The Readings for Ascension Day
…the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh…
On the calendar of some ecclesial Jurisdictions, today is the Ascension. Others will commemorate it on the Sunday within the Octave. Catholicism, like Orthodoxy, has calendar issues as well. Although the Archdiocese of SF and our daily office observe this feast on Sunday, I’ll do the mass readings here and now. That way we get the other readings for Sunday.
At every Mass, after the priest consecrates the host, making it the very Flesh of God, he genuflects and then elevates Our Lord for Adoration. From the priest, the sacred ministers, and the altar boys who serve on the altar with him, to the women and men in the congregation every eye elevates and adores. The whole body of the faithful is drawn upward to gaze at the Humble God, silent in his glory. A few moments later these actions are repeated as, after consecration, the priest elevates the chalice containing the Blood of God shed for us. Again, the whole assembly is drawn upwards, momentarily, to the contemplation of Love, Mercy, and Truth in the presence of the Divine Person.
This is the Mystery of the Ascension of Our Lord.
What we tend to think of is that a mass of individuals becomes what we call “humanity” or “the human race”. A bunch of men becomes Mankind. The Church sees humanity rather like a mirror image of the Trinity: many persons, one nature. We are all one in a way we cannot fathom, just as our Creator is 3 persons in one divine nature. In that we are one each of our petty and personal sins drags all of us down. We are each and everyone diminished by any death that ends a life at any moment after it begins. Each loss of wisdom, each loss of experience, each loss of possibility destroys all of us, robs us of something precious. Each sin drags us all down and each righteous action, each life lived, each love transcending the fleshly lusts, each action of charity and grace moves us upward.
No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
– John Donne
So the Ascension affecting one man, Jesus of Nazareth, affects us all – even those who reject its implications. In this, they have no choice in the matter for Jesus is a man as we all are and what affects us one so affects us all. One of the common nature that we share is Ascended. That one of us is also God is of the heaviest implication. For now mankind sits enthroned not next to God, but as God, at the right hand of the Father.
As we gaze upon the elevated host, the nature of man is forever altered in this altaring. What we offer is one of us and in him our very selves. The Church as his body offers herself to God. We are the body of Christ, that is the Body of Christ. I once asked a wise priest, “When I distribute the host and say, ‘The body of Christ’ am I saying something about the bread or the person to whom I give it?” The response was, “Yes.” Bread is made flesh. Sarx: the human flesh, is made divine.
Our Lord’s Ascension is the first evidence that the “key has changed” after the Incarnation: the Eastern liturgical texts speak of how amazed the Angels are at seeing one of our race of men entering into the Heavens. The Psalm text, “Who is this king of glory?” is read as the angels asking each other “Look! Who is this? Who comes here? Who?”
It’s a mortal man now immortal and a divine being now dead and alive again. The King of All the Ages, by gift of his Father, is one of us. And there is no “one of us” there is only “All of Us”. As in Adam, all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Here are some Byzantine (Orthodox) liturgical texts for your meditation. Today or Sunday, a glorious feast!
Behold the Lamb of God goes up who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are they who are called…
The choirs of Angels were astounded when they saw Christ, the mediator between God and mankind in the highest with his flesh, while with one voice they sang a hymn of victory. To God, who appeared on mount Sinai and gave the law to Moses, who saw God, and who was taken up in the flesh from the mount of Olives, let us all sing; for gloriously he has been glorified.
O Christ, Giver of life, lover of humankind, thou wentest up to the Father and exalted our race in thine ineffable compassion. The ranks of Angels, as they saw thy mortal nature going up, O Saviour, were astounded and without ceasing sang thy praise.
The choirs of Angels were amazed, O Christ, as they saw thee being taken up with thy body, and they sang the praise of your holy Ascension. Human nature, which had fallen by corruption, thou didst raise, O Christ, and by thine ascension thou hast exalted and glorified us with thyself.
Lift up the heavenly gates, for see, Christ the King and Lord, wearing his earthly body, is at hand, said the powers below to those above. When thou soughtest Adam, who had been led astray by the deceit of the serpent, O Christ, as thou hadst clothed thyself in him, thou ascendedst and took thy seat as equal sovereign on the Father’s right hand, while the Angels sang thy praise.
As the Saviour had ascended to the Father with his flesh, the hosts of Angels were struck with amazement, and cried out: Glory, O Christ, to thine ascension! The angelic Powers cried out to those above: Lift up the gates for Christ, our King; whose praise we sing, together with the Father and the Spirit.
Jesus the Giver of life, taking those he loved, ascended the mount of Olives and blessed them and, riding on a cloud, he came to the Father’s bosom, which he had never left. The whole world, visible and invisible, keeps the feast with gladness; Angels and humans leap for joy as they glorify without ceasing the Ascension of the One who by his goodness was united to us in the flesh.
Thou didst fill the universe with gladness, merciful Lord, taking thy place in mortal flesh among the powers on high. The angelic powers, seeing thee thus lifted up, cried out: Lift up the gates for our King!
Strange was thy Birth, strange thy Resurrection, strange and fearful thy divine Ascension from the mount, O Giver of life, of which Elias was an icon when he went up in a four-horse chariot, singing thy praise, O Lover of Mankind.
The Angels came and cried out, O Christ, to thy Disciples: In the same way ye have seen Christ going up, he will come in the flesh as just Judge of all.
Appearing in the flesh, thou didst join in one things that were formerly separated, O Lover of mankind; and as thy Disciples watched, O Merciful, thou wert taken up to the heavenly places. Why are the garments red of the One who was united to the solidity of flesh? said the holy Angels, as they saw Christ bearing the divine marks of his precious passion.