The Glorious Ascension into Heaven

From our human perspective, the Ascension might not seem very important. For many years, I remember thinking something like, “What’s the big deal? Jesus is leaving and going to be in Heaven. Would’ve been nice if he’d stuck around.” But the Church seems to think it is important, which usually means that it is. With 2000 years of experience in such matters, I’m willing to extend to her the benefit of the doubt. The Church says that today, God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord. Why is this such a big deal, and how does it impact my life?

St. Paul answers the first question for us. In his letter to the Ephesians, which is one of the few letters where he isn’t writing to correct some error within a community, St. Paul tells us that [I]n accord with the exercise of his great might, // which he worked in Christ, // [the Father raised] him from the dead // and seat[ed] him at his right hand in the heavens. This is a very straightforward reference to the Ascension. After his glorious victory over sin, evil, and death, Jesus Christ entered into Heaven and took his rightful place at seat of power at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Just to make sure we understand to breadth and depth of the power which the Father gives to the Son as a result of the great Sacrifice he made on behalf of humanity, St. Paul continues, that this seat is far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, // and every name that is named // not only in this age but also in the one to come. Not just Jews, but all the other peoples of the time would recognize in this statement that St. Paul is declaring Jesus Christ to rule over all the creatures of Heaven and Earth, i.e. angelic beings, human beings, animals, and inanimate objects alike, and for all eternity. When time ends, Jesus Christ remains on the throne of power, and St. Paul wants to make sure we know that.

St. Paul’s then tells us that he put all things beneath his feet // and gave him as head over all things to the church, // which is his body, // the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way. Did you catch that? St. Paul is telling us that God the Son is head over all things to the church, which is his body. This statement is important, because it tells us both why the Ascension is a big deal, and what it means for us. At the Ascension, Jesus Christ is given power over all things, but that is not all. The Church is grafted onto him: the same Church which we all entered at our baptism, the same Church we gather as today, right here, right now. The Church, mystically unified with Jesus Christ, is already in Heaven while still here on Earth. When we assemble as a Church, or as an ἐκκλησία (ekklésia) if you want to sound fancy and say things in Greek, to worship Jesus Christ, we worship him not just here on Earth, but also in Heaven. At the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Mass in particular, Heaven and Earth meet; eternity and time meet. We enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem, offer God our prayers and intentions in union with the offering of his beloved Son, and enter into a true Communion with one another all the Saints who have gone before us. The Ascension is when the Head of the Body of Christ, the Church, entered the Heavenly Jerusalem and brought us all with him.

As it turns out, younger me was very, very wrong. The Ascension is vitally important. Jesus knew this. After his Resurrection, he gave the final instruction to his apostles. He taught them about the kingdom of God. He instructed them that they would bear witness, starting in Jerusalem, moving further and further out as time went on. He promised them that the Holy Spirit would come upon them. His parting words, given in today’s Gospel, summarize the mission that Jesus gave the disciples—the disciples who would become the Church after the transformative events of the Ascension, the election of Matthias, and the Pentecost, but more on that next week. Jesus left us with these words: “All power 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, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20) This mission is given to all of us as members of the Church and Body of Jesus Christ. We are to make disciples—followers—of Jesus Christ. We are to bring them to baptism, so that they too can become part of the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ. We are to teach them to observe Jesus’s commandments: to love God above all things, to love our neighbor, and to follow Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. This mission seems daunting, but it is possible, because Jesus promises to always be with us and never to abandon us. Christ assumes this power at his Ascension, when he mounted his throne with shouts of joy and trumpet blasts.

