Hear, O Lord, my voice with which I have cried to Thee, alleluia: my heart hath said to Thee, I have sought thy countenance; thy countenance, O Lord, I will seek.
Dominica post Domini Ascensionem
Epist.: 1 Pet. 4:7-11
Evang.: Jn. 15:26-16:4
Sometimes, we ask questions the answers to which are contained in the question itself. Usually we do this to test a person’s ability to pay attention. Who, for example, is buried in Grant’s tomb? Or, What color is George Washington’s white horse? The following question also appears to contain the answer: When we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, what is it that we call to mind? If you were to answer, “The Passion and Death of the Lord”, your answer would be true, but inadequate, incomplete. If you were to answer, The Passion and Resurrection of the Lord, again, your answer, while true, would leave something more to be said. The complete answer may be found in the Canon of the Mass, just after the Consecration, beginning with the words, Unde et memores. There you will discover, that when we offer to the divine Majesty, from all of His gifts and presents, a pure Victim, a holy Victim, an immaculate Victim, the holy Bread of eternal life, and the Chalice of everlasting salvation, we do so while calling to mind not only the blessed Passion of Our Lord, not only His Resurrection from the grave, but also His glorious Ascension into heaven.
When we assist at holy Mass, we may be in the habit of imagining ourselves at the foot of the Cross, in the company of our Blessed Mother, St. John the beloved disciple, and St. Mary Magdalene. That we should so imagine certainly corresponds with the nature of the Mass, since the Sacrifice of Calvary and the Sacrifice of the Mass are one and the same Sacrifice, differing only in the manner in which it is offered: the one bloody and non-sacramental, the other sacramental and non-bloody. Yet even as we call to mind the Passion of Our Lord in this way, and even though the celebration of the Holy Eucharist necessarily entails the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, nevertheless, it is the Risen Lord who is made present under the species of bread and wine, and it is the Risen Lord whom we receive in Holy Communion.
To understand this, let us consider what would have been the case had the Apostles offered the holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Holy Saturday. On that day, before the Resurrection of the Lord, the Body of Christ, by virtue of the words of consecration, would have been present under the species of bread and His Blood would have been present under the species of wine. And since the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity always remained united to the Body, Blood, and Soul of Christ, had the Apostles received Holy Communion on Holy Saturday, they would have received the Body and Divinity of Christ under the species of bread, together with the Blood and Divinity of Christ under the species of wine. In short, they would have received the dead divine Christ, because during this time the divine Christ was really dead: Even though they always remained united to His Divinity, the Soul, Body, and Blood of Christ were all separated from one another.
Now, we celebrate the holy Sacrifice of the Mass after the Resurrection. But when Christ rose from the dead, His Body and Blood were reunited to His Soul. Therefore, while it remains true that, by virtue of the words of consecration, only the Body of Christ continues to be made present under the species of bread, and only the Blood of Christ continues to be made present under the species of wine, it is also true that the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ are united to one another in reality. Therefore, under the species of bread, where the Body is made present by virtue of the words of consecration, the Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ are also made present, not by virtue of the words of consecration, but by virtue of already being joined to the Body of Christ in reality; i.e., by virtue of what theologians call concomitance. Likewise, by the force of the words of consecration, the Blood of Christ is made present under the species of wine, but by virtue of concomitance, the Body, Soul, and Divinity are also present. Therefore, even though the Holy Eucharist sacramentally commemorates the death of the Lord, nevertheless, the whole Christ — that is, the Risen Christ — is present under the species of bread and wine. That is why the Canon affirms that we call to mind not only the Passion of the Lord, but also His Resurrection.
But what about the Ascension of Christ? Why should we call that to mind? Well, first of all, because the Risen Lord, whom we receive in Holy Communion, by virtue of His Ascension now dwells in that very place which we wayfarers, who are nourished and sustained by the Body of Christ, hope to reach ourselves. That is why each and every time we receive our spiritual Food in Holy Communion (at least in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite), we are reminded of this journey towards heaven when the minister of Holy Communion prays: Corpus Domini nostri Iesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. “May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto eternal life.”
