FEAST OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD (Cycle A)
Psalm 47:1-2, 5-8
Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
God reveals His divine plan for mankind in the two Testaments, and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme of the Readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension
of the Lord: God the Son Returns to the Father
Today's solemnity is a Holy Day of Obligation requiring attendance at Mass according to the precepts of the Church. The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus is the oldest yearly festival of the Church in addition to the celebration of the Lord's Resurrection. In this celebration, we remember the day Jesus' disciples witnessed His Ascension into heaven as He returned in glory to God the Father to take His place a High Priest of the of the heavenly Sanctuary and King of kings. This Solemnity, traditionally celebrated forty days after Easter Sunday, may be transferred to the nearest Sunday at the discretion of your bishop (check your local diocese's website for the day of the celebration).
In the First Reading, we hear about the forty days Jesus taught His Church and gave instructions to the Apostles and disciples after His Resurrection on Easter Sunday and before He ascended to the Father (Acts 1:1-3). Celebrating one last dinner with His disciples, He instructed them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). On the fortieth day from His Resurrection, standing on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave His disciples their mission as the firstfruits of the New Covenant Church, telling them ... you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the earth's remotest end (Acts 1:8). The disciples saw the Lord ascending into Heaven in a cloud, witnessing the same vision the Prophet Daniel described in Daniel 7:13. Then, the disciples returned to the Upper Room in Jerusalem and continued together in prayer. One hundred and twenty of the faithful of the New Covenant people of God prayed for nine days with the Virgin Mary (Acts 1:12-15). They prayed in one accord in preparation for the promised coming of God the Holy Spirit to fill and indwell the community of the faithful and to give the Church the continuing Divine Presence of the Christ.
The congregation applies the Responsorial Psalm to Christ as we envision the Resurrected Son of God mounting His throne in the heavenly Sanctuary. In the Apostolic Age, the Church saw the verses of this psalm fulfilled in the Ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven (see Acts 1:1-11; Heb 9:24-28; 10:19-23). It is the reason this psalm became part of the liturgical celebration on the Feast of the Ascension, professing faith in Christ as King of the universe whose kingship transcends all earthly rulers and their nations. As the king of all nations, God binds humanity as one people through the ministry of His Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and His Kingdom of the Church. The universal (catholic) Church is composed of the faithful of every language, race, and nation bound together as One Body in Christ the King.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul gives thanks as he contemplates how wonderful it is to know God's goodness. Paul writes that his petition for God's blessing hinges on Jesus Christ through whom God has revealed His power by giving God the Son dominion over all the earth and establishing Him as the Head of His Body that is the Church. It is Jesus Christ to whom God has given all power and authority over all the earth in every age of mankind.
In the Gospel Reading, at Jesus' post-Resurrection appearance to the disciples in the conclusion of St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples "I am with you always even until the end of the age" (Mt 28:20). This event is what we celebrate on the Feast of the Ascension. It is not about the absence of Christ; it is about His continual Presence among His people until His Second Advent at the end of the age of man.
The First Reading Acts 1:1-11 ~ The Ascension of the Lord
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught 2 until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; 5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
6 When they had gathered together they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11 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."
In the introductory prologue, St. Luke connects Acts of Apostles with his Gospel account of Jesus' life and ministry until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the "Apostles whom he had chosen (Lk 24:44-53). Theophilus, to whom Luke's second volume is dedicated, is the same man to whom he dedicated his Gospel (see Lk 1:1-4). Theophilus, a name meaning "God-lover/ lover of God," is an unknown early Christian who may have provided the funds for the handwritten copies of this work, as he may have done for Luke's Gospel (Lk 1:3). In St. Luke's Gospel dedication, we learned that the contents of the work were meant to support the catechesis that Theophilus had received: Just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us (Lk 1:2), so Theophilus may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received (Lk 1:4).
In Acts 1:2, Luke sees all of Jesus' ministry as directed by the Holy Spirit, including the instructions to the Apostles (as he also expressed in his Gospel in Lk 4:1, 14, 18, 36; 10:21). This verse is the first mention of the Holy Spirit's activity in the Church. We are reminded that is it by the Holy Spirit that Jesus commissioned the Apostles in His visit to the Upper Room after His Resurrection when He breathed upon them saying, Receive the Holy Spirit ... (Jn 20:23-24).
presented himself alive to them by many proofs [tekmerion] after he had
suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of
The Greek word tekmerion suggests convincing signs or evidence of His resurrection (see the same Greek word in Wis 5:11 and 19:13). Included in these "signs" would be touching Jesus' wounds (Jn 20:27), eating meals with His disciples (Lk 24:42-43; Jn 21:12-14), and appearing and disappearing without physically passing through doors (Jn 20:19). According to Acts 1:3, the resurrected Christ taught His Church for forty days between His Resurrection and His Ascension. Where is the substance of those forty days of teaching? Jesus' teaching during those forty days is safeguarded in the deposit of our sacred oral Tradition just as Jesus' teaching during His three years of earthly ministry was given to the Church orally. It is only some of those teachings that are written down in the Gospels by Holy Spirit inspired writers: "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the Apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the Apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching ... Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence" (CCC 81-82, also see CCC 80, 83).
