Message of the Glorious Mysteries – The Ascension

As Son of God Jesus possessed the beatific vision from the very first moment His soul was created, and, in consequences the glorified state of the body with heaven as His dwelling place were due to Him. However, the saving mission which He had taken upon Himself called for suffering which was incompatible with the glorified state; so Jesus hid His glory and took the form of a servant, to labour and to suffer until His mission was accomplished. When He arose from the dead He assumed the glorified state of His body, but for our instruction and encouragement, He remained on earth for another forty days. When these days had come to an end, He gloriously ascended into heaven.

Saint Luke paints a lovely picture of Our Lord on His way to Mount Olivet on Ascension Day. The same road which had taken Him to this place only a few weeks before, there to begin His passion with His bloody agony, now sees Him return to the scene of battle as glorious conqueror. As on that evening so He is now surrounded by His apostles, but their number is swelled by many other friends and followers of Jesus. Jesus gives them His last instructions and answers their questions until they arrive at the place chosen by Him. The great moment of His departure from them has come. He speaks to them His final word of parting; it is the apostolic commission, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20). With a last blessing for the ungrateful world for which He had died, with a Father’s blessing for all His faithful friends, with a last loving and grateful look to His holy Mother He begins to raise Himself into space, higher and higher, until a cloud hides Him from the sight of human eyes. And whilst His friends are still looking towards heaven two angels appeared, assuring them that this Jesus, whom they had seen ascending into heaven, would come again such as they had seen Him on this day.

With holy joy in their hearts the apostles and friends of Jesus returned to Jerusalem; even though they would miss the presence of their beloved Master, they rejoiced over His glory. Their thoughts henceforth dwelt in heaven; there they found the inspiration to a holy life, strength and consolation and joy in the midst of their labours and even in the tortures of a bloody death. And how often during the course of centuries, especially in periods of persecution and distress, did the followers of Christ look to heaven, there to discover a sign of His coming; but even though He delayed, their faith remained unshaken. Their thoughts were with Him in heaven and the certainty that one day they would share in His triumph and glory, gave them new courage to persevere to the end.

Jesus entered heaven, but not alone. A wonderful scene was enacted when Jesus had vanished from the sight of His friends on earth. Limbo gives up the souls it has held for thousands of years and they join Jesus in His triumphant entry into heaven. At last, their prayers and hopes have been fulfilled. When Jesus had died on the cross, His soul descended into Limbo and brought these holy souls the joyous news that soon the days of their waiting would come to an end. Now the great moment has come; they join Jesus in a glorious procession of light and splendour. As they approach the gates of heaven, their joyous cries announce the coming of heaven’s King to the blessed spirits of the heavenly Kingdom. “Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates, and the King of glory shall enter in.” From within the heavenly gates comes the question, “Who is this King of glory?” And the answer goes thundering back from the multitudes of Limbo, “The Lord, who is strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates, and the King of glory shall enter in” (Psalm 23:7-10 in the Vulgate, or Psalm 24:7-10 in the Hebrew). And now the gates of heaven are thrown open, the choirs of angels pay homage to the glorious King, and welcome into heaven their new brethren, the first human souls, to be their companions forever. Then mid them, Jesus enters the eternal Holy of Holies and takes possession of His royal throne, and of His kingdom, there shall be no end.

The Apostle’s Creed describes the heavenly life of Jesus as sitting at the right hand of the Father. This signifies His eternal rest, the absence of warfare and suffering, the possession of undisturbed joy and peace. True, He also remains the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church, and the Church continues to labour and to struggle, to carry on the warfare, for souls to the end, but the malice of men does not reach Jesus any more, enthroned as He is in heavenly glory. Yet Jesus’ life in heaven is not only rest. In His farewell address Jesus assured the apostles that in His Father’s house there were many mansions and that He went to prepare a place for them; having done this He would come and take them to Himself, in order that where He was they, too, would be. So Jesus in His glory prepares those mansions, and as His faithful servants arrive in the course of centuries, they find their place prepared according to their works. Saint Paul reveals another feature of our Saviour’s heavenly life when he tells us that Jesus is always making intercession for us. He remains our Mediator at the throne of His Father, praying as the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church. His Mediator’s work culminates in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. As Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech, He offers Himself through the instrumentality of human priests as the clean oblation, and feeds the faithful with His own flesh and blood, the bread of life. Remaining in heaven and without detriment to His glorified state He has in a most intimate manner united Himself with all the members of His Mystical Body even whilst on earth, and made true His promise that He would remain with us to the end of the world. In the Blessed Eucharist, the heavenly life of Jesus and the earthly life of the faithful meet in the most wonderful manner. We have heaven in our very midst.

Here on earth, “We have not here a lasting city but we seek one that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14); we are strangers and pilgrims on the way to our eternal home. “Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). Heaven is our goal, and if we wish to reach it, we certainly must keep it in mind, never to lose sight of it.

Heaven-mindedness is characteristic of the true Christian and lover of Christ. Alas, it has grown cold in many Christian hearts; the thought of heaven hardly ever enters their mind, it does not influence their lives, they show the same love of the world, the same concern about its possessions and pleasures, the same flight from the cross as those that do not know Christ. It is indeed a timely and practical petition that Holy Church puts on our lips on the feast of the Ascension: that with our minds we may always dwell in heaven.

Looking down from those heavenly heights gives us the correct perspective of things of this earth. How small and insignificant they all appear and yet also how great and precious, since it is by them that we merit the everlasting, all-exceeding glory of heaven. The thought of heaven makes us fervent, zealous, patient, generous; it detaches us from what may be as dear to us as life itself. Saint Ignatius filled with the thought of heaven could say, “How I loathe this earth, when I look up to heaven.” Heaven is worth every sacrifice, and therefore Our Lord exhorts us to lay up for ourselves treasures there, where moth and rust do not consume them and where thieves cannot steal and carry them away. The loss of heaven is the greatest loss, because it is the loss of our soul, the loss of God Himself; therefore no earthly possession or pleasure can make up for it, “For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The thought of heaven inspires a strong and fearless love of the cross, “For that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation works for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). The Christian imbued with the thought of heaven knows no real sadness; he radiates spiritual warmth, heavenly joy, which cannot but influence his fellowmen for the better.

The thought of heaven is a most effective remedy against earthly-mindedness, the strongest bulwark against the materialism of the world, an ever present incentive to a fervent Christian life; it will, in a very particular manner, lead us to the altar of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and perpetual presence. We shall come, more and more, to love the beauty of His house and the place where His glory dwells. And so through this mystery of the rosary our blessed Mother leads us to her Divine Son, now in the Eucharist and, in due time, in His eternal heavenly glory.

– from Message of the Rosary – Joyful Mysteries, by Father Aloysius Biskupek, S.V.D.