The Ascension of Jesus
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark (16:9-20)
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.The Gospel of the Lord.
Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."
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. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
After Jesus' resurrection, He appeared to over 500 people over a period of forty days, proving that He had, indeed risen. Surely that proof didn't require a whole forty days. Instead, I believe much more was going on. First of all, the period of time, 40 days--indeed, the very number 40--has a certain significance throughout the Bible. The flood rains lasted for 40 days. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the Wilderness. Elijah travelled for 40 days into the wilderness when fleeing from Jezebel, and returned with a new prophetic purpose. And at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, He went and fasted in the wilderness for 40 days. These are to name just a few of the biblical episodes that feature a length of 40 somethings (days or years). And each time seems to mark a transition in God's action. The flood wiping away sin and saving Noah and his family; the wandering in the Desert purifying Israel of Egypt's influence and preparing them for the Promised Land; as mentioned, Elijah's trek prompting a new encounter with the presence of God and renewing his ministry; and Jesus' transition from private life to public ministry. Thus, Jesus' 40 days of appearing to His followers after His resurrection has similar significance, preparing them for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. And during those forty days, His disciples had much to learn.
For Jesus' appearances were more than simply confirmations of His Resurrection. In one episode, He specifically takes Peter aside and restores him to his previous position as prince of the apostles, telling him to feed Jesus' sheep. In another place, Jesus walks along the road with two dejected followers, and gives a detailed explanation of the Scriptures that prophesied of His Passion and Resurrection. At the beginning of the Book of Acts, St. Luke specifically tells us that Jesus' appearances were for just that purpose: "for forty days he had continued to appear to them and tell them about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).
For three years, His disciples had walked with Him and learned from Him, but so much of the lessons were not fully grasped. Certainly, none of the Apostles saw His death coming, even though He'd specifically told them about it on three separate occasions. But now, after the Resurrection, the Apostles received their "post-graduate" training in the Gospel. It was here, I believe, that "the faith which has been once and for all entrusted to God's holy people" (Jude 3) was, in fact, being entrusted. The Sacraments, the priesthood, Christ's very plan for His Church--the Kingdom of God--was being instituted in these forty days.
When a person wants to become a Catholic, he enters a process known as the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). In the early Church, this process could last up to three years, as a potential convert inquired into and was instructed in the Catholic Faith. Then, at Easter, they would receive Baptism, their First Eucharist, and Confirmation. Then, from Easter to Pentecost came a period known as Mystagogy, or the instruction in the deeper mysteries of the Church. It is essentially the same format followed today (though usually taking less than a year; however, the Church urges each catechumen to journey at his own pace). This model, particularly in the Early Church, seems easily to have been modelled on Jesus' ministry to His Disciples--who were taught the basics of the Kingdom of God and Jesus' Messiahship, but only fully came to understand it upon His Resurrection, at which time they began their own Mystagogy as Jesus revealed to them the fullness of truth that is the Church, which culminated in the first Novena--nine days of prayer and waiting for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
After the 40 Days of Mystagogy were over for the Disciples, Jesus gathered them together just outside of Bethany, and promised that the Holy Spirit would come and empower them to be His witnesses. He commissioned them to go out to all the world, preaching the Gospel to all nations--because His Church was not for one race, but was to be Catholic--embracing of all people. He again stressed the necessity of baptism in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for salvation and the forgiveness of sins, and promised that His Gospel would be confirmed in His followers by many miraculous signs, including authority over Satan, speaking in tongues, divine protection, and miraculous healing--signs which have operated in and through the Church ever since.
He then blessed the Apostles and the disciples, and promised that He would be with His Church until the very end--a promise He keeps as He dwells with us, truly present in the Most Holy Eucharist. Then He, under His own power, ascended up to Heaven, where He sits at the Right Hand of God, continually interceding for us, and offering His sacrificed self on our behalf eternally (cf. Rev. 5:6; 13:8).
Let us, as we meditate on Jesus' Ascension, remember that He truly is with us, and that we participate in His sacrifice through the Eucharist. Let us, strengthened by the Bread from Heaven and empowered by His Spirit, boldly proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to those whom we meet, no matter who they are!
(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)