During this forty-day period, Jesus appeared to many people, including Mary Magdala, the eleven Apostles, and His men and women disciples. He appeared privately to St, Peter, His kinsman James, and to over 500 people at one time (Lk 24:13-15, 33-49; Jn 20:11-23, 26-27; 1 Cor 15:3-7; see the list later in the lesson). Jesus spent those forty days teaching the Church by speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). The Gospels record that Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God (Mt 4:23; Mk 1:14-15; Lk 8:1). St. Luke mentions the "Kingdom" over 30 times in his Gospel, and in Acts of Apostles, the Church takes up the message of the proclaiming the "Kingdom" (Acts 1:3, 6; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).
4 While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart
from Jerusalem, but to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you have
heard me speak; 5 for John
baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy
To remain in the city of Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit is the same command Jesus gave the disciples in Luke 24:49. St. John the Baptist foretold the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Matthew 3:11, and now Jesus promises this same event. The Apostles, obedient to Jesus' command to baptize (Mt 28:19) and His teaching that one cannot enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit (Jn 3:3, 5), will use water baptism as the sacramental sign of spiritual rebirth and initiation into the Kingdom (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 38; 9:18, 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5).
Notice that Jesus is speaking about the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity in verses 4-5. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit active in salvation history is revealed once again to us as it was at Jesus' baptism (Mt 3:16-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22) and the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36). Jesus explains to them why He must leave them. If Jesus stayed on earth, His physical, human presence in time and space would have limited the spread of the Gospel. But after His Ascension to the Father, His spiritual presence can be everywhere through the ministry of the Holy Spirit: But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (Jn 16:7).
6 When they had
gathered together they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore
the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He
answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father
has established by his own authority.
The Apostles and disciples may be expecting the Messianic Kingdom to be a political fulfillment like the Davidic Kingdom and liberation from their Roman oppressors. But what the disciples are asking might also concern what Jesus prophesied concerning the completion of His mission in the "coming of the Son of Man." His mission will remain incomplete until He returns in judgment. Jesus gave His discourse about His Second Advent and the Last Judgment in the Gospels (Mt 24:29-44; 25:31-46; Mk 13:24-37; Lk 21:25-28). Notice that Jesus does not rebuke them for their question, which He has always done in the past when they are in error, and He gives them the same answer He gave in those Gospel discourses (for example, see Mt 24:3, 36, 42-44; Mk 13:32). Instead, He tells them that part of His mission is under the Father's authority. St. Paul spoke of this unknown "hour" in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, Concerning times and seasons, brothers, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.
8 But you will
receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses
in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
The Apostles and disciples must wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Then they will receive the divine power to spread the Gospel. Their mission will be in three phases: they must start their mission in Jerusalem, then go to the rest of Judea and north into Samaria, and finally to the "ends of the earth."
9 When he had said
this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from
In Jesus' ascension into Heaven, the Apostles and disciples are witnessing the same vision as the prophet Daniel in Daniel 7:13-14 from an earthly perspective whereas Daniel's perspective is from the heavenly throne room: As the visions of the night continued, I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven. When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, he received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed. They see what Daniel saw: the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven where He will go into the presence of the Father to receive power and authority over all nations. It is the Scripture passage from the vision of Daniel that Jesus quoted from when asked by the High Priest at His trial before Jewish Sanhedrin if He was the Messiah. Daniel's vision of what was for him a future event is now witnessed and fulfilled in the presence of Jesus' faithful followers (Mt 24:30; Mk 14:42; Lk 22:60).
10 While they were
looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white
garments stood beside them. 11 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."
