CELEBRATE OUR LORD’S ENTRANCE INTO HEAVEN
with this free eBook, Meditations on the Ascension of the Lord
As you meditate on the Scripture passages in this free eBook, we hope you imagine what the disciples felt as they witnessed the resurrected Christ, listened to His teachings, received His instructions, and then watched Him ascend into Heaven.
May God bless you, and may you have a blessed Feast of the Ascension.
Before ascending in the presence of His Apostles, He commissioned them to continue His ministry of redemption, saying,
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt. 28:18-20)
The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord is traditionally celebrated on Ascension Thursday, the fortieth day after Easter. However, many places in the world – including most of the dioceses in the United States – transfer the feast to the following Sunday. Ascension Thursday is May 18, 2023, but most United States’ dioceses will celebrate the feast of the Ascension on Sunday, May 21.
“Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven; let our hearts ascend with Him.” - St. Augustine
In Acts 1:1-11, St. Luke tells us the story of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into Heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into Heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into Heaven.”
We also hear about the Ascension from St. Paul:
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
St. Peter’s first letter also mentions the Ascension:
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (1 Peter 3:21-22)
“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.” - St. Augustine
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 659-660) says,
“So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.” Christ’s body was glorified at the moment of his Resurrection, as proved by the new and supernatural properties it subsequently and permanently enjoys. But during the forty days when he eats and drinks familiarly with his disciples and teaches them about the kingdom, his glory remains veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God’s right hand. Only in a wholly exceptional and unique way would Jesus show himself to Paul “as to one untimely born,” in a last apparition that established him as an apostle.
The veiled character of the glory of the Risen One during this time is intimated in his mysterious words to Mary Magdalene: “I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” This indicates a difference in manifestation between the glory of the risen Christ and that of the Christ exalted to the Father’s right hand, a transition marked by the historical and transcendent event of the Ascension.
Who was present at the Ascension of Jesus?
The Scripture definitively names “the eleven disciples,” the inner circle of those who followed Christ. Although Matthew only mentions the eleven Apostles, Judas having defected, we can conjecture that others, including His Mother and other disciples, were likely present, as well. For example, St. Paul tells us that 500 people saw the Lord after His Resurrection, and thus during the forty days. However, we do not know if any of these disciples saw His Ascension.
Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the “Father’s house,” to God’s life and happiness. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he, our Head and our Source, has preceded us. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 661)
The Catechism further explains,
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it. Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and eternal Covenant, “entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands. . . but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” There Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he “always lives to make intercession” for “those who draw near to God through him.” As “high priest of the good things to come” he is the center and the principal actor of the liturgy that honors the Father in heaven.
Henceforth Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father: “By ‘the Father’s right hand’ we understand the glory and honor of divinity, where he who exists as Son of God before all ages, indeed as God, of one being with the Father, is seated bodily after he became incarnate and his flesh was glorified.”
Being seated at the Father’s right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom, the fulfillment of the prophet Daniel’s vision concerning the Son of man: “To him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” After this event the apostles became witnesses of the “kingdom [that] will have no end.” (cf. CCC 662-664)
“Out of compassion for us He descended from Heaven, and although He ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in Him by grace.” - St. Augustine
While Our Lord remained on Earth for 40 days after the Resurrection to instruct His disciples in the Paschal Mystery, He remains alive forever in Heaven, anticipating in His human nature the glory which the Father has determined for all the Just.
What miracles did Christ perform after His Resurrection?
The Scriptures tell of two different classes of phenomenon after the Resurrection. The first concerns Christ’s glorified human nature, the consequence of the Miracle of the Resurrection. In addition, there are the miracles He performed before ascending to the Father, that is, miracles such as He did during His Public Ministry.
Phil. 3:21 “He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.”
Of the first, the Resurrection, we can distinguish four properties His Resurrected Body possessed,
- Clarity (brightness), from His glorified human soul shining through it (Mt. 17:2). Since as God He already possessed this, His glory in his human nature was already anticipated in the Transfiguration.
- Impassibility, no longer suffering, sickness, or death (1 Cor. 15:42-43). Subject fully to the soul, which in turn is subject fully to God, nothing was able to affect His glorified body against the will of His soul. He ate and drank without need. He ascended by His own will.
- Subtlety, fully subject to the will of the soul, His body is not impeded by material things, but able to pass right through them (John 20:19). This doesn’t mean he was a spirit, but that the glorified matter of His body has this property.