The second reason why we should call to mind the Ascension of Our Lord is that the pondering of this mystery will exercise our faith, raise our hope, as well as enkindle and direct the fervor of our charity. For Our Lord ascended into heaven that we might benefit from it in these three ways.
Let’s look first at faith. As I said, Christ ascended into heaven to exercise, and even increase our faith, which pertains to what is not seen. For Our Lord, in the Gospel according to St. John, declares that the Holy Ghost shall come and “convict the world . . . of justice,” that is, of the justice “of those that believe,” as Augustine explains in his commentary on this passage. “For even to put the faithful beside the unbeliever is to put the unbeliever to shame; wherefore Christ adds: ‘Because I go to the Father; and you shall see Me no longer’—For ‘blessed are they that see not, yet believe.’ Hence it is of our justice that the world is reproved: because ‘you will believe in Me whom you shall not see.’”
As regards raising our hope, recall what Our Lord says at the Last Supper: “If I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to Myself; that where I am, you also may be” (Jn. 14:3). For by placing in heaven the human nature which He assumed, Christ likewise gives us the hope of arriving there; since “wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together” (Matt. 24:28). Thus, the Prophet Micah writes: “He shall go up that shall open the way before them” (2:13).
Finally, Christ ascended into heaven so as to direct the fervor of our charity towards heavenly things. In his Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul exhorts us to “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth” (3:1-2). And why shouldn’t St. Paul so exhort us? After all, Our Lord did say in His Sermon on the Mount, “Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Matt. 6:21) And since the Holy Ghost is the love of God drawing us up to heavenly things, Our Lord therefore said to His disciples, that it is “expedient to you that I go; for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).
Now, in order to take advantage of these things, our disposition at Mass ought to resemble that of the Little Flock that had gathered in the Upper Room to await the coming of the Holy Ghost by watching and praying. Which is to say, that when we gather in this ‘Upper Room’ to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we too should be here to watch and pray for the Spirit of Truth and Power. For we should not go into the world and face those who would wish to persecute us and even kill us, relying upon our own strength. No, we should go forth only after we have received Power from on high, strengthened in faith, hope, and charity. That is why the sacred liturgy is not about catering to our emotional needs. For we are not going to be disposed to receiving an increase in the virtues of faith, hope, and charity by seeking an emotional high. On the contrary, the sacred liturgy properly celebrated invites us to converse with God, meditate upon His Word, and gaze upon the beauty of His countenance. What a lofty endeavor! And so, everyone should ask himself: Am I willing to accept this invitation and, according as my circumstances allow, strive to immerse myself in what each Mass has to offer me? Does it bother me if I remain willfully disengaged, neglectful, and ignorant of the Mass, perhaps because I think that if something doesn’t make me “feel good” it can’t be worthy of my attention? can’t be worth the price of a missal, or the time it takes to read and ponder the scriptural texts? can’t be worth being calm and recollected before the Lord, attentive and receptive? If it doesn’t bother me, at least I know now that it should bother me. I should desire to accept the invitation of every Mass to come up higher still: to converse with God in prayer, ponder the mysteries of Christ and the eternal truths of faith; and in this way dispose myself to receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Christ prayed to His eternal Father, not that His disciples should be taken out of the world, but that they be kept from evil while living in the world. I should be here, then, to be charged with the Power of God, that I may be faithful to Christ according to my state in life, even in the face of a hostile world. Let us, then, in cooperation with the grace of God, always strive to seek the face of the Lord, His holy countenance, that He may make His light shine upon us. For He is our light; He is our salvation. Whom shall we fear? May the almighty and merciful God grant us ever to have a will devoted to Him, that we may always serve Him with a sincere heart. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.