Two angels appeared to tell the disciples that Jesus will return in the same way they saw Him leave. When He returns, they tell the disciples, Jesus will come again to the Mount of Olives. That the Lord will return to the Mount of Olives was a familiar prophecy to Jesus' Jewish disciples. The late 6th century BC prophet Zechariah prophesied God the Divine King coming in judgment at the end of the Age of Man. The event was to take place as His feet touched down on the Mount of Olives: That day his feet shall rest on the Mount of Olives, which is opposite Jerusalem to the east. The Mount of Olives shall be cleft in two from east to west by a very deep valley, and half of the mountain shall move to the north and half of it to the south ... Then the LORD, my God, shall come, and all his holy ones with him. On that day there shall no longer be cold or frost. There shall be one continuous day, known to the LORD, not day and night, for in the evening time there shall be light. On that day, living waters shall flow from Jerusalem half to the eastern sea, and half to the western sea, and it shall be so in summer and in winter. The LORD shall become king over the whole earth; on that day the LORD shall be the only one, and his name the only one (Zec 14:4, 6-9).
We don't know when Christ is returning, but we do know that one day He will come! The question is will we be ready to receive Him on that day of glory and divine judgment? And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones (1 Thes 3:13 NJB).
Responsorial Psalm 47:1-2, 5-8 ~ God is King of all the Earth
The response is: "God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a
blare of trumpets for the Lord."
1 All you peoples,
clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness. 2 For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome, is
the great king over all the earth.
5 God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD, amid trumpet blasts. 6 Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise.
7For king of all the earth is God; sing hymns of praise. 8 God reigns over the nations, God sits upon his holy throne.
This psalm presents the invitation to sing praise to God (verse 1) and then gives the reasons for the praise (verses 2, 5, 7-8). God chose Israel through whom to cause His glory to be present to the nations. The psalmist calls on all peoples of the earth to acknowledge the universal rule of Israel's God (verses 1-2, 5). In verse 5, the psalmist calls for liturgical praise for God enthroned in His heavenly Temple where He rules over heaven and as the Divine King over Israel and all nations (7-8).
Christians can unite to the praise in this psalm by reflecting on the kingship of Jesus Christ. In the Apostolic Age, the Church saw verse 5 as fulfilled in the Ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven (see Acts 1:1-11; Heb 9:24-28; 10:19-23). It is the reason this psalm came to be used on the Feast of the Ascension to profess faith in Christ as King of the universe whose kingship transcends all earthly rulers and their nations. As the king of all nations, God binds humanity as one people through the ministry of His Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and His Kingdom of the Church. The universal (catholic) Church is composed of the faithful of every language, race, and nation bound together as One Body in Christ the King.
The Second Reading Ephesians 1:17-23 ~ The Glorification
of the Christ
17 May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. 18 May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, 20 which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, 21 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. 23 And 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.
St. Paul is moved to give thanksgiving and prayer as he contemplates how wonderful it is to know God's goodness. He asks God to give this gift to the readers of his letter (verses 17-19). His petition for this blessing hinges on Jesus Christ through whom God has revealed His power by giving God the Son dominion over all the earth (verse 20-21) and establishing Him as the Head of the Body of the Church (verses 22-23; also see Rom 12:4f; 1 Cor 12:12ff).
The God whom St. Paul petitions is "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." By this phrase, Paul is referring to God who has revealed Himself to man through Jesus Christ and to whom Jesus Himself, as a man, prays and asks for assistance (Lk 22:42). It is to Jesus that God has given all power and authority over every age of humanity. He has made Christ the Head of the Church, whose members are His Body and to whom He has promised a share in His glory.
The Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20 ~ Commissioning of the Apostles
16 The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. 18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
In Matthew 28:7, when the women disciples discovered the empty tomb, the angel of God told them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, and now he is going ahead of you to the Galilee; that is where you will see him. The eleven Apostles meet Him in the Galilee by the sea (Jn 21:1-23) where Jesus begins His instruction to them that will last for forty days as He appears and disappears to His faithful. It is at the meeting at the Sea of Galilee (which St. John refers to by the Roman name of the Sea of Tiberias) that He gives Peter and the Apostles their "marching orders" in establishing His Kingdom of the Church. These same orders will be repeated at His Ascension from the Mount of Olives in Acts 1:8 (the First Reading).
19 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, 20
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And
behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
Matthew 28:19-20 is called "The Great Commission." In this passage, Jesus defines the scope of the mission He has given His disciples in every generation. The mission is universal for the emissaries of the One who has universal power over all the earth. From the time of Jesus' Resurrection, the mission of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit becomes the mission of the Church, as Jesus told the Apostles in John 20:19b, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
Notice the significance of the command to baptize with the Trinitarian formula that affirms the oneness of God: "In the name (singular) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (see Jn 3:3-5 and CCC 1257, 1272-3). Rebirth through water and the Spirit in Christian Baptism is the means Jesus has given for entrance into the community of the New Covenant and in becoming a candidate for citizenship in Heaven. In the Sacrament of Baptism, the baptized person is configured to the risen Savior and incorporated into the Body of Christ that is His Church. The formula Jesus gives for the Sacrament of Baptism defines the Trinity and designates baptism as the union of the one baptized with the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The union of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the central mystery of Christian faith. Indeed, the faith of all who call themselves Christians rests on belief in the union of the Most Holy Trinity (CCC 232-34, 237).
