The Ascension of Our Lord
by Dom Prosper Guéranger
The hour of separation is come. Jesus rises: His blessed Mother and the hundred and twenty persons assembled there prepare to follow Him. The Cenacle is situated on Mount Sion, which is one of the two hills within the walls of Jerusalem. The holy group traverses the city, making for the eastern Gate, which opens on the Valley of Josaphat. It is the last time that Jesus walks through the faithless city. He is invisible to the eyes of the people who denied Him, but visible to His Disciples, and He goes before them, as, heretofore, the pillar of fire led on the Israelites. How beautiful and imposing a sight! Mary, the Disciples, and the holy Women, accompanying Jesus in His Heaven-ward journey, which is to lead Him to the right hand of His Eternal Father! It was commemorated in the Middle-Ages by a solemn Procession before the Mass of Ascension Day. What happy times were those, when Christians took delight in honoring every action of our Redeemer! They could not be satisfied, as we are, with a few vague notions, which can produce nothing but an equally vague devotion.
The Christians in that happy Age of Faith reflected on the thoughts which Mary must have had during these last moments of Her Son’s presence. They used to ask themselves, which of the two sentiments were uppermost in Her maternal heart, sadness, that She was to see Her Jesus no more? or joy, that He was now going to enter into the glory He so infinitely deserved? The answer was soon found: had not Jesus said to His Disciples: If ye loved Me, ye would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father? (John 14:28) Now, who loved Jesus as Mary did? The Mother’s heart, then, was full of joy at parting with Him. How was She to think of Herself, when there was question of the triumph of Her Son and Her God? Could She that had witnessed the scene of Calvary do less than desire to see Him glorified, Whom She knew to be the Sovereign Lord of all things, Him Whom, but a short time ago, She had seen rejected by His people, blasphemed, and dying the most ignominious and cruel of deaths?
The holy group has traversed the Valley of Josaphat; it has crossed the brook Cedron, and is moving onwards to Mount Olivet. What recollections would crowd on the mind! This torrent, of which Jesus had drunk on the day of His humiliation, is now the path He takes to triumph and glory. The Royal Prophet had foretold it. (Ps. 109:7) On their left, are the Garden and Cave, where He suffered His Agony and accepted the bitter Chalice of His Passion.
After having come as far as what St. Luke calls the distance of the journey allowed to the Jews on a sabbath-day (Acts 1:12), they are close to Bethania, that favored village, where Jesus used to accept hospitality at the hands of Lazarus and his two Sisters. This part of Mount Olivet commands a view of Jerusalem. The sight of its Temple and Palaces makes the Disciples proud of their earthly city: they have forgotten the curse uttered against her; they seem to have forgotten, too, that Jesus has just made them citizens and conquerors of the whole world. They begin to dream of the earthly grandeur of Jerusalem, and, turning to their Divine Master, they venture to ask Him this question: Lord, wilt Thou, at this time, restore again the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6)
Jesus answers them with a tone of severity: It is not for you to know the times or moments which the Father hath put in His own power. (Acts 1:7) These words do not destroy the hope that Jerusalem is to be restored by the Christian Israel; but as this is not to happen till the world is drawing towards its end, there is nothing that requires our Savior’s revealing the secret. What ought to be uppermost in the mind of the Disciples is the conversion of the pagan world, the establishing of the Church. Jesus reminds them of the mission He has just given to them: Ye shall receive, says He, the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
According to a tradition, which has been handed down from the earliest ages of Christianity (Constit. Apost., lib. v. cap. xix), it is mid-day, the same hour that He had been raised up, when nailed to His Cross. Giving His Blessed Mother a look of filial affection, and another of fond farewell to the rest of the group that stand around him, Jesus raises up His hands and blesses them all. Whilst thus blessing them, He is raised up from the ground whereon He stands, and ascends into Heaven. (Luke 24:51) Their eyes follow Him until a cloud comes and receives Him out of their sight. (Acts 1:9)