The Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven
By Fr McKenna O.P.
The sanctuary of PONTCHÂTEAU in France, a place of pilgrimage founded by Saint Louis-Mary Grignion de Montfort ; representing the Ascension
And He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands, He blessed them. And it came to pass, whilst He blessed them, He departed from them and was carried up to heaven. And they, adoring, went back into Jerusalem with great joy.— Luke xxiv, 50.
The Second Glorious Mystery makes known to us how our Blessed Lord, having appeared to His disciples on many occasions after His Resurrection, ascended at last in their sight to Heaven. It was meet, in order to elevate their hearts to a desire of the blessed life beyond the grave, that He should show them a part of that glory which is His from all eternity.
Oh, how consoling it is to the Christian soul to meditate on the happiness of Heaven: to know that, after this life of peril and trial, of suffering and sorrow, there is prepared for us through the Passion and death of our Lord and Saviour, a glorious home, where we shall rejoice with Him in never-ending happiness! Were it not for this divine Faith, which supports us in the midst of our daily troubles, how many would sink into dark despair, and curse the hour that they came into life! But when we realize, in the light of Faith, that our true home is in our Father’s kingdom, beyond the grave, when we firmly believe that He hath prepared a place for us there, in one of His many mansions, an abode of everlasting happiness, in the blissful company of His saints and angels, where we will see God face to face — then, indeed, we can cheerfully take up our daily crosses and patiently bear them onward, in the glad expectation of that revelation of His glory, of that coming of His kingdom, of that eternal rest in the bosom of our God.
Before the clear and explicit teachings of our Blessed Lord concerning the life beyond the grave, mankind entertained very confused conceptions of the joys of Heaven.
* It was His own divine lips that told us of the many mansions in His Father’s kingdom.
* It was He who declared that He departed from earth in order to prepare a place for us above, where, as He said, we should be with Him forever and share in His glory, where we should even eat and drink at His table — at the marriage feast of the Lamb.
* It was He who declared that the blessed in heaven should be as the angels, pure and spiritual, neither marrying nor giving in marriage; and that, with the angels, they should see the face of His Father and thereby enjoy eternal happiness.
Before the coming of Christ the ancient patriarchs, it is true, had some knowledge of a life beyond the grave. They expected vaguely to enjoy a lasting happiness in a future existence. Holy Job has said:
“For I know that my Redeemer liveth; . . . that in my flesh I shall see my God, whom I myself shall see and my eyes shall behold and not another. This my hope is laid up in my bosom.” (Job xix. 25).
The mother of the Machabees and the holy priest, Nicanor, spoke of the joys of heaven; David, in his Psalms, tells us how his heart thirsted for the courts of the Lord; and he extolled the happiness of those who dwelt in the house of the Lord forever.
Yet beyond this, mankind in general entertained gloomy and depressing views regarding the life after death.
* The ancient Romans believed in the Elysian fields; yet how sad were their conceptions of a land where departed spirits moved silently among kindred shades in a land of darkness!
* The Indian believed in a happy hunting-ground.
* The Mohammedan, in a paradise of sensual pleasures.
The Christian alone, through the teaching of Our Lord and the light which the Holy Ghost has given to the Church, is able to grasp clear conceptions of that Heavenly City, of that New Jerusalem depicted by St. John and the Evangelists, where the elect enjoy ineffable peace and joy. It was our Blessed Lord who led captivity captive, and opened for the souls in Limbo and all His blessed followers the glorious kingdom of eternal happiness.
Let us approach in spirit the scene of the Ascension.
Mary, our Blessed Mother, and the disciples were assembled that solemn day on Mount Olivet. Jesus had given to them His last instructions, after which He lovingly blessed His Mother and His disciples, and told them not to depart from Jerusalem until the Comforter should come to them. As He was yet speaking, He began gradually to ascend before them, through the limpid air, until a cloud received Him out of their sight. All remained, looking upward, transfixed in adoring silence.
The disciples rejoiced in the glory and the triumph of their Blessed Master, yet their hearts grew heavy at His departure. How lonely was that mountain solitude without Him!
Did not Mary feel the departure of the visible presence of her adorable Son? Had she not, perhaps, tenderly implored Him that she might accompany Him? Whither will He go without His Blessed Mother? Might she not, now that her mission was accomplished, depart with Him to share in His heavenly glory, as she had shared so profoundly in His earthly sufferings and sorrows?
No, Blessed Mother, your time has not yet come; you have still a grand and important task to accomplish! The infant Church needs your care; you are to guide and direct it, even as you tended and watched over your adorable Son in His infancy. The Apostles need your maternal presence, your advice, your encouragement; the Evangelists need your wise instructions. You are yet to tell St. Luke all the beautiful truths connected with the mysteries of the Annunciation, the visit of St. Elizabeth, the birth of Our Lord, and the coming of the shepherds and the Wise Men. You must reveal the incidents of your Divine Child’s flight into Egypt; of His presentation in the Temple; of your finding Him there after the three days’ loss, and all the other wonderful happenings of His infancy, childhood and youth, which were known to you and Joseph alone.
Let us now follow in spirit our ascended Redeemer to the celestial realms.
It is a day of triumph and rejoicing in Heaven: The King of Glory goes to enter into His rest, to take possession of the Kingdom prepared for Him from all eternity.
He brings with Him the trophies of His victory: all the souls in Limbo arise to join Him in that glorious procession, where He goes forth as a conqueror and demands admittance at the celestial gates for Himself and His ransomed followers.
