, so also the end. See then how you are honored by this beginning. Man was the lowest part of the rational creation, but the feet have been made the head, being lifted up aloft into the royal throne in their head.
BEDE THE VENERABLE. When the Lord ascended into heaven, the disciples adoring Him where His feet lately stood, immediately return to Jerusalem, where they were commanded to wait for the promise of the Father, for it follows, And they worshipped him, and returned, &c. Great indeed was their joy, for they rejoice that their God and Lord after the triumph of His resurrection had also passed into the heavens.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. And they were watching, praying, and fasting, because indeed they were not living in their own homes, but were abiding in the temple, expecting the grace from on high; among other things also learning from the very place piety and honesty. Hence it is said, And were continually in the temple.
THEOPHYLACT. The Spirit had not yet come, and yet their conversation is spiritual. Before they were shut up; now they stand in the midst of the chief priests; distracted by no worldly object, but despising all things, they praise God continually; as it follows, Praising and blessing God.
BEDE THE VENERABLE. And observe that among the four beasts in heaven, Luke is said to be represented by the calf, for by the sacrifice of a calf, they were ordered to be initiated who were chosen to the priesthood; and Luke has undertaken to explain more fully than the rest the priesthood of Christ; and his Gospel, which he commenced with the ministry of the temple in the priesthood of Zacharias, he has finished with the devotion in the temple. And he has placed the Apostles there, about to be the ministers of a new priesthood, not in the blood of sacrifices, but in the praises of God and in blessing, that in the place of prayer and amidst the praises of their devotion, they might wait with prepared hearts for the promise of the Spirit.
THEOPHYLACT. Whom imitating, may we ever dwell in a holy life, praising and blessing God; to Whom be glory and blessing and power, for ever and ever. Amen.
Reflections from Father Robert Barron
To hear his audio reflection,
click below on the photo of
Father Hoisington’s Reflection
The readings today mark an extremely important transition in the life of Christ and His Church, of which we are members. We have heard the end of the Gospel according to Saint Luke, and the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. We celebrate the end of Jesus as a person walking the earth in the midst of people who could turn to Him in their needs. His Ascension was necessary, though, so that we could receive Christ in His Holy Spirit, which we will celebrate on the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church.
Whenever we ourselves face transitions in life, we might tend to forget that when one door closes in life, another door tends to open. The Ascension reminds us of this, but also promises us something much more important. Not only do doors open and close in life, but as Christ said to the apostles, He sends down to us the promise of the Holy Spirit, to guide us as we choose which doors to go through and which doors to close behind us.
God is always with us, appearing to us in different ways. The Holy Spirit manifests His presence in our lives through his gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and due reverence for God. These gifts are at work in our hearts if we actively seek the presence of the Holy Spirit, whose entrance into our hearts we should pray intensely for during these next ten days.
And so the Ascension is the prologue of the story of the Church, our story. We can celebrate the Ascension because while Jesus is no longer physically present as one of us, he is still with us: His Spirit is with us, and He is with us in his sacraments. But Jesus has passed on his mission to us. It’s up to all of us, bound together by the Holy Spirit, to show the world what God is like. Because the Holy Spirit, as a spirit, can only be seen through human beings. And with Jesus in heaven, it’s up to us to show the face of God to others.