30th May 2019 The Ascension of Our Lord

posted 30 May 2019, 06:02 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension, Year C (30/5/19)


What’s so special about the Ascension?  Is it really that significant?  Is it right that we think about it only once a year, or should we consider it more often?  It's possible just to see the Ascension as the end – a bit like on some cartoons, where at the end the music plays and the message “That's all folks!” comes up on the screen.  But it's much deeper than that.  Let me show you how.


One of the ways in which the Ascension is important is that it marks, not an end, but a change in the way the Eleven related to Christ.  Before the Ascension, they spoke to Him face to face; now they pray to Him without seeing His human face.  So what, you might say.  One of the things it did was it made them take the initiative and, rather than being just like children, asking for the answers all the time, they had to reflect on all Jesus had given to them for the past three years – both His teaching, and those things they hadn't used that much so far, the sacraments.  Word and sacraments were now to play a much bigger part, and there were to be more “bonus points” for doing this.  After all, Jesus said to Thomas, “You believe because you can see me.  Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)  The disciples now had to live by faith, and pass that faith onto others who had never seen Christ.  The Apostles’ disciples then had to pass the faith onto others who also had not seen Jesus, and so on, onto our own day.  As the Church, we were not to remain like infants, needing Christ to hold our hand all the time.  We know that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are with us through all things, and so we live out our faith and witness to the Holy Trinity without fear.


Another way the Ascension is important is reflected in the Mass.  Preparing this homily has made me reflect on this a bit more.  In each celebration of Mass, we don't just remember, but participate sacramentally in the Last Supper, Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection, and also His Ascension.  We use the words Christ used at the Last Supper.  His saving sacrifice on the Cross is made present for us - “This is my Body ... given up for you”  “This is my Blood ... poured out for you”.  We receive in Holy Communion the risen Christ, not the dead Christ.  At the dismissal, we are sent out to evangelise, just as Christ sent out the Apostles at the moment of the Ascension:  “Go forth”;  “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”.  But there's even more, which is highlighted in part in today's second reading from the letter to the Hebrews.  In the Jewish Temple, which was situated in Jerusalem until the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD, there was a place called the Holy of Holies.  This was the holiest part of the Temple, as the name suggests, and the High Priest could only enter it once a year, on the Day of Atonement.  On this day, there was a special ritual he had to perform to atone for the sins of the people, detailed in Leviticus, the third book of the Bible.  He had to bathe and put on special garments, then sacrifice a bull to atone for his sin and that of his family, with its blood sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant (which was kept in the Holy of Holies).  Then he had to take two goats, and one was allowed to run off into the wilderness, taking the people's sins with it, whilst the other was sacrificed, and its blood also sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant.  The whole design of the Temple was supposed to be modelled on heaven itself, with all the layout and measurements for it recorded in Leviticus.


Now for the clever bit.  All this was a prophesy of what Christ was going to do.  Christ was not going to offer the blood of an animal to God, but His own Blood on the Cross to atone for human sins.  He wasn't going to take His Blood to a man-made temple, modelled on heaven.  Instead, He took Himself to heaven itself, to present Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to the Father in heaven.  We often talk of Jesus' Death on the Cross being how our sins were forgiven, but with the Ascension, the whole prophecy is fulfilled.  What the High Priest was doing each year on the Day of Atonement was only symbolising what Christ was going to do when He ascended into heaven and presented Himself to the Father.  Just before Jesus died on the Cross, He said, “It is accomplished” (John 19:30), because with His Death on the Cross, there was no need any more for the Day of Atonement ritual.  Now that He has entered heaven, everything prophesied by the Day of Atonement has taken place.  So at each celebration of Mass, when we take part sacramentally in all Jesus did to redeem us and save us from sin, the Ascension is part of it too, and three out of the four Eucharistic Prayers mention it.


So the Ascension is an event that perhaps we should think about a bit more than just once a year.  It marks a change in how the Church relates to Christ, from sight to faith, from being an infant holding Christ's hand to growing to adulthood, relying instead on Word and sacraments.  And it also represents the completion of everything symbolised in the Day of Atonement ritual.  The Jewish Temple has served its purpose, and is needed no more.