The Solemnity of the Ascension commemorates Jesus' return heaven 40 days after his resurrection. Thus Ascension Day falls 40 days after Easter, on the 6th Thursday of Easter. In 2016, Ascension Day falls on May 5th (dates in other years). In some parts of the world, the feast is transferred to the Sunday after the traditional date

Basic Facts

Liturgical Color(s): White

Type of Holiday: Solemnity; Holy Day of Obligation

Time of Year: 40 days after Easter Day, on the 6th Thursday of Easter

Duration: One Day; Sometimes observed on 7 Easter; Has an octave

Celebrates/Symbolizes: Jesus' Ascension into heaven

Alternate Names: Analepsis, Episozomene


Scriptural References

Acts 1:6-11

The Ascension of Jesus

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Introduction

Forty Days after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Acts of the Apostles records Jesus' ascension into heaven. The ascension is an important Christian feast attesting and celebrating the reality of the God-Man Jesus Christ's returning to the Father, to return again in the future parousia. The Ascension is the final component of the paschal mystery, which consists also of Jesus' Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Burial, Descent Among the Dead, and Resurrection.

Along with the resurrection, the ascension functioned as a proof of Jesus' claim that he was the Messiah. The Ascension is also the event whereby humanity was taken into heaven. Finally, the ascension was also the "final blow" so-to-speak against Satan's power, and thus the lion (Jesus) conquering the dragon (Satan) is a symbol of the ascension. Early Christian art and iconography portrayed the ascension frequently, showing its importance to the early Church.

The Catholic Catechism summarizes three important theological aspects (with which most Christian churches agree) of the Ascension concisely:

Christ's Ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus' humanity into God's heavenly domain, whence he will come again (cf. Acts 1:11); this humanity in the meantime hides him from the eyes of men (cf. Col 3:3).

Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father's glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him for ever.

Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit (665-667).

 

History

Evidence from John Chrysostom, Egeria, Gregory of Nyssa, and Church historian Socrates, suggest that Ascension Day probably originated in the 4th century AD. However, Augustine says the festival is apostolic. Often the feast was celebrated with a procession, symbolizing Christ's journey to the Mount of Olives. Until rather recently, the Paschal Candle (lighted at the Easter Vigil) was extinguished on Ascension Day. It is often celebrated as an octave, the proper preface and Ascension collect being used until the Saturday before Pentecost. In many Catholic dioceses, the Ascension is celebrated on the 7th Sunday of Easter, which is the Sunday following the traditional date. Likely, this is done to make it easier for the faithful to fulfill their obligation to attend Mass on this day, but it removes the connection with the biblical chronology.

Traditions and Symbols

Prayer

Traditions

Blessing of Fruits and Beans
Procession with torches and banners
Extinguishing the Paschal Candle

Symbols

Ascending Christ (Also With Descending Devil)
Birds Flying Homeward
Open Gates
Lion Conquering a Dragon
Elijah's Fiery Chariot
Broken Chain

Old Testament Typology Foreshadowing the Ascension

Elijah's Fiery Chariot
The Translation of Enoch

O Lord, Your Ascension into heaven marks the culmination of the Paschal Mystery, and it contains an important teaching for us.

May we live life as an earthly reality and develop our human potential to the fullest.

May we make use of the results of science to achieve a better life on this planet.

But in our best moments we know that there must be more than all of this, a transcending Reality.

As Christians, we know that this Reality is Your loving Father Who awaits us with You and the Holy Spirit.

Where You have gone, we ultimately will come - if we are faithful.

 New Saint Joseph People's Prayer Book

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Isn't the Ascension of Jesus based on Outdated Science?

This question is not about the Ascension holiday per se, but related to the truth of the historical Ascension. However, belief in the ascension is directly tied to celebrating its feast. Some theologians and philosophers have claimed that modern people cannot believe in Jesus' ascension, because the story assumes a "three-tiered universe." Many Biblical authors likely perceived the universe as three-tiered, in which heaven is spatially "up" above the sky dome (and hell is below the earth). Luke may or may not have had this cosmology in mind. Even if he did, this does not discount the truth of the ascension. What ultimately happened at the Mount of Olives that day was that Jesus returned to the Father, to a numinous reality that is outside of space and time. Assuming this return was miraculous, it likely wasn't a spatial/material act at all. It was an event above human perception and explanation. However, the witnesses had to render the event in terms they (and we) could understand, using the tools, knowledge, and science of the day (as we would do as well; we can hardly be expected to explain events in terms and frameworks beyond those of our day!). As such, the miraculous event was recorded as a spatial ascension, because we humans live within space-time, and conceive of reality spatially and temporally.

