NOTA BENE: In some dioceses, the Ascension is celebrated on the Thursday that is the fortieth day of Eastertide instead of being celebrated on the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
The Ascension of the Lord [C]
Acts 1:1-11 + Ephesians 1:17-23 + Luke 24:46-53
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses ….”
The Church reflects upon the Glorious Mystery of the Ascension through her Sacred Liturgy. She does this first through the Scriptures, prayers and antiphons of today’s Mass. These include the Preface that the priest chants or recites right before the Sanctus. There are two prefaces for the Ascension. In the first, the priest professes our belief—that is to say, the belief of the entire Communion of Saints—that “the Lord Jesus, the King of glory, / conqueror of sin and death, / ascended today to the highest heavens” “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.”
That preface makes it clear to us that the Church’s celebration of Jesus’ Ascension is about the virtue of hope. It’s about you and me and every other member of the Church on earth living the virtue of hope in our daily lives: at home, at work, and among our family and friends.
Hoping for Heaven is challenging because for most of us, Heaven is still a long ways down the road. After all, on the practical level, for most of you, your “tomorrow” is going to look pretty much like your “today”. Regarding your hopes for “tomorrow”, you likely hope for sunny skies and 72°. You likely hope for your investments to show at least a modest gain, or your boss to give you a raise, or your grown child to call to see how you’re doing, or your husband to take you by the hand, look into your eyes and say, “I love you. Thank you for being such a wonderful mother to our children.” All of these are perfectly natural things to hope for.
But we tend not to hope for Heaven tomorrow. That is to say, unless you are in the last years of life upon this green earth, there are probably a whole lot of tomorrows left to you between “today” and the end of your road. So practically, we put our hope in things that lay closer to hand. As a result, Heaven becomes not so much an object of hope, as a vague and fuzzy ideal far, far off on the horizon.
But our Blessed Mother Mary can help us to hope more realistically. We have honored her throughout the month of May because she, more than any other disciple of Jesus, can show us and help us to place our hope each day in her Son: her Son Jesus, who is the Way of true hope for your daily life.
When you pray the Rosary on Tuesdays and Fridays, imagine the Crucifixion from Mary’s point of view. When Jesus was hanging on the Cross, He spoke to few persons, but Mary was one of them. “Woman, behold your son”, Jesus said, nodding his crowned head towards St. John, the Beloved Disciple [John 19:26]. After Jesus’ Ascension, Mary gathered with the Apostles in the Upper Room where Jesus had given the Eucharist at the Last Supper. But why was Mary there? Why was Mary still on this earth? Wasn’t her vocation over? Wasn’t she just—so to speak—treading water until her Assumption? Of course not.
In Mary’s earthly life, she lived for others, not for herself. She lived with the hope that St. Paul wrote about to the Christians in Philippi. We can imagine Mary pondering the Mystery of her Son, and saying in her heart, “I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, (for) that is far better. Yet that I remain (in) the flesh is more necessary for your benefit” [Philippians 1:23-24]. When St. Paul wrote those words, “your benefit” meant the benefit of the Philippians. But we might ask: for Mary, for whose benefit would she have meant these words?
Mary is the Mother of the entire Church. Mary is your own mother, also, since you are one member of her Son’s Mystical Body. She is “our life, our sweetness, and our hope”, because she gathers with us as she did with the Apostles after her Son’s Ascension. During these days leading up to Pentecost, we pray for the power of the Holy Spirit in order to give faithful witness to Jesus in this world.