As Christ ascended to Heaven and the apostles began to comprehend what had just happened, St. Luke tells us in Acts that they were staring at the sky when suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. // They said, “Men of Galilee, // why are you standing there looking at the sky? // This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven // will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) Aside from being a bit comical—let’s be honest, it’s a little funny—these messengers remind the apostles that now it is time to get to work. Our work right now is to worship God in this sacred place and at this sacred time. When we leave this assembly of believers and, following the example of the apostles, go out to the ends of the earth—or perhaps just our neighborhoods—we have our orders from Jesus Christ, to whom [a]ll power in heaven and on earth has been given. After we refresh ourselves at this Heavenly banquet, let us [g]o, 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 [Christ has] commanded [us]. And behold, [Christ is] with [us] always, until the end of the age.

Today’s Readings:
May 24, 2020
Ascension of the Lord, Year A
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20

What is the Mass?

What are we doing at Mass?

What is it that we’re actually celebrating at Mass?

To an outsider, I suppose, this would all look very strange.

All those strange things that the outsider would think we’re doing, well, we are doing them. But that’s the thing: we are doing those things. It’s not all just crazy talk from those weird Catholics. But we know that beneath the surface of the Mass, beyond the ceremony and the seemingly strange gestures and actions, something much deeper lives. One of the best summaries of why we do what we do at Mass can be found in the Mass itself, right in the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer, at the Memorial Acclamation. During this acclamation, which takes place immediately after the bread and wine have been consecrated and have become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we say to Christ who is in the Blessed Sacrament, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.” We say this because we know that through his death, Christ destroyed our death. Through his Resurrection, Christ restored to us the promise of eternal life. When Christ comes again, our bodies will be raised up, the Heavens and Earth will be renewed, we will see God in all his glory, and we will live with him for all eternity. Jesus asked us to do this in memory of Him at the Last Supper. It seems appropriate that we re-iterate what we are remembering. And then we thank God for such a great gift.

In the first reading we heard that Melchizedek offered bread and wine in thanksgiving to God on behalf of Abraham. (Fun trivia tip: The term for Melchizedek’s thanksgiving offering in Greek is eucharistia.) God had merely blessed Abraham. He died and rose for us, saving us from death and opening the gates of Heaven! How much more incredible, then, should our offering to God be? It is. When we offer our thanksgiving to God, we do not use mere bread and wine. We offer something far more precious for the gifts he has given to us: The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. There is nothing greater we can offer to Him. At every Mass, we remember Christ’s perfect sacrifice, and we offer the true Eucharist, the perfect thanksgiving to God for his mercy.

Fr. Matt elevates the Body and Blood of Christ
Fr. Matt elevates the Body and Blood of Christ at his First Mass

And then, as everyone offering thanksgiving to God must do to, we partake of the gifts we have offered to God. Christ told us that he would give us his Body and Blood so that we might have eternal life. Those who partake of his Body and Blood, then, shall live forever. The mere act of receiving our Lord brings us in communion with Him and with all of our brothers and sisters in the Church. In this communion, our Lord offers us salvation. It is through this communion, with our Lord and with those who belong to his Church, that we are redeemed. By this communion, we may be washed clean of our sins, drawn closer to our Lord, and invited to participate in the kingdom of Heaven. When we partake of these most precious gifts, God abides in us in a true and unique way. This is why we must prepare ourselves—especially by the sacrament of Confession—to receive Communion, to make a proper and holy dwelling for our Lord.

Today, we celebrate. Our Lord has given us his Body and his Blood so that we might have eternal life.

Today’s Readings
June 23, 2019
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Lauda Sion Sequence; Luke 9:11b-17

Corpus Christi: Sharing in the Divinity of Christ

Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. There is a prayer you may have never heard before, but it is said at every Mass by the deacon or the priest when he pours the wine and water into the chalice during the offertory. It goes, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The more I prayed with this prayer, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how deep and profound that this short prayer is.

So, let’s dig into this prayer together.