These ideas owe a debt to C.S. Lewis. In a 1942 sermon, Lewis described the Ascension as:

...a being still in some mode, though not our mode, corporeal, withdrew at His own will from the Nature presented by our three dimensions and five senses, not necessarily into the non-sensuous and undimensional, but into, or through, a world or worlds of super-sense and super space. And He might choose to do it gradually. Who on earth knows what the spectators might see? If they say they saw a momentary movement along the vertical plane - then an indistinct mass - then nothing - who is to pronounce this improbable?" (God in the Dock, p. 35; also see "Horrid Red Things," in Ibid. pp. 68-71)
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Mediation

Ascension - What's in it for Me?

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

The celebration of the Ascension used to leave me a bit flat.  It was clear what Good Friday did for me.  And Easter Sunday’s benefits were indisputable.  But as for the Ascension, what’s in it for me?

 Christianity is about a kind of love we call agape or charity.  It is love that looks away from itself to another and gives itself away for another.  The Divine Word did not become man or endure the cross because something was in it for Him.

 Charity shares in the beloved’s joys and sorrows (John 14:28).  The first thing to remember about the Ascension is that it is about sharing in Jesus’ joy.  It is about celebrating his return to the heavenly glory to which he refused to cling (Phil 2:6-11).  It is about rejoicing that his crown of thorns has been replaced with the kingly crown, that the mocking crowd at Calvary has been replaced with myriads of adoring angels. The Ascension is about Jesus’ triumph and glorification. If we get our attention off ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit’s love of the Son to animate our souls, we’ll experience greater joy than when we see our child hit a home run or graduate from college.

 But the Ascension is not just about charity.  It is also a feast of hope.  Yes, there is something in it for us.  He goes to prepare a place for us (John 14:2).  We will also one day wear crowns made of gold instead of thorns. 

 For us to endure until that blessed moment, we need divine power.  That’s another reason we ought to rejoice in his Ascension.  He takes his place at God’s right hand so that he can pour out the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, upon his disciples (Ephesians 4:10).

 As he ascends, he tells the disciples to wait for this power.  But notice that he does not tell them to wait passively for the rapture.  He does not instruct them to pour over Bible prophecies, debating about how and when he will return.  In fact in Acts 1:11, after the Lord ascends out of their sight, the angels ask why the disciples just stand there, staring into space.

 The waiting is not to be a squandering of precious time.  It is waiting for a purpose, nine days of prayer (the first novena!) leading to empowerment.  Why empowerment?  Because they have challenging work to do.  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”   (Matthew 28: 16-20).

 We used to think that evangelization was something that happened in mission countries far away, carried out by priests and religious.  But the Second Vatican Council told us that our own neighborhoods are mission territory, and that every single Catholic is called to be an evangelist.  Pope John Paul II proclaimed this as the “New Evangelization” because the place is new–right next door–and the missionaries are new since they include all us all.

 I’m really not sure that St. Francis of Assisi ever said “Preach the Gospel always; when necessary, use words.”  But if he did, note this–Francis often thought it very necessary to use words.  His words could be heard in marketplaces, on street-corners, in Churches, wherever there were people.  Of course, preaching without an authentic witness of life is certainly counterproductive.  But forget about the idea that just the witness of our lives is enough.  It is not.  You may not called to preach on street corners, but Vatican II and subsequent popes, echoing 1 Peter 3:15, say that we all must be ready  to articulate what Jesus has done for us, what he means to us, and why he is the answer to the world’s problems.

Feel inadequate to the task?  You’re in good company.  Pope Benedict’s first public statement was an admission of his inadequacy.  Do as he does–pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to move in and through you, and take the time to keep learning more about your faith so that you can share it with ever greater confidence.

 
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