The infinite debt has been paid; death and Hell have been conquered; divine justice is satisfied, the kingdom of salvation has been bravely fought for and gloriously won! As He said to His disciples at Emmaus: “Was it not meet that the Son of Man should thus suffer, and so enter into His glory?” (Luke xxiv. 26).
Valiantly did He struggle and suffer for us, and now He goes to enter upon His glory. In that hour of immortal triumph were fulfilled the words of David, when he saw in prophetic vision this glorious Ascension of the world’s Redeemer.
Hearken to the angels who accompany Our Lord, as they demand admittance into heaven! Hear them cry aloud:
“Lift up your gates, ye princes, and be ye lifted up, oh, eternal gates, and the King of Glory shall enter in!”
And the angels within the portals having demanded:
“Who is this King of Glory?”
Lo! the angels of the procession reply:
“The Lord God of Heaven, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your gates, ye princes, and be ye lifted up, oh, eternal gates, and the King of Glory shall enter in!”
Then for the first time those everlasting gates were opened to ransomed humanity, and that glorious procession, headed by our Blessed Lord, entered the mansions of eternal bliss. There did He take possession of His eternal throne, to rule and govern His mighty kingdom forever.
Behold our human nature seated at the right hand of the Father! Behold that body, once torn by scourges and lacerated by thorns and nails! Once covered with blood and wounds, it is brighter than ten thousand suns, filling all the empyrean with its glory! How joyously the angels must have come to welcome Him, to adore and praise Him, to thank Him for opening heaven to our fallen race! Then were the patriarchs and prophets who accompanied Our Lord received into the mansions of eternal bliss; and for the first time since the fall of the angels the empty thrones of Lucifer and his hosts were filled with ransomed captives. Two thousand years have now passed.
How many blessed spirits have since entered Heaven!
How many glorious martyrs, who suffered and bled and died for Him, have followed their Blessed Master into His kingdom and received from Him their imperishable crown!
For us, also, a brief period in this land of exile, devoted to the faithful service of our King and our God, shall purchase an eternity of bliss. Oh, how all Christians, and especially members of the Rosary Confraternity, should rejoice in the recitation of this Second Glorious Mystery!
The blissful Ascension of our Redeemer is the forerunner, the guarantee, of our own; for one day we, too, if faithful to His commandments, shall ascend to that glorious kingdom and participate in His rewards.
— Let us, therefore, unite with the angels and the saints in congratulating Our Lord on His triumph over death and Hell, ever humbly thanking Him for the immortal victory that He has gained for Himself and for us.
— Let us congratulate those ancient patriarchs and prophets, those illustrious apostles, martyrs, and virgins who share with Him now the joys of heaven, and ask that whilst they continue to praise and bless our Redeemer, they may beseech Him to conduct us, in His own good time, to those everlasting mansions of bliss which He has prepared for His elect.
During our pilgrimage here below we are often visited by trials and crosses, pains of body and mind, of heart and of soul. Our good God has His wise designs in sending us these sufferings. If accepted in a Christian spirit, they accomplish a great work in our souls; if borne patiently for the love of our crucified Master, they merit an eternal reward. All such tribulations detach our hearts from the pleasures of this life. They force us to pray, and to seek help from on high. Above all, they make us turn our eyes and hearts to that blessed home, where sorrow never enters, and they enable us to lay up treasures there which naught of earth can destroy nor thief break in and steal.
Lately there died a woman of great sanctity, who had spent forty-five long years under the stress of bitter sorrow and persecution. She had been induced by her mother, contrary to her own inclination, to marry a man of wealth, who was many years her senior. He was of a cruel temper, often dissipated, insanely jealous, and seemed to delight in making the life of his devoted wife miserable. Though reared a Catholic, he had abandoned both Church and Sacraments, and did what he could to prevent his family from practicing their religious duties. Like St. Monica, his faithful companion constantly prayed for her husband’s conversion. To that end her Communions, her Masses, her Rosaries, and Stations of the Cross were continually offered; and as her children became capable of praying and of attending to their religious duties, they were carefully taught to offer all their good works for the conversion of their father. Often her neighbors said to her:
” Why not get a divorce? He is rich; you could have a good living from him!”
Her answer was always:
“Ah, no; I married him for better or for worse.”
A year before he died, the long-desired, long-prayed-for change occurred. The unworthy husband became a true penitent, and in his last days craved for no other attendant save his patient, loyal wife. He died, at last, an edifying, consoling death. After his funeral the priest said to her:
“How happy you should be in the beautiful death of your husband!” “Ah, yes, Father,” she said. “I knew it would come. I knew our heavenly Father would not refuse my prayers and the prayers of our children. Father, the neighbors long-wanted me to put the poor man away and get a divorce; but I knew that had I done so he would have died a wretched death, and I could never have forgiven myself for it. Father,” she added, “I have great confidence in the Rosary of our Blessed Mother. To her I constantly appealed during the dark years of the past. I felt she would not abandon me, but would some day lift the cross that was crushing me.”
Let us likewise be faithful to the Rosary; and though we may not obtain our petitions immediately after presenting them through the hands of the Mother of God, let us, like this good woman, valiantly persevere. Let us have her unwavering confidence that, sooner or later, our prayers will be answered. Through Mary we can obtain all necessary graces for ourselves and others in this life; and, what is more, we shall one day merit, through her powerful intercession, to follow our ascended Lord into His kingdom of light and peace. With her, the saints and the angels, we shall then behold forevermore the glory of our Blessed Redeemer, triumphantly seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
(From the book of Fr. Charles-Hyacinth McKenna O.P., The Treasures of the Rosary, New York, P.J. Kennedy & Sons, 1917 – written 1835)