By the mystery… The Eucharist is, above all, a mystery. Jesus Christ is present in what appears to us as a piece of bread and some wine. We will never really understand how. The Church and the smartest theologians who ever lived have worked to try to figure it out. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of smartest of the smart guys, told us that the substance, the “what it is-ness,” of the bread and wine are replaced with Jesus Christ. While the appearance of bread and wine remain, we know by faith that Jesus is now present: the bread and wine are now Jesus. We know this because Jesus himself told us at the Last Supper that this is his Body and his Blood, and he commissioned his apostles to do this in memory of him. We relive this exact moment at every Mass. We don’t just remember the Last Supper at Mass. We bring the Last Supper into our minds and we live it, through the mysteries of the Eucharist and the Mass. We are participating in the Last Supper at every Mass.

of this water and wine… We use ordinary gifts in the Holy Mass: bread, wine, and water. We give them to God, for his glory, in the offertory. The offertory is a profound moment at the Mass, because it is when we give back to God those things which he has given us. The prayers that Father says at Offertory remind us that we received these gifts from him. “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you.” Now, we return them to him. In addition to the bread, wine, and water, we offer ourselves to God at Mass. During offertory, we offer our prayers, works, and sufferings to God in addition to the physical gifts. Many times, we are tempted to rush through the offertory and get it over with, but instead we should strive to recognize what is happening at the offertory. By our participation in the action of the offertory, we dedicate ourselves more and more to God during every Mass.

may we come to share… We are all here to witness the Eucharistic mystery which happens at Mass, in other words, to participate in the Mass. At Vatican II, the church asked for our full, conscious, and active participation in the Mass. Full, conscious, and active participation does not mean that we all need to be up on the altar with Father, but that we consciously unite ourselves in prayer with Father and everyone else here. We follow Father as he leads us into the most sacred mysteries of our faith. The Church calls us to pay attention, to respond, and to prayerfully keep in mind the mystery we are celebrating. United in this way, we are the one, unified, Body of Christ. As we unite ourselves in prayer at Mass, the Mass can more effectively transform our lives into the beautiful lives God has planned for each of us.

in the divinity of Christ… Jesus Christ is fully in the Eucharist. This includes his divinity. This means the Eucharist is God, and it is worthy of worship. That is why we have things like Eucharistic processions and Eucharistic adoration, because God is in the Eucharist. After Father says the Eucharistic prayer, we no longer have bread and wine; they have become God, who has entered the world for all to see in the form of a truly divine food, which God then invites us to eat. Honestly, it’s kind of weird if you think about it, because eating the Eucharist means eating God, but it is also an incredible gift. The Eucharist is different than any other food. Normal food nourishes our bodies by becoming a part of us. The Eucharist nourishes us too, but instead of becoming part of us it transforms us and brings us closer to God than we could ever get on our own! The Eucharist is the only food that makes us more like it—it makes us more like God!

who humbled himself… God challenges us all to be humble and to put him first. By doing so, we lead others to God. He tried to teach the Jewish people to do this, but they didn’t understand. So he showed true humility, and God himself became a human being.

And this brings us to the final portion of the prayer:

to share in our humanity… God, the creator of everything, not only humbled himself, but emptied himself, so that he could take on human flesh and blood. When God did this, he did not come down as a king or an emperor. He made himself a helpless child, who grew up the son of a carpenter. He experienced the loss of a parent when Joseph died. He experienced joy at the Wedding at Cana He experienced the death of a friend and relative when John the Baptist died. He experienced abandonment, torture, and death in his Passion. He experienced the full range of human emotions. There is nothing we experience that God has not also experienced, both as God and as human. Any pain we feel, God has felt with us, through us, and for us.

God became human so that he could be with us more closely, and he gave us the gift of the Eucharist so that we could become one with him in a very tangible and concrete way. God, the greatest mystery of the universe, loves us. He desires so much for us to be one with him that he took on human nature. He gave us the gift of the Eucharist, His own Body and Blood, so that when we consume it, we share in the divinity of Christ, and even while we are still on this earth, we may truly experience a taste of Heaven.

Today’s Readings
June 3, 2018
Corpus Christi [The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ]
Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18; Hebrews 9:11-15;  Lauda Sion Sequence; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26