Do not miss that baptism is linked to teaching the newly baptized to observe all that I have commanded you (verse 19) and is necessary for salvation (Mk 16:16). Simply acknowledging Christ is not enough, and the Old Law no longer defines righteousness (CCC 1963). It is the Gospel of salvation preached in the New Law that defines the path of salvation for Christians (CCC 1965-70).
Jesus' promise, "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age," is a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. The name Emmanuel means "God with us." It echoes the promise of Jesus' real but invisible presence and is the name given him in the infancy narrative that quotes Jesus' virgin birth as a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23. It is the promise Jesus makes to His faithful here and in the Book of Revelation (Rev 21:3-4). It is also the promise of His real but invisible presence in the Eucharist from the time of His Ascension until His return at the end of the Age of Man (also see CCC 1374-77).
Jesus will teach the Church for forty days before His Ascension to the Father (Acts 1:3), appearing and disappearing at will. During the time between His Resurrection and Ascension, He continually visited with His Apostles and disciples:
In His death and resurrection, Jesus has ushered in a new and everlasting covenant that fulfills and surpasses all previous covenants (see the chart "Yahweh's Eight Covenants").
|Old Covenants||Fulfilled in Christ|
|1. The covenant with Adam||Jesus is the "new Adam" who has atoned for the sin of the first Adam. He conquered sin and death and brought forth His Bride, the Church, from His pierced side just as Eve was born from the side of Adam (Rom 5:14-21; 1 Cor 15:20-45; CCC 359, 411, 504, 766).|
|2. The covenant with Noah||Jesus' gift of the Sacrament of Baptism has restored man, through water and the Spirit, to renewed life (Jn 3:3, 5; 1 Pt 3:21, CCC 628, 1094).|
3. The three-fold Abrahamic covenant:
Jesus has fulfilled the three promises made to Abraham
(CCC 59, 706, 762-66):
|4. The Covenant at Sinai||Jesus fulfilled all the blood rituals and purification rituals of the old Law in His one perfect sacrifice on the altar of the Cross. He made atonement for the sins of man and offering continual purification through the Eucharist and the other Sacraments of His Church (Heb 9:15-28; CCC 577-582). In His self-sacrifice and fulfillment of the Sinai Covenant, Jesus has freed God's people from the curse of failing to keep the old Law (Dt 28:15; Rom 3:21-26; Gal 3:13-14).|
|5. The Aaronic Covenant of a ministerial priesthood||Jesus has established the New Covenant priesthood: A universal priesthood of all believers and a ministerial priesthood that is no longer based on heredity but on the call of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19-20; CCC 1141-43).|
|6. The Perpetual Priesthood of Phinehas||Jesus Christ is the eternal High Priest of the New and Everlasting Covenant (Heb 4:14-15; 8:1-3; CCC 1137).|
|7. The Davidic Covenant||Jesus fulfills God's promise to David that his throne will endure forever. Jesus is the heir of David and the King of the Universal Church (Lk 1:32-33; Heb 1:1-4; CCC 786, 2105).|
|Michal E. Hunt © copyright 2012|
What is your place in Christ's Kingdom? How are you using your spiritual "talents" (Mt 25:14-30) to advance the Kingdom and fulfill the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20? Where Jesus has gone, we hope to follow, for His Ascension is our glory and our hope! In the Feast of the Ascension, we are reminded that our time on earth is a fleeting reality and our real home is in Heaven with our Lord and Savior.
Acts 1:1-2 (CCC 512); 1:3 (CCC 659); 1:6-7 (CCC 672); 1:7 (CCC 474, 673); 1:8 (CCC 672, 730, 735, 857, 1287); 1:9 (CCC 659, 697); 1:10-11 (CCC 333); 1:11 (CCC 665)
Ephesians 1:17-23 (CCC 2632); 1:18 (CCC 158); 1:19-22 (CCC 272, 648); 1:20-22 (CCC 668); 1:22-23 (CCC 830); 1:22 (CCC 669, 753, 2045)
Matthew 28:16-20 (CCC 857, 1444); 28:16-17 (CCC 645); 28:17 (CCC 644); 28:18-20 (CCC 1120); 28:19-20 (CCC 2, 767, 849, 1223, 1257, 1276); 12:19 (CCC 189, 232, 543, 691, 730, 831, 1122, 2156); 28:20 (CCC 80, 788, 860, 2743)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017 www.AgapeBibleStudy.com