- Agility, while angels are where they will without moving through space, Christ moved, as if in a moment, from place to place, disappearing when He left. (Luke 24:31)
In addition to His Resurrection and its miraculous consequences, Christ also performed at least one miracle. John tells us in John 21 about the Lord’s appearance at the Sea of Galilee and a miraculous catch of fish. He ends his Gospel by noting that Jesus did many more miracles than are recorded. It may be that he did others before Ascending to the Father.
The Ascension of Christ was by His own power. The Glorification of Mary’s Body and her Assumption was not, however. It was by the decision and act of God.
Who has ascended to Heaven?
Only Christ has ascended to Heaven. In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus told Nicodemus, ”No one has ascended into Heaven but he who descended from Heaven, the Son of man” (John 3:13).
How many times did Jesus ascend to Heaven?
Jesus ascended into Heaven one time, which was forty days after His Resurrection.
In his Ascension homily in 1979, Pope St. John Paul II said,
In the Scripture readings the whole significance of Christ’s Ascension is summarized for us. The richness of this mystery is spelled out in two statements: Jesus gave instructions, and then Jesus took his place. …
The instructions indicated, above all, that the Apostles were to wait for the Holy Spirit, who was the gift of the Father. From the beginning, it had to be crystal-clear that the source of the Apostles’ strength is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in the way of truth; the Gospel is to spread through the power of God, and not by means of human wisdom or strength.
The Apostles, moreover, were instructed to teach – to proclaim the Good News to the whole world. And they were to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus, they were to speak explicitly about the Kingdom of God and about salvation. The Apostles were to give witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. The early Church clearly understood these instructions and the missionary era began. And everybody knew that this missionary era could never end until the same Jesus, who went up to Heaven, would come back again.
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"We proclaim the Resurrection of Christ when His light illuminates the dark moments of our existence." - Pope Francis
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
The expression “The Great Commission” is commonly found in Reformation theologies to refer to this command of Christ to the disciples to preach the Gospel to the world. While the expression is not unknown in Catholic usage, it is not commonly used, and typically acquires a different meaning. For non-Catholics it represents a general command to all believers; whereas, for Catholics it constitutes primarily a command to those whom Christ appointed to carrying out His ministry, that is the Apostles, and the successors to their ministry, the bishops.
The Catholic understanding follows from the fact that Matthew records the Apostles as the bearers of the obligations and the authority Christ committed to the Church. The text mentions only “the eleven,” that is, the Apostles minus Judas Iscariot. These are those whom Christ chose to take His place as pastors of His flock. This is the context of the command given to them to make disciples and to baptize, and of His promise to remain with them “to the end of the age.”
This also corresponds to Christ’s other commitments of authority and responsibility to the Apostles, such as the power of the keys (Mt. 16:13-18 and Mt. 18:8), and the forgiveness of sin (John 20:19-23). Since the Apostles all died, it also presumes that “to the end of the age” others will take their offices after them, as Matthias took that of Judas (Acts 1:15-26). Indeed, everywhere the Apostles went they appointed successors, as Paul appointed Timothy and Titus. In the 2nd century St. Irenaeus of Lyon will list the successors of Peter in the Roman See, in contradistinction to the heretics of his day who can claim no such authority.
Christ is also with the Church “to the end of the age” in other ways, as well. However, He is uniquely and most importantly Present in the Holy Eucharist, by means of which His Holy Sacrifice is remembered and made Present, in the gift of Himself in Holy Communion, and by remaining with us in our tabernacles. In all these ways the continuity and unity of Christ’s redemptive ministry is guaranteed until He comes again (cf. John 16:13-15, 17:2-21).
“Christ’s going to the Father is at once a source of sorrow, because it involves His absence; and of joy, because it involves His presence. And out of the doctrine of His Resurrection and Ascension, spring those Christian paradoxes, often spoken of in Scripture, that we are sorrowing, yet always rejoicing ‘as having nothing, yet possessing all things’ (2 Corinthians 6:10).” – St. John Henry Newman
All of the disciples except for Judas Iscariot spent the remainder of their lives preaching the Gospel.
According to Tradition, Sts. Peter, Andrew, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Thaddeus were all martyred for the faith.
After His Resurrection, Jesus foretold Peter’s future martyrdom.
[Jesus said], "Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God). (John 21:18-19)
St. John, the disciple who remained with Jesus at the Crucifixion, was the only Apostle to die a natural death – and this in spite of attempts to kill him by boiling him in oil.
Judas Iscariot, after betraying Jesus, committed suicide (see Matthew 5 and Acts 1:18).
What were Jesus’ last recorded words?
Jesus’ last words that we hear before His Ascension are:
